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

By Thomas J. Shelley | Go to book overview

1
COMMENCEMENT DAY, 1845

In 1845 the academic year at St. John’s College, Fordham, came to a close on Tuesday, July 15, with the usual “exhibition” or commencement ceremonies. It was a hot summer day, but the heat did not prevent several thousand people from descending upon the Rose Hill campus for the ceremonies. The New York and Harlem Railroad added two special trains that transported the guests from the Prince Street station in Manhattan near City Hall up Fourth Avenue through the Yorkville tunnel and across the Harlem River drawbridge to Fordham in one hour, almost as quickly as one could cover the distance today by public transportation. Eight new classrooms had recently been added to the campus, and the buildings were described as forming a perfect square with interior corridors and neatly finished steeples (more accurately cupolas).1 A large canvas tent had been erected on the front lawn to shield the participants from the scorching sun. However, the crowd was so large that many people spilled out from under the cover of the tent and found places to sit on the lawn.

On the stage were the assembled clerical and academic dignitaries, headed, of course, by the founding father, Bishop John Hughes, who presided in his capacity as praeses emeritus. At least on that day New York’s embattled bishop was among friends, a representative sampling of the Irish Catholics who had cheered him on during the previous five years through all his battles with the lay trustees, the Public School Society, obnoxious newspaper editors, and most recently the Nativists. Amid such surroundings Hughes could relax for a few hours and savor the victories he had won among admirers who appreciated them as much as he did.

Not the least of his accomplishments was the scene that unfolded before him. In the front rows sat 145 students, compared with the six students with whom he had opened his college four years earlier. On Hughes’s left and right were two New York priests whom he had recently consecrated bishops: William Quarter, the first bishop of Chicago, and Andrew Byrne, the first bishop of Little Rock. Present also were Father Constantine Pise

1. Truth Teller, August 24, 1844.

-1-

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