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All Things Augustine


Winter 2002

A New Church and Monastery Grace and Expanding College

By Holly Stratts

The year was 1857 and after Commencement in May, Villanova was forced to close its doors for the second time in 12 years as the Augustinians were increasingly needed in newly established and far-reaching parishes. In late summer, the nation would undergo the tumultuous times of the 1857 financial panic, one of the most severe economic crises in U.S. history, followed in 1861 by the Civil War. The war ended in April 1865 and the College was able to reopen in September of that year after an 8-year closure.

The Rev. Ambrose A. Mullen, O.S.A. was named the seventh president of the college. The student population numbered 27, including some members of the Order. The curriculum remained largely unchanged and included: Greek, Latin, English, mathematics, natural philosophy, bookkeeping, history, poetry, French, German and music. In 1866, drawing was added.

That same year, the College fielded its first organized, competitive baseball team. In his book, The History of Villanova Baseball, Phil Fildago ’62 noted that, “Three games were player during the year with the school winning two and losing one.

The first game was played at the foot of the hill on a field between the college and Lancaster Pike. The Villanova squad met the Central Club of Philadelphia on May 2. John W. McFadden, an eyewitness at the game, recorded the events ‘in a diary I kept whilst a student at Villanova.’ The Main Liners won the initial contest 74-9 in five innings.

The second game was played on June 13 against, as McFadden noted, ‘one of the best clubs in the city,’ Keystone, who defeated our squad by the score of 48-9.

The final game was held on Nov. 29 again with the Central Club of Philadelphia with Villanova winning 27-19. Three intra-squad games took place on campus in 1866. One team was under the leadership of Father James Waldron and the other under the leadership of Father Thomas Middleton.

In the early years, a quick turnover in the President’s Office was evident. In 1869, Father Patrick Stanton was named the eighth president and Father Mullen transferred to Andover, Mass, a mission newly acquired by the Augustinians. He died there at 49 in 1876. Father Stanton remained in office for the next four years.

New Buildings Begin to Rise

In Ever Ancient, Ever New, David R. Contosta and the Rev. Dennis J. Gallagher, O.S.A., described the construction boom. "New physical improvements began in 1869 when the college erected its first gymnasium, a wooden building eighty-one by forty feet, which stood just west of the 1844 Chapel. It contained ‘ten-pin alleys, horizontal and inclined ladders,
trapezes, a vaulting horse, swinging and parallel bars, climbing pole, bouncing board, breast bars, [and] striking bag…’ The gymnasium equipment was dismantled in 1872, however, and the building was converted into a student chapel and parish church for the surrounding Catholic population. The 1844 Chapel became an oratory for the Augustinians.

“In 1872, steam heat and gaslights appeared on campus for the first time, and a college post office opened in a new Pennsylvania Railroad station. The next year, in April 1873, construction began on the center and west wings of the College Building (later Alumni Hall) which were occupied for the first time in early 1874. These additions were designed by Edward F. Durang who would serve as Villanova’s architect for the next four decades. The old study hall in the east wing of the building was made into a Dramatic Hall, where several decades of Villanova students gave plays and musical performances.”

“In 1879, the Augustinians added a fourth floor, with mansard roof, to the old Belle-Air mansion, which now functioned as a monastery and seminary. Far more impressive than any of these improvements was a new college chapel and parish church, begun in 1883 and completed four years later in 1887. Designed in the Victorian Gothic style by Durang, its
soaring twin spires would become a local landmark and powerful symbol of Villanova. Upon completion of this structure, the gymnasium building (which served as a church since 1872) was reconverted for use as a gymnasium.”

Additional major construction projects did not resume until 1898.

Academic and Social Growth Continues

As all previous degrees granted were bachleor of arts degrees, the first bachelor of science degree was conferred in 1872 and Father Thomas Galberry became Villanova’s ninth president and served in that capacity until 1876. After their presence in America for 80 years, full provincial status finally was granted to the Augustinian Province in America and Father Galberry was elected the first provincial on Dec. 16, 1874. He held both positions for two years. In 1876, Father Thomas Middleton became president and served for two years. In 1878, Father John Fedigan was named prior of Villanova Monastery and the 11th president of the College and served as president until 1880.

The Golden Jubilee

In Villanova University 1842-1992: American - Catholic - Augustinian by David Contosta, he noted, “The main Jubilee celebration took place on June 21, 1893, Commencement Day. The buildings and grounds were gaily decorated with American flags, papal colors, and flags of various countries. Following the ceremonies 240 guests sat down for dinner in
the Dramatic Hall which was fitted for the occasion as a dining room. Father Middleton judged the day a great success, but his habit of blunt honesty compelled him to observe that the food was ‘barely substantial enough’ and that they ran out of Apollinaris water. Unfortunately, a south wind had kicked up during the commencement exercises, bringing up foul
odors from the ‘neighboring chateau,’ or outhouse.”

Entering the Next 50 Years

“Each year saw approximately 100 students enrolled; the faculty remained the same numerical size, and the standards of the College rose each year to stay abreast of the secular college,” Dr. Richard D. Breslin wrote in his book, Villanova: Yesterday and Today. “Fifty years had passed; 11 priests had served in the capacity of president, and more than 1,500 students received their education at Villanova. From among these students, 76 had received their baccalaureate degree; the remainder did not complete the required curriculum for a degree.”

Academic Expansion

He continued: “Founded exclusively as a Liberal Arts College, Villanova remained true to this tradition for the first 50 years of its existence. But, as the College prepared to enter the 20th century, it became apparent that it would have to broaden its curriculum to meet the demands of the time and the demands for specialization. Consequently, the efforts to update the curriculum led to the establishment of a School of Engineering in 1905. With regard to this development, the College had to provide adequate facilities for civil, mechanical and electrical engineering.”

Physical Plant Growth

In March 1899, ground was broken for two structures, a new monastery and Main College Hall (Tolentine Hall). In Ever Ancient, Ever New, Contosta and Gallagher noted, “The two structures, rendered in gray stone and designed in the Collegiate Gothic style by Edward F. Durang, would be built end to end and extend for some 500 feet along the crest of
a ridge facing Lancaster Pike.” The Saint Thomas of Villanova Monastery opened in June 1901 while Main College Hall was occupied in September of that year. With the construction of the new College Hall, the old College Building became the domain of the younger students, receiving the designation of St. Nicholas of Tolentine Academy in 1901.

Fire Destroys Original Mansion

Since named St. Rita’s Hall, the much remodeled and renovated Randolph Mansion was used as a seminary facility. On Jan. 10, 1910, a passerby noticed smoke pouring from the fourth floor. Five fire companies were able to control the blaze but only the outside walls remained standing. This loss left the seminarians without a home and in the spring of that year the community began work on the new St. Rita’s Hall. The fire took down the last remaining structure of the Belle Air estate.

1894 – Football program begins with a 24-0 win against the Logan Athletic Association. The season consisted of this one game.

1897 – Track and Field program begins. In 1908, J. E. O’Connell became Villanova’s first Olympian. He competed in the long jump in the London summer games.

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