Jon Peri, president of Manor College, with his wife, Kristin Weldon Peri.
PHOTO COURTESY OF MANOR COLLEGE
By Ken Mammarella
“I have a Christian worldview, and I promote fellowship, compassion and caring for others,” Jon Peri said, referring to his leadership of Manor College and his career and commitments along the way. “I’m also someone who believes that when bad acts occur, bad actors need to be held accountable.”
The interview was a few weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine, and worries about bad acts were prominent at the college, founded in 1947 by the Byzantine Ukrainian Sisters of St. Basil the Great.
People at the Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, college were very involved in humanitarian efforts and aid for Ukrainians, he said, “everything from lawn signs to T-shirt sales.” The college issued an official denouncement of the war and an expression of concern, and people paused every Tuesday to pray.
And he encouraged people beyond Manor to express their feelings about the state of the world and political issues. “Because when that doesn’t happen, it gives an opportunity for those who would like to take an organization, a state or a nation in the wrong direction. So good people can’t be idle. They must express their views, and they must do that in a way that pushes out radicalism.”
Peri’s Christian worldview also shows up in the way that he and his wife Kristin Weldon Peri have raised their two children. “I just tried to be a strong part of their life and instill values, encouraging them with positive reinforcement and holding them accountable when they need to be.”
And that worldview – he referred to accountability and uplifting several times – also showed up when was a prosecutor in Delaware County. He was commended for his humanistic approach to young people who have committed crimes. “I was speaking for them to be rehabilitated and restored rather than just seeking punitive measures.”
Peri grew up in New York, with a heritage he genealogically figures out to be 60-75 percent Italian. “I identify as Italian,” mostly in the context of family, but also in the heritage, land and history.
The strength of the family figures large in being around the table for his grandmother’s cooking (say, escarole soup and lasagna) and catching, breading and frying small fish called spearing.
Peri earned a bachelor’s degree in theology from Villanova, a law degree from Widener and a doctorate in organizational leadership from Eastern.
He became an adjunct to supplement his income and realized “higher education seemed to be the sweet spot” for his passion to uplift others. He combined his legal background with his interest in higher ed as vice president and general counsel at Neumann before moving to Manor as the college’s first lay president.
Since he became president of Manor, organizational net assets have doubled, and the college is the best-priced private residential college in Pennsylvania, he writes on his LinkedIn bio. In 2021, Manor was named as America’s No. 2 safest college, it continues. He may be the only person in Pennsylvania history to concurrently serve on six state education boards/committees. Those stints just ended, after 12 years, giving him more time for other interests, such as being co-chairman of Philadelphia’s Fine Auto Society (he is working on a ’74 Porsche 914 as a project car) and serving on the board of trustees of Philadelphia’s St. Hubert Catholic High School for Girls and the advisory board of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation.
That last role gets back to Manor’s heritage, which includes its Ukrainian Heritage Studies Center. “We include a conversation about history and cultural artifacts as part of the admissions process,” he said. “So that people understand who we are and what we’re about historically.”
The founding order’s openness and hospitality shows up in the college’s enrollment, which he said is more ethnically diverse on a per capita basis than much of public higher education.
And that hospitality also shows up in the Peri household. His wife, Kristin Weldon Peri, is Italian on her mother’s side and fondly recalled being “crammed in a small row house in Wilmington” for meals lovingly prepared by her grandmother. “There was room for everyone,” she said. “It’s important for the family to get together to celebrate big things and little things,” she said. “I hope I’m carrying on that tradition well.”
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