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

By Thomas J. Shelley | Go to book overview

9
FROM COLLEGE TO UNIVERSITY

The Jesuits and Archbishop John Farley

At the commencement exercises on June 23, 1904, Father John J. Collins, S.J., the president of St. John’s College, announced that the following September the college would become a university with the opening of both a medical school and a law school.1 It quickly became obvious that this timetable was impractical, and the opening of the first two graduate schools was delayed until September 1905. The initiative for this transition from college to university did not come from Collins but from Father Thomas J. Gannon, the provincial of the Maryland–New York Province. “As far as I was concerned,” Collins said, “the work was a work ordered by obedience.”

A dozen years later Collins explained the unusual circumstances of Fordham’s transition from college to university in a highly improbable and melodramatic tale that is reminiscent of a James Bond spy novel. According to Collins, at the annual meeting of the American Catholic archbishops in 1904 or 1905, they decided that every archdiocese in the United States should open a university as soon as possible. Archbishop Farley agreed and said that he was ready to start a Catholic university in New York City. One of the people present at the meeting was a Father Marquetti, an Italian priest who was a secretary at the Apostolic Delegation, the papal embassy to the U.S. bishops. As soon as the meeting was over, Marquetti rushed across town to Georgetown College to tell the news to Father John Conway. The two of them then sent a telegram in Latin to Gannon, who was in Boston, telling him of the decision of the archbishops. Gannon telephoned Collins and ordered him to forestall Farley by announcing that Fordham would open a university in the fall.

It is a wonderfully entertaining story, but of doubtful authenticity. There is no mention of such a decision by the American archbishops in their meetings in 1904 or 1905, and it is highly improbable that they would have called for the establishment of Catholic universities in such isolated places

1. New York Catholic News, June 25, 1904.

-178-

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