Villanova University, 1842-1992: American-Catholic-Augustinian

Article excerpt

Villanova University, 1842-1992: American-Catholic-Augustinian. By David R. Contosta. (University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press. 1995. Pp. xvi, 331. $35.00.)

In 1992, our author, in concert with the Reverend Dennis J. Gallagher, O.S.A., gave us the photo-historic essay Ever Ancient, Ever New: Vilanova University: 1842-1992. Although well developed and concise, Villanova needed a more complete history, and we have it in the volume reviewed here. As a Roman Catholic institution of learning, under the auspices of the Augustinian Friars, Villanova played a significant role in the growth and development of many segments of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, particularly in the western suburbs of Philadelphia. Augustinian monks of vision, who labored at St. Augustine's Church on Fourth Street in portside Philadelphia, started the fledgling school with immense faith, knowledge, little fiscal stability, and a willingness to shoulder sacrifice in the name of evangelization and education. Contosta's volume attempts an institutional history that avoids the pitfalls of a dull and uninteresting, narrowly focused monograph. It is rather a telling story of sacrifice, disappointment, tragedy, heroic devotion, and perseverance in the face of almost unsurmountable challenges-from a secondary school to the conferring of its first liberal arts degree in 1855, through a nation's undulating and unpredictable economic crises, two world wars, a challenging ecclesiastical monitoring, along with sponsoring monastic conflict, with neighborly opposition and mandated civil restrictions, eventuating in a highly respected Catholic university, and alma mater to more than 35,000 distinguished graduates.

Contosta's precis of Villanova's nineteenth-century history notes closings, one in 1845, of which some Augustinians were allegedly suspect in fiscal matters; another closure in 1857, when friars went off to do missionary and parish work. Villanova reopened for good in 1865, following the national upheaval of civil war. By 1893, Villanova had its first history, a monogram entitled Historic Sketch, by Father Middleton, O.S.A. At the same time, there seemed to be conflict among the Augustinians, highlighted by "Fedigan's Folly" a fairly advanced plan for expansion, including separating secondary students from collegians, by opening St. Nicholas of Tolentine Academy on campus. The intractable internal politics of the Augustinians, with few exceptions, plagued university administration, policy-making, and direction almost to date All too frequently college and university presidents would not survive an Augustinian Provincial election, and successors would have to begin over, and some undid previous policies. …

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