Fordham’s evolution from a rural religious college with just six students into a highly respected educational institution in a world-class city is a story of grit, determination, and a little bit of luck.
“Fordham University: Made in New York,” a panel discussion held on the Rose Hill campus as part of the University’s Dodransbicentennial celebration, touched on some of the University’s history, lore and legends, with reflections from a distinguished panel of alumni:
Joseph Cammarosano, FCRH ’47, GSAS ’56, professor emeritus of economics;
Patrick Foye, FCRH ’78, LAW ’81, executive director, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey;
Haeda Mihaltses, FCRH ’86, GSAS ’94, executive director of external affairs, New York Mets;
Patricia Peek, FCRH ’90, GSAS ’92, ’07, director of undergraduate admission, Fordham University; and
Msgr. Thomas Shelley, GSAS ’66, professor emeritus of theology and author of Fordham, A History of the Jesuit University of New York: 1841–2003 (Fordham University Press, 2016)
In recounting the history of the nine colleges that comprise the school, Msgr. Shelley attributed the success of the University—especially through its rough patches—to the Society of Jesus.
“The popularity of Jesuit education for the last four centuries has been due in large measure to one factor: The fact that it’s rooted in the Christian humanism of the Renaissance and the positive aspects of the Catholic reformation,” he said.
Among the twists and turns that took place over the course of the University’s history was its merging, in 1907, with Manhattan’s St. Francis Xavier College, a development that tripled the then St. John’s College (as it was still known) enrollment. Msgr. Shelley said this event transformed Fordham from a residential to a commuter college, a distinction that has been only recently reversed.
Cammarosano said Fordham had the City of New York to thank, specifically the Third Avenue elevated train, for making it accessible to New York area commuters.
“Was St. Francis [a] better school than Fordham? No, [but] they had local transportation. Fordham was up here in the boonies, and poor people couldn’t afford a car,” he said.
Foye said that in the 1960s, Father Laurence J. McGinley, S.J.,convinced city planner Robert Moses to sell the University land in Midtown Manhattan to develop the Lincoln Center campus—home for fully half the roughly 15,000 students enrolled at the University today. Foye noted that Fordham has conversely served the city by training its students to serve the public good. Among the Lincoln Center-based schools are law, social service, and education.
Ironically, one of Foye’s favorite memories from his time at Fordham was when Moses spoke to one of his classes at the Rose Hill campus. Moses’ reputation had already taken a hit with the publication of Robert Caro’s The Power Broker (Knopf, 1974). So it was additionally awkward, Foye said, when immediately before Moses spoke, the class heard a report on WFUV saying traffic on the Cross Bronx Expressway was terrible.
“You had Moses, who’d built the Cross Bronx expressway, and engendered the wrath of [community organizer] Jane Jacobs, and here was a reporter . . . reporting on how bad the traffic was,” he said. “We were all transfixed.”
Panelists discussed how Fordham can stay true to its New York roots while also expanding its national footprint. Peek said the admissions office assigns recruiters who are responsible not only for Texas, Nebraska, Illinois, and other states, but also for the borough of the Bronx.
She also said that, as a Catholic university, Fordham strives to be a place where everyone feels free to discuss religious faiths in general.
“The idea of having a dialogue between faith and reason is important,” she said. “[Fordham] sets up a classroom and a community where it’s okay to talk about it.”