The Early struggles of Fairfield University

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The Early struggles of Fairfield University

Before the remarkable growth of Fairfield University's Campus


1. The seven Fairfield University presidents
2. The early struggles, permissions and documents
3. The other parcels of property and the 9 inherited buildings

First Presidents McEleney and Dolan

1. The seven Fairfield University presidents

"Since the beginning there have been seven Fairfield Presidents: John McEleney came in 1941. Then came James Dolan in 1944, Joseph Fitzgerald in 1951, James Fitzgerald in 1958, William McInnes in 1964, Thomas Fitzgerald in 1973, and Aloysius Kelley in 1979. The three Fitzgeralds, by the way, are all unrelated." The seven presidents were quite different personalities and seemed to have the charisma and talents that were most needed during their tenure.
John J McEleney was appointed Fairfield's first rector on 17 March, 1942 by James H. Dolan who was the Provincial (superior of the New England Jesuit Province). James H. Dolan was affectionately called "Heavy Dolan" (thus assigning a meaning to his mysterious middle initial) by the Jesuits because of his somewhat aloof and humorless manner. He had been President of Boston College where he started the Boston College Law school in 1929. He founded three high schools as well; Cranwell Prep in 1939, Cheverus High school in 1942 and now the Fairfield school whose nature was still to be determined.
John J McEleney would stay at Fairfield for only two years until the end of 1944 when he became the New England Provincial exchanging jobs with James Dolan who in turn took charge of the new Fairfield school. Later Pope Pius XII appointed McEleney Bishop of Jamaica in 1950.
Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, S.J.
The Jesuits named this mansion after a Jesuit Cardinal and Doctor of the Catholic Church, St. Robert Bellarmine (d 1601) and put his name in the University seal. It is not a trivial question today to ask the question: "Who is Robert Bellarmine?" because in a recent assembly one of our faculty explained to the students that the Bellarmine family were benefactors of the school. Actually Fairfield University has never received a cent from the Bellarmine family from Montepulciano, separated from us by 5,000 miles and 400 years. But Robert Bellarmine (who died in 1601) was a genuine benefactor as a renowned scholar and a model of intellectual integrity. He would not tolerate bullying from popes any more than he would from Protestant extremists. Bellarmine was such an aggressive advocate of the Catholic Church in the 16th Century that Queen Elizabeth forbade her subjects from reading his works under pain of death. Rome is not the only place with lists of forbidden books. Kepler once claimed that he had more trouble with his Protestant ministers than Galileo ever had with the Catholic Curia.
Over Bellarmine's protests Pope Clement VIII had made him a cardinal, so he used his privileged position to point out to the pope the major abuses prevalent in Clement's own curia. The next Pope, Sixtus V, wanted to put Bellarmine's works on the Catholic index of forbidden books but he unexpectedly died in 1595 before he was able to. Some cynics claim that the Jesuits prayed that God either open Sixtus' eyes or close them.
The Bellarmine seal
Later the FU administrators took Robert Bellarmine's name out of our seal in 1969, in an apparent effort to facilitate dealings with the government. Ironically this happened shortly after a Church - State legal battle which Fairfield University won." In this celebrated 1969 court case Tilton vs. Richardson a suit was brought against FU by college professors from UCONN, Wesley, U Hartford and Trinity alleging that our Government grants violate the 1st and 14th Amendments because government money was being used to favor religion. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court resulting in a decision denying the charge and favorable to FU. I sometime think of that futile charge: Mass is still celebrated in the student lounges, and up until recently there were crucifixes in each dormitory room and holy water fonts in the classrooms. The crucifixes, by the way received gentle treatment even in rooms where other furnishings were destroyed. It is not clear if this was because of piety or because of the fine imposed if it was damaged. The only casualty to the court case was poor Robert Bellarmine whose name is now missing from our seal. Nevertheless, the original seal can still be found in three university locations which we will see later.

2. The early struggles, permissions and documents

The Bellarmine seal in the foyer of Alumni Hall
FU's half century history is one of remarkable success in spite of three daunting difficulties:
the need for accreditation and permissions to expand,
the need for money and
the need for buildings.
Accreditation for the school was denied partly because of a new bill discouraging charters to any new schools. Also denied was a 1944 request to the Bridgeport War Production Board for permission to erect buildings. The reason given was: "Public Schools were adequate," but this was later overturned as "prejudicial" by the Board of Education."
In spite of these difficulties, however, classes started in September of 1942. A few months later a mile long $6,000 "Drive of Good Will" road between McAuliffe and Bell was built and was paid for partly by the "Fathers Club" and partly by the town.
Finally in May 1945, our Fairfield school charter was approved by the Connecticut senate and by the governor, Ray Baldwin. It would be Fairfield University of St. Robert Bellarmine and was allowed to become an institution with four educational units: intermediate, secondary, college and graduate schools. t allowed the granting of degrees, and granted the right to acquire property and erect buildings. If there were an excess of income the remaining assets would be used to reduce tuition or advance the educational facilities. In case the school had to be dissolved the charter specified that the assets be "transferred to the Society of Jesus of New England under he laws of Massachusetts." If the Society did not then exist the assets would go to the catholic diocese of Hartford and if this did not exist they would go to the state of Connecticut.

All this was changed in 1973 when on the initiative of the Society of Jesus. The Jesuit Community incorporated itself separately from Fairfield University, keeping 9.4 acres of the original property for their residence and handing over all the assets of the university to a (mostly) lay board of trustees which would be independent of the Jesuit provincial superior. This was carried out on instructions addressed to all American colleges from the Jesuit Superior General in Rome. In his book, The Governance of Jesuit Colleges, Paul Fitzgerald describes the gradual transference of authority from the Jesuit Provincials to the college presidents and to their trustees. [Fitzgerald, 1984 p. 219]

The 28 American Jesuit colleges had become far too large and complicated for provincial superiors to govern - even indirectly. Also in keeping with the principles of Vatican Council II it was important to stress the colleges' independence of Church authority. The presidents would answer to an essentially lay board of trustees instead of to a religious superior. The Society, however, was still committed to support the schools, supplying Jesuit manpower as much as was possible. The preparations during the 1960s for all this is found in Chapter twelve of Paul FitzGerald's book. It is entitled, Presidents assume full responsibility.

From the earliest days the Jesuits chose the word University, not college, to be in the title because they did not want a repeat of the Boston College experience who earlier had missed the boat. BC had a university charter in 1863 but for some reason used the word college and did not change it to University before the Methodists came and adopted the name Boston University.
The second problem concerning money was partially solved with the help of loyal alumni from other Jesuit schools supporting the building campaign, but more fund-raising was needed. Apart from the governmental red tape there were problems from within the church, such as costly approval delays from the Curia in Rome, the refusal of Bishop McAuliffe to allow the Jesuits to raise funds for the school among Hartford benefactors and the hesitation of the Jesuit Provincial in Boston to give Fairfield funds. Bishop McAuliffe would only let Fr. McElaney raise money in Fairfield County lest it interfere with his own million dollar drive in Hartford.
This latter problem of Jesuit support was faced head-on by Fairfield President Dolan (formerly Provincial) who urged Provincial McEleney (formerly Fairfield President) that the New England Jesuits had to run other schools besides those in Boston. Fr. Dolan made such a strong case that Fr. McEleney relented and sent money to get Fairfield's building program started.

The accreditation problem was addressed with determination and persistence: after the Prep school was accredited the college accreditation came from the Connecticut State Board of education as well as the Jesuit Educational Association in 1949. Fairfield's fully accredited Graduate School of Education was able to start in 1950.

The third problem of space was faced with equal vigor so that eventually after 53 years there accumulated 48 buildings: the 9 original buildings & 15 TH & 24 built later on 214 acres of land. The 15 acres purchased in 1989 from the Notre Dame Sisters was added to the 199 acres which were purchased in the early days. While waiting for the first buildings to be built, Fr. Dolan bought "The Morgan estate" in Bridgeport at 200 Park Place, calling it Loyola Hall. For a few years it would take care of classrooms and provide living space for Jesuits.

3. The other parcels of property and the 9 inherited buildings

Now we return to 1942 to speak about the other eight (III through X) original buildings which came with the property after I McAuliffe and II Bellarmine?
In the southwest corner of our campus property is found three other original buildings. III The dairy barn which is now used by the maintenance department is a spectacular study in gables. It pre-dated the Lashar family and probably was built by the Sturges family.
The Lashar barn: now used by the maintainence department
IV The Playhouse, now called PepsiCo Theater, used as a classroom for experimental theater was built in 1922 and was an old Sturges family building. It now contains a small theater, a coffeehouse and classrooms.
V The third is Southwell Hall which was named to honor St. Robert Southwell who was a Jesuit martyr in the time of the Elizabethan persecutions. Previously the hall had been a Jesuit residence. (home for tenant farmers under Sturges) One of the walls of Southwell Hall, which now houses the alumni office and a hospitality center for alumni., is of 1776 vintage. Situated at the foot of Round Hill it was said to have been part of an inn during the Revolutionary war. One might guess that the patriots went there for refreshment after having driven out the British in the famous battle of Round Hill.

On the adjoining field to Southwell Hall President Ronald Regan landed by helicopter while making a political sortie into the town of Fairfield. Another parcel was the 18 acre Moorhouse property on the corner of North Benson and Barlow.
The Morehouse estate: now St. Robert Hall
President Dolan, felt it very important to acquire this property. He was afraid "it would become a gas station or worse. "This 18-acre property was bought for $28,500 in 1946, thus bringing the number of acres to 199. It was probably a matter of overkill for the early Jesuits to name this house St. Robert's Hall (after the same Robert Bellarmine). It is now a Jesuit residence." Among its many purposes over the years it was used to house rodents used in experimental psychological research, so it once had the nickname the "rat house."

VII Opposite the southeast corner is Harrison House across N. Benson Road. This 3.5-acre tract was bought in 1967 for $87,000 and named for the former owner and benefactor. It was needed because of the increasing number of Jesuit faculty. In spite of Rome's admonitions former presidents paid little heed to the lack of proper Jesuit housing and instead used available funds for building classroom and student residence buildings. For Jesuit housing they adopted the temporary and inexpensive alternative of buying homes and using school buildings: 14 Jesuits lived on the top floor of Berchmans and later 12 more would live on the top floor of Gonzaga. So much for the original buildings that were already here. Now let us consider the Townhouses and the 24 buildings constructed by the Jesuit presidents.
The former Fox estate, later Julie Hall now Dolan Commons
In the Northeast corner of the property are several buildings of the Fox mansion and estate. John Fox, the former owner of the Boston Post lost his mansion over litigation in the late 50's. Later it was bought by the Notre Dame Sisters and then sold to FU in 1989. Now this has become the Dolan Campus which is named for donors, Helen and Charles Dolan. Charles Dolan is a Fairfield University trustee and a pioneer in cable television."

There are three major buildings on the Dolan Campus
VIII The first building, the estate house, is occupied by Continuing Education, and it is named Dolan East to honor David J. Dolan who died in 1943 and was an inventor of the automobile and aircraft industries."
Helen and Charles Dolan
IX The second building had been named Julie Hall by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (after their founder). It now serves as a residence hall for 195 students, the office of Resident Life and the health center. This building is named Dolan West in honor of the philanthropist John C. Dolan who died in 1969).
X The third building, built in 1965, used to be the chapel for the sisters. Now it is the Freshmen Dining hall which is named to honor Thomas F. Dolan who died in 1973 and who was a pioneer in the transparent film packaging industry. He found the Christopher foundation which aids hospitals and schools in the Cleveland area.

The next installment of this story concerns Fairfield University's Growth from 1945-1965

The story of these buildings, told in four instalments, is taken from the book If These Stones Could Speak

Fairfield University's Ur-history
Fairfield University's Early Struggles
Fairfield University's Growth from 1945-1965
Fairfield University's Growth from 1965-1995

Also more information about Fairfield University is found in the book:
Why are Fairfield University's Buildings named after Dead Jesuits?

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