History of SJU

On the morning of September 15, 1851, some thirty young men gathered in the courtyard outside Old St. Joseph's Church on Willing's Alley, near Walnut and Fourth Streets, one block from Independence Hall. After attending High Mass and reciting the Veni Creator in the sanctuary, these young men were assigned to their classes in a building adjacent to the church. That September morning marked the beginning of a rich and exciting history for Saint Joseph's University.

As far back as 1741, a Jesuit college in Philadelphia had been proposed and planned by Joseph Greaton, S.J., the first resident pastor of Old St. Joseph's. The suppression of the Jesuits (1773-1814) and dissension within the Philadelphia Catholic community delayed for another hundred years the realization of Fr. Greaton's plans for a college. Credit for founding the college is given to Felix Barbelin, S.J., who served as its first president. In January 1856, Saint Joseph's College moved from Old St. Joseph’s to a more spacious site on the fashionable Filbert Street. Due to financial difficulties, the college returned to its Willing's Alley location in 1860. Shortly thereafter, the civil strife between the North and South became the first of many wars that would greatly diminish the college's enrollment. Through the Civil War and post-bellum years, Saint Joseph's College struggled to remain in existence.

With the 1866 purchase of a city block between Seventeenth and Eighteenth Streets fronting on Stiles Street as a new site for the college, its future began to look brighter. Burchard Villiger, S.J., one of the original members of the college faculty, became its president in 1866. A steady and strong growth, both in student enrollment and academic excellence, is recorded for the new life of Saint Joseph's College from September 2, 1889, when the college moved from Willing's Alley to Stiles Street, until 1927, when a larger campus was judged necessary. In November 1922, an ambitious building fund campaign to raise $1,000,000 was organized by Matthew Fortier, S.J. His work in this difficult undertaking was rewarded with contributions that exceeded the goal. Subsequently, Saint Joseph's College was able to purchase twenty-three acres in a beautiful residential area at the western edge of the city. Construction of a handsome building in modern collegiate Gothic architectural style began in 1925. Its dedication took place on November 14th, 1927. From that time to the present, Saint Joseph's has been located on City Avenue.

In 1943, an evening college was founded. It was also at this time that Saint Joseph's acquired several spacious homes adjacent to the campus, which were converted to its first student residences. Through the decade of the sixties, Saint Joseph's experienced unprecedented physical growth. Five residences were added to the campus, including the nine-acre estate of Margaret Gest, a Jesuit faculty residence, the Villiger classroom building, a science center, the Drexel Library building, a six-story student dormitory, and expansion of the Campion Student Center. All enhanced the modern facilities of the campus. In the fall of 1970, the College opened its doors to women as full-time students, bringing an end to its tradition as an all-male institution. Saint Joseph's was recognized as a university by the Secretary of Education of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on July 24th, 1978. The corporate charter was formally changed to reflect university status on December 27th, 1978.

From 1978 through 1982 the university experienced a strong period of growth and development. The university added a College of Business and Administration to complement the College of Arts and Sciences, and expanded Gradate Programs to include health administration, criminal justice, gerontology, public safety and computer science.

Throughout the 1980s and 90s, Saint Joseph's shifted dramatically from a commuter school with a Philadelphia base to a residential institution drawing a majority of students from outside Pennsylvania. As the university welcomed larger, more accomplished classes, the number of full-time faculty increased by nearly eighty percent.

To accommodate the increased student body, Saint Joseph's embarked on a series of capital improvements that saw the construction of the McShain Hall residence center and the Michael J. Morris Quadrangle townhouses. A new chapel, named for revered, longtime administrator Michael J. Smith, S.J., provided a central place of worship for the university community. State-of-the-art Mandeville Hall was built to house the renamed Erivan K. Haub School of Business, and the Villiger building was given a technological renovation, made the new home of the university's social science departments, and christened John R. Post Hall. During the summer of 2003, the university broke ground on new residence halls at the corner of 54th Street and City Avenue that are now known as Rashford and Lannon Halls, named after the university’s 25th and 26th presidents, Nicholas S. Rashford, S.J., and Timothy R. Lannon, S.J.

The 2008 acquisition of the adjacent 38-acre Episcopal Academy on City Avenue began an unprecedented period of expansion for Saint Joseph's. Renamed the James J. Maguire ’58 Campus, it is now home to multiple academic departments, athletic fields, the Saint Joseph’s University Gallery and the Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support. That same year, the university opened Hawks’ Landing, a parking and retail facility on 54th Street. The following fall, the Michael J. Hagan ’85 Arena was dedicated, ushering in the next century of storied Hawks basketball. In November 2010, ground broke for the John R. Post ’60 Academic Center and the John and Maryanne Hennings Post Learning Commons. Dedicated in March 2012, this ambitious initiative brought high-tech facilities and collaborative learning environments to the university with a three-story, 35,000-square-foot addition to the renovated Drexel Library. Villiger Hall, the new 400-bed residence hall that opened its doors to first-year students in August 2012, graces the corner of Cardinal and City Avenues.

Academically, the College of Arts and Sciences was granted a Phi Beta Kappa chapter in October 2000; the Haub School of Business received prestigious AACSB accreditation shortly thereafter. The launching of new executive and master's programs, as well as the university's first doctorate, in educational leadership, supplemented existing undergraduate and graduate programs. Six endowed chairs have been founded: three are dedicated to faculty members in accounting, food marketing, and philosophy, respectively; one is campus-wide; one is held by a Jesuit teaching in the College of Arts and Sciences; and one is held by a scholar in ethics.

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