History of SJU

Beginning at Old St. Joseph’s: 1851 - 1860

On the morning of September 15, 1851, some 30 young men gathered in the courtyard outside Saint Joseph’s Church on Willings 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 century the realization of Fr. Greaton’s plans.

Credit for founding Saint Joseph’s College is given to Felix Barbelin, S.J., who served as its first president. In January 1856, the 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 Willings Alley location in 1860. Shortly thereafter, the civil strife between the North and South became the first of many wars that would greatly diminish enrollment and, through the Civil War and post-bellum years, Saint Joseph’s struggled to remain in existence.

Expanding Saint Joseph’s College: 1861 - 1922

With the purchase of a city block between 17th and 18th Streets, fronting on Stiles Street, as a new site, Saint Joseph’s future began to look brighter. Burchard Villiger, S.J., one of the original members of the faculty, became its president in 1866. A steady and strong growth, both in student enrollment and academic offerings, is recorded from September 2, 1889, when the College moved from Willings Alley to Stiles Street, until 1927, when a larger campus was judged necessary.

Barbelin Hall on Hawk Hill, the home of Saint Joseph's University. Picture dated 1927

The First Capital Campaign: 1922-1942

In November 1922, an ambitious building 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 23 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 14, 1927. From that time to the present, Saint Joseph’s has been located on City Avenue.

Growing and Going Residential: 1943-1969

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 1960s, Saint Joseph’s experienced even more 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.

Welcoming Women and Becoming a University: 1970-1982

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. The Secretary of Education of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania recognized Saint Joseph’s as a university on July 24, 1978. The corporate charter was formally changed to reflect university status on December 27, 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 existing College of Arts & Sciences, and added graduate programs including health administration, criminal justice, gerontology, public safety and computer science.

Widening Our Reach: 1983-1999

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 its students from outside of Pennsylvania. As the University welcomed larger, more accomplished classes, the number of full-time faculty increased by nearly 80 percent.

Entering the new Millennium with a Larger Campus: 2000-2008

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 of St. Joseph, 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 original Villiger building on Overbrook Avenue was given a technological renovation, made the new home of the University’s social science departments and christened John R. Post ’60 Hall. In 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 in Merion began Saint Joseph’s largest expansion since the move to City Avenue. Renamed the James J. Maguire ’58 Campus, it is 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 beloved Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse was expanded into the Michael J. Hagan ’85 Arena, ushering in the next century of storied Hawk athletics.

Meeting the needs of high-tech learning: 2010-2016

The University broke ground in November 2010 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 Drexel Library. The new Villiger Hall, a 400-bed residence hall that opened its doors to first-year students in August 2012, graces the corner of Cardinal and City Avenues.

In 2012, Saint Joseph’s acquired the former Cardinal’s Residence from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Contiguous to the University’s 48-acre Philadelphia campus, the 8.9-acre property includes a three-story, 23,350-square-foot main house and two additional buildings. The property has been renamed the Marcy Dugan Wolfington Campus and the main building has been transformed into the Maguire Wolfington Welcome Center, which houses the University’s enrollment, admissions and career development offices and serves as a stunning first impression to prospective students and their families.

SJU Today, With an Eye Toward the Future

No longer the modest commuter college on what became Hawk Hill, Saint Joseph’s is now a comprehensive, internationally recognized university with students from across the country and around the world. Its Phi Beta Kappa chapter in Arts & Sciences and AACSB accreditation in the Haub School signal academic distinction in a wide range of undergraduate, graduate and executive programs. From Willings Alley to City Line, Saint Joseph’s is truly Philadelphia’s Jesuit University.