Phi Sig sisters honor their recently departed sister, Nikki Wise

Canisius alumna and Phi Sig sister Nikki Wise passed away this past October, leaving her sorority sisters heartbroken. But Phi Sig also joined together to honor Wise, demonstrating their incredible, resilient community spirit.

Left to Right: Nikki Wise and Katie Farinacci on their graduation day in 2016. As Wise’s “big”, Farinacci will always remember the friendship they shared. (Photo courtesy Caitlin Merkley)

Nicole (Nikki) Wise was a Canisius College graduate of 2016. She studied psychology and criminal justice, and was an active member of the Phi Sigma Sigma sorority. Tragically, Wise passed away on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019 from fatal wounds suffered from a car accident. Surviving are her mother and younger sister.

Upon learning of Wise’s death, Phi Sig set out to honor and mourn their sister by holding a vigil in her memory. The vigil was held at the Canisius chapel on Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. Even though no current Phi Sig members knew her personally, many attended the vigil to celebrate the life of their departed sister. Several alumnae who knew Wise personally attended as well.

Phi Sig’s president Caitlin Merkley shared that the entire sorority was heartbroken to hear about Wise’s death, which is why the idea for the vigil came about. 

“Many girls in the sorority might not have met her,” Merkley stated, “but we know that the circle of girls in Phi Sig is something special, and when one of us passes away, we all feel the heartbreak.”

Wise was known to her sisters as someone who wore her letters with pride. She was someone to go to if you needed to talk or needed help. 

Katie Farinacci ‘16 MS ’17 met Wise during her sophomore year at Canisius. They lived across the hall from each other in Dugan., and later Farinacci would become Wise’s “big.”

“Nikki was so kind hearted,” Farinacci said. “She cared about everyone before herself. She was completely selfless. Regardless of what was going on in her life, she was there for you when you needed her. She radiated joy. She was a bright, smiling face walking through the halls of Canisius.”

During Phi Sig’s “Big/Little Week,” Farinacci had to keep the fact that she would be Wise’s big a secret. This proved to be hard because of the countless nights Farinacci would run across the Dugan hall to talk and hangout. 

“I had to avoid her so I could put together all her little gifts. She got so mad at me!” Farinacci recalled. “Finally, at the end of the week when we did our big/little reveal, she was so happy when she found out I was going to be her big she started to cry. Knowing that she was just as excited to be my little and I was to be her big was a special moment.”

Farinacci was able to share more about Wise and their relationship at the vigil. She expressed that it was difficult sharing because of how much Wise meant to her, but it was also a powerful experience that helped Farinacci cope with the loss. 

Beyond celebrating Wise’s life and her Phi Sig legacy, the vigil also represents the Phi Sig sisterhood in general. Faced with death, heartbreak and loss, Phi Sig came together in their community.

“I think having the vigil was important to everyone because it showed that we are a team, and that there is a connection of ladies out there not only in a time of sorrow, but whenever you need to feel like you belong somewhere. I hope that’s how some of our newer members felt when they attended the vigil,” Merkley said.

Both Merkley and Farinacci expressed how much Phi Sig has impacted them. The friendships they’ve made and the opportunities they’ve received have shaped their entire Canisius experience. For them, all other Phi Sig sisters and, of course, Nikki Wise, Phi Sig will be in their hearts forever.

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