In the 1930’s, the New England Jesuit Province petitioned for permission to establish a school for boys in Hartford, Connecticut. The petition languished until 1941, when Bishop Maurice McAuliffe suggested instead that the Society consider an alternate location in the city of Bridgeport. After a thorough and unsuccessful search for a suitable property in Bridgeport, the Society was informed of a 76-acre estate along Benson Road in the town of Fairfield. The estate was owned by the Jennings family, and included a 40-room mansion called Mailands. The Jesuits were able to purchase the Jennings estate and Mailands for $43,900.
In the spring of 1942 another piece of land, adjacent to the Jennings estate, came to market. Owned by Walter Benjamin Laschar, it was 105 acres of rolling hills and woods, and had a 44-room mansion as well, but was in arrears for taxes in the amount of $62,500. For the price of the back taxes, the Laschar estate was also acquired, and Fairfield’s 181-acre campus was born.
The Society sent 15 Jesuits to the new campus, with the community’s first rector, John McEleney, in March of 1942. The first classes of Prep commenced in September 1942. In 1945, the Society was able to have the Connecticut Senate and Governor approve a charter for Fairfield University of St. Robert Bellarmine, an institution with four educational units: intermediate, secondary, college and graduate school.
From 1942 until the mid 70’s, educational apostolate of the Prep and the University was the central focus of the community. Jesuit priests, scholastics and brothers in the classroom and in the positions of administration and staff were the primary architects of the growing institution. They lived all over the campus in McAuliffe Hall, on the top floors of Berchman Hall, as corridor ministers in the new dormitories, and in Bellarmine Hall. At their peak in 1983, the Jesuit community consisted of 80 members. The community earned a reputation for being extraordinarily friendly, collegial and welcoming to lay faculty, students, friends, and brother Jesuits from the New England Province and beyond.
In May 1974, on the initiative of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuit Community of Fairfield was separately incorporated from Fairfield University. The community was given nine acres of the original property upon which to build a new residence. The remaining assets of the university and the prep school were granted to a board of trustees which functioned independently of the Jesuit superiors. The Society committed itself to supporting Fairfield with Jesuit manpower and resources for as long as possible.
In the years that have followed, the Jesuits of Fairfield have continued to make significant contributions to the life of the University. Though smaller in size, the community remains a vital part of the soul of Fairfield.