Saint Joseph’s University recently opened a West Philadelphia extension at the old University of the Sciences campus, 43rd and Woodland. They may be new neighbors, but an archival photo reveals our historic connection!
On October 15, 1925, at the original City Ave. campus, Catholic News Services reported that our second pastor: “The Right Rev. Michael J. Crane. Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia. officiated at the breaking of ground for the first building of the new St. Joseph’s College on the site where the imposing group of buildings for the Jesuit Institution will soon stand. The first building will house the College of Liberal Arts and serve as a faculty building. Bishop Crane used a shovel which was used when ground was broken for old St. Joseph’s Church here in 1733 and which has been a treasured relic among the Jesuits since that time.”
Saint Joe’s University still has the original photo, and the plaque that was affixed to the shovel, though the location of the actual shovel is not known.
News coverage of the groundbreaking was scant. A few years later, in 1927, the dedication of the building – on the 75th Anniversary of the founding of the college in 1853 — would be a much larger event, with the famously flawed aviation hero Charles Lindbergh (first to fly solo across the Atlantic) as a special guest. He would be awarded an honorary degree of Master of Aeronautics – even though the university did not have a program in the subject! It was claimed that 10,000 people attended that event, including a number of international dignitaries. Cardinal Dougherty officiated.
How did St. Joe’s come to build on City Ave back in 1925? Their history reports “The Jesuit charism, or mission, coincided perfectly with a grand plan envisioned by a group of wealthy Catholics from Overbrook and Bala Cynwyd in 1922 to develop City Line into an uber-Catholic community — a Catholic Main Line” with two wealthy parishes (Our Lady of Lourdes in Overbrook and St. Matthias in Bala Cynwyd); and plans for St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, St. Joseph’s Jesuit college, and the Cardinal’s residence, among others. Priorities change. Now, the university observes that the new “Saint Joseph’s University City campus is located in Philadelphia’s innovation district — home to health science start-ups, established biotech firms and influential higher education institutions that work together toward solving societies’ most pressing problems.” And we are here too. With a lot of young people and families bringing new energy. Shall we also be innovators?! 😊