Fordham, a History of the Jesuit University of New York: 1841-2003

Fordham, a History of the Jesuit University of New York: 1841-2003

Fordham, a History of the Jesuit University of New York: 1841-2003

Fordham, a History of the Jesuit University of New York: 1841-2003


Based largely on archival sources in the United States and Rome, this book documents the evolution of Fordham from a small diocesan college into a major American Jesuit and Catholic university. It places the development of Fordham within the context of the massive expansion of Catholic higher education that took
place in the United States in the twentieth century. This was reflected at Fordham in its transformation from a local commuter college to a predominantly residential institution that now attracts students from 48 states and 65 foreign countries to its three undergraduate schools and seven graduate and professional schools with an enrollment of more than 15,000 students.

This is honest history that gives due credit to Fordham for its many academic achievements, but it also recognizes that Fordham shared the shortcomings of many Catholic colleges in the United States in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There was an ongoing struggle between Jesuit faculty who wished to adhere closely to the traditional Jesuit ratio studiorum and those who recognized the need for Fordham to modernize its curriculum to meet the demands of the regional accrediting agencies.

In recent decades, like virtually all American Catholic universities and colleges, the ownership of Fordham has been transferred from the Society of Jesus to a predominantly lay board of trustees. At the same time, the sharp decline in the number of Jesuit administrators and faculty has intensified the challenge of offering
a first-rate education while maintaining Fordham's Catholic and Jesuit identity.

June 2016 is the 175th anniversary of the founding of Fordham University, and this comprehensive history of a beloved and renowned New York City institution of higher learning will help contribute to celebrating this momentous occasion.


In 1838 a young Irish immigrant named John Hughes, who had been a priest for only twelve years, was consecrated the coadjutor (assistant) bishop of New York. the following year the Holy See appointed him the administrator of the diocese because of the failing health of Bishop John Dubois. Once he was in charge of the diocese, one of the first decisions Hughes made was to purchase 106 acres in the Fordham section of what was then southern Westchester County as the site for a seminary and college. the cost of the property was $29,750, but Hughes could raise only $10,000 from the impoverished New York Catholic community. He then departed on a ten-month begging trip through Europe to collect the additional $20,000.

The seminary opened at Rose Hill in 1840, and the college opened one year later with six students. the faculty of St. John’s College was larger than the original student body. Bishop Hughes made education his first priority because he believed that it was the indispensable means for the poor immigrants who composed most of his flock to break free from the cycle of poverty and to better themselves economically and socially in their adopted land. For four years Hughes struggled to maintain his little diocesan college despite the meager resources available to him in money and personnel. in 1845 he was happy to sell St. John’s College to the Society of Jesus, a religious order with an international reputation as professional educators. For their part, the Jesuits were eager to establish a foothold in the largest city in the United States.

The Jesuits arrived at Rose Hill in 1846. the first Jesuit community numbered twenty-nine, exactly the same size as the present-day Jesuit community at Fordham. Despite their diminishing numbers over the past fifty years, the Jesuits have been inextricably connected with the development of St. John’s College and later Fordham University to the present day. the name was changed to Fordham University in 1907 after the establishment of the first two graduate schools in medicine and law in 1905. Expansion followed rapidly thereafter. in 1941, when Fordham University celebrated its centennial, the president, Father Robert I. Gannon, S.J., predicted that in the future only two classes of universities would continue to survive in the United States, those that were “very rich” and those that were “indispensable.” Father Gannon did not define the precise nature of either term.

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