The Rapid Growth of Fairfield University

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The Rapid Growth of Fairfield University
1945 - 1965

. . .taken from the book If These Stones Could Speak

1. The Notre Dame of the East Plan
2. Berchmans and Xavier
3. Loyola
4. Canisius and Gonzaga
5. Alumni and Campion

The 1945 plan for "The Notre Dame of the East"

1. The Notre Dame of the East

Plan In 1946 the need for an overall plan became clear, so Fr. Dolan Commissioned a New York architect Oliver Regan to submit overall campus plans for the future Fairfield University. He proposed 42 major collegiate Gothic buildings. According to the plan the Prep buildings would be in the northeast sector with a mall aligned near North Benson road. The College buildings following a north-south axis aligned close to Round Hill Road. The graduate and professional schools (Law, Medical, Dental) buildings would be in the southeast sector. The athletic fields would fill in the center of the campus. College residence halls along the west side of the campus would accommodate 800 college students with a similar arrangement for a Prep school on the east side.

Berchmans and Xavier

The only two Gothic buildings actually built were Berchmans and Xavier. There are a few more remnants, however, left from Fr. Dolan's grand plan. Still visible outside of today's recreation center is a traffic circle which was to have been the center of the campus. It is called "Dolan's Navel" by the Jesuits. Another remnant is the grand stone stairway leading to today's Donnarumma. For decades it led to an open field. When the plan was first announced, Fr. Dolan referred to it as the "Notre Dame of the East. The Jesuits had great expectations and disarming confidence in their emerging university. Although much of this grand plan never materialized, few institutions can claim such rapid growth under the direction of the later energetic presidents.

An outdoor band shell was built in 1948 near the baseball field. Although not part of the master plan, it was an imaginative structure. For the next 33 years this shell would host concerts involving the Connecticut Symphony Orchestra, Barnum Musical Festival, Pops concerts and jazz festivals.

A 1971 aerial view of the middle of the campus

2. Berchmans and Xavier

The new school buildings started with John Berchmans , was built in 1947 and named to honor a brilliant young 17th Century Belgian Jesuit who thought little of walking 800 miles from Antwerp to Rome to continue his Jesuit seminary studies. But this was nothing compared to the obstacles faced by the early Fairfield Jesuits. For half a century the stones of this sturdy building witnessed thousands of boys become young men and for 3 decades sheltered 14 Jesuits on its top floor. Today Berchmans is still used as a classroom and office building for our Fairfield Preparatory school.

The next building whose construction started while Berchmans was still being built in 1947 was named after Francis Xavier, an indefatigable missionary who was one of Ignatius' first seven companions and was sent to the orient by Ignatius. He traveled thousands of miles and baptized countless thousands and died in 1562 off the coast of China. Today Xavier Hall is part of the Prep school. It also houses the University Media Center which runs the campus closed circuit television system feeding 44 channels throughout the campus including all residence halls.

Francis Xavier was an excellent model for our students because he was a communicator without parallel. So thorough was his work that three centuries after his death missionaries found remnants of his early Christian community, without the benefit of priests, still intact and staunch in the Faith he had inspired in them. Xavier expressed himself very clearly and once he scolded (by letter) his benefactor King John of Portugal that "he would not enjoy heaven if he continued to plunder the wealth of the colonies."

St. Ignatius

3. Loyola

The brilliant ideas and brave initiatives did not end with Fr. James Dolan. Loyola Hall was built to fill the need for a residence hall. In 1955 Loyola was completed for 211 students. Some of the first women who came to Fairfield in 1970 lived in Loyola.

Loyola in Bridgeport

Let no one doubt the Jesuit reverence for their founder Ignatius Loyola: no less than four Fairfield buildings have carried his name! Ignatius Loyola was a Spanish Basque soldier who underwent an extraordinary conversion while recuperating from a leg broken by a cannon ball in battle. He wrote down his experiences of God which he called his Spiritual Exercises and later he founded the Society of Jesus with the approval of Pope Paul III in 1540. The genius and innovation Ignatius brought to education came from his Spiritual Exercises whose object is to free a person from predispositions and biases, thus enabling free choices leading to happy, fulfilled lives.

From Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises, the Principle and Foundation are written in Latin across the west wall of Loyola Hall . . . "We were created to praise, and serve God and all other things were created to help us attain that end." These Exercises were never meant to be simply read but done and exercised. From the day it opened Loyola's ground floor hosted the university chapel until 1990 when the Egan/Loyola chapel was built. Then Loyola's ground floor was changed into the present art studios and art rooms. The parishioners of Pius X Parish, a few miles away, also used the Loyola chapel for two years while their church was being built. Before the Campus center was built the ground floor also housed the student dining room south of the chapel area.

It was in Loyola that the New York Giants had their meals when they summered here in the sixties. The kitchen was at the north end; remnants are still evident in the peculiar plumbing and structure of the rooms where the food was prepared and in the loading platform at the end of the delivery truck ramp. Near this was the outdoor refrigerator, a testimony to the honesty of the student body three decades ago.

The CORE on the walls of Canisius

4. Canisius and Gonzaga

In 1957 the fourth building was built, a classroom building named after Peter Canisius, a German Jesuit who was a doctor of the Church and died in 1597.
In 1550 Canisius returned to Germany with only two Jesuits. Thirty years later their number had grown from 3 to 1110. He became the first Jesuit College president, and founded many universities. He wrote one of the earliest catechisms, so well known that a "Catechism" was called a "Canisius". Peter Canisius should be the patron of libraries because he once said: "Better a college without a chapel than a college without a library." He was serious about scholarship.

On the back wall of Canisius is found the core requirements descending from the famous Jesuit Ratio Studiorum of 1599, which edict represented the first time mathematics was included in a curriculum of a whole system of education. It is said that "as long as there is mathematics in the curriculum there will be prayer in schools".

The Kyrie Elieson on the wall of gonzaga

From 1957 to 1968, the ground floor of Canisius housed the University Library before it moved to its present location in 1968. In Canisius graduate studies started in 1950 for both men and women in business administration, education, and financial management. Besides classrooms, faculty and deans' offices, it housed the office of president until 1982. A meeting room in continual use is named to honor Fr. James Coughlin who had served as academic vice president for 17 years. Here, also, Continuing Education started in 1970. Now Canisius boasts of the Culpeper Language Lab, computer labs and impressive multimedia rooms.

Behind Canisius lies a red piece of modern art by the sculptor Larry Mohr who loaned us the two intersecting V-shaped I-beams called Vee-one as a symbol of the help Catholics and Catholic religious orders such as the Jesuits gave to the Jews during World War II. It is meant to be a victory symbol for people of good will.

The life of Aloysius Gonzaga
In 1957, the next building erected was a residence hall for 223 students named Gonzaga Hall. Aloysius Gonzaga was named the patron of Catholic Youth. He died before ordination while helping in the Roman plague of 1591. In his family were found all kinds of scoundrels, thieves and murderers. Feuding members of family called on Aloysius to settle their fights.

Bernard Riley's mural of St. Aloysius' life

Part of Riley's painting

In the Foyer is a large 1959 mural by the local artist Bernard Riley who was proclaimed Artist of the Year by the Bridgeport Chamber of Commerce. His son John graduated from the Prep and the University. Along Gonzaga's south wall is found a Gregorian Chant notation of the "Kyrie" (Lord, have mercy!) in offset brick. This curiosity is noted in Ripley's "Believe it or not". Besides being a residence hall Gonzaga has a large auditorium and the offices of the credit union and the student newspaper. In Gonzaga there are many curious rooms and passageways - somewhat like an old English mansion. One such was the collection of rooms for the auditorium projectionist which today is used as a deli. Another were the numerous side altars for the many Jesuits to celebrate their daily Mass. For twenty-five years part of the third floor was used as a Jesuit residence - from 1957 until 1982 when the Jesuit superiors finally got around to building proper Jesuit housing. For 25 years the Jesuit Superior General in Rome had been advocating something like today's Ignatius house, but intervening presidents never seemed to get his letters.

5. Alumni and Campion

Five of the pre-stressed arches of Alumni Hall

Next came Alumni Hall in 1959; it has been home for our two championship basketball teams and offices for the athletic department which supervises 19 intercollegiate and 8 club sports. On the floor of Alumni Hall we find one of the Bellarmine seals. Alumni Hall is one of the earliest pre-stressed concrete structures of this kind ever attempted. 1959 engineering magazines related that the eleven 160-foot pre-cast arches used involved a record span for arch ribs pre-cast in the U.S.

The life of Edmund Campion in stone
About this time there was need for further housing, partly due to the sudden increase in applications of 1963 when Fr. Donald Lynch and his Four Fairfield University scholars put Fairfield on the map by their brilliant performance on National TV in the College Bowl. Bridgeport's mayor decreed a day to honor them. So in 1964 another residence hall was built for 280 students called Campion Hall. Edmund Campion died in 1581 after being "hanged, drawn and quartered under the persecution of Good Queen Bess." On the west wall is a 10 ton slab depicting the life of Campion, Oxford Scholar, writing Campion's Brag: his defiant defense of his Catholic Faith and his martyrdom in which he promises Queen Elizabeth that she is fighting a battle she will lose: whenever she would kill one Jesuit, several more would arrive. "It is of God . . . it cannot be withstood". Some of the first Fairfield women lived in Campion.
There seemed to be no end to Fairfield's growth.

The next installment of this story concerns
Fairfield University's Growth from 1965-1995

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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