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

By Thomas J. Shelley | Go to book overview

8
THE END OF THE LITTLE
LIBERAL ARTS COLLEGE

Harvard and the Jesuits

Writing in 1941 to commemorate the centennial of Fordham University, Professor Francis X. Connolly, a layman who was a legendary and much-beloved professor of English literature, singled out the otherwise unremarkable presidency of Father George Petit (1900–4) for special mention.1 He characterized Petit’s four years as president at the turn of the twentieth century as the apex of St. John’s golden age as a small liberal arts college. He credited him with perfecting a superb classical curriculum based on the ratio studiorum that the Jesuits at Fordham had devised and refined during the 1890s. The result, claimed Connolly, was an “educational Utopia” that stood in marked contrast to the elective system that prevailed at Harvard and some of the other more prestigious secular colleges in America. The ratio of students to faculty at Fordham was six to one, almost all of whom were Jesuits. Three-quarters of the students were boarders who lived under a set of rules that had changed little during the previous fifty years and regulated every facet of their life from rising at 6:00 A.M. until lights out at 9:00 P.M.

Connolly waxed eloquent about the esprit de corps that this highly regimented regime promoted. “Students slept in the same dormitory,” he noted approvingly, “prayed together, ate together, sat in the same classrooms, shared the same simple recreations, read and discussed the same works, aspired for [sic] the same honors and aimed almost universally at the same ideals.” Connolly’s nostalgic recollections of turn-of-the-century Fordham give a misleading impression of the college’s popularity among New York’s growing middle-class Catholic population. Many of them hesitated to send their sons to Fordham, or their sons were reluctant to go there, precisely for some of the reasons that Connolly singled out for praise.

1. In a perceptive tribute to Connolly, Father Raymond Schroth, a former student, said that “Connolly looked at literature in the way that Jesuits viewed philosophy, as a guide to life.” Raymond A. Schroth, S.J., Fordham: A History and Memoir (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 2002), 360.

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