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Saint Peter's University
2641 Kennedy Boulevard

by Mary Kinahan-Ockay
University Archivist, Saint Peter's College

 
 

Postcard circa 1910 showing the original Saint Peter's College building
on Grand Street (now Saint. Peter's Preparatory High School)
Courtesy Jersey City Free Public Library 

The original Saint Peter's College building
on Grand Street (now Saint Peter's Preparatory High School)
Photo: P. Shalhoub, 2002

 
 
 Postcard circa 1950 of the new Saint Peter's College buildings on the NW corner of Kennedy (then Hudson) Boulevard and Montgomery Street
Courtesy Jersey City Free Public Library 

Postcard circa 1950 of a building on the campus of Saint Peter's College on Kennedy (then Hudson) Boulevard between Montgomery Street
and Glenwood Avenue
Courtesy Jersey City Free Public Library 

 
 
 Saint Peter's University campus
including chapel and residence halls
on the eastern side of Kennedy Boulevard
between Montgomery St. and Glenwood Avenue
Photo: P. Shalhoub, 2002
Photograph of Barack Obama speaking at
the Yanitelli Recreational Center rally at Saint Peter's College on Wednesday, January 9, 2008.
Courtesy of Saint Peter's College, Office of Public Relations and Publications.
campus

Saint Peter's University, formerly Saint Peter's College, was founded in 1872, the first college in Jersey City. Saint Peter's with New Jersey City University and Hudson County Community College provide the city with three institutions for higher education.

Saint Peter's College was chartered by a special Act of the Legislature of New Jersey on April 3, 1872. Three departments were established at that time for the education of young men: the Collegiate, the Academic or High School (Preparatory) and the Grammar. It opened September 2, 1878, at the new Saint Peter's College on Grand Street building (now Shalloe Hall on the campus of Saint Peter's Preparatory school), and first conferred academic degrees on June 25, 1889.

The Grammar Department was separated from the College in September 1905, and became Manresa Hall (Annual Catalogue, 1918-1919:5). It was named for Manresa, Spain, where the Jesuit founder Saint Ignatius Loyola began his spiritual exercises of prayer. The building was on a parcel of the present site of the Jersey City Armory at 269 Summit Avenue (Jesuit College in Jersey City: 2). In 1905 the College and the Prep also were "duly recognized by the State Board of Education and registered at Trenton as maintaining a full four years College and Academic Course" (Annual Catalogue, 1906-1907:7). They were separately incorporated February 10, 1955 (O'Donnell 21).

Saint Peter's College, the Jesuit College of New Jersey, was founded as a liberal arts college for men. When classes first started in Jersey City in 1878, seventy-one students originally enrolled in the Preparatory Department. That number grew to one hundred and twenty-three by year's end. As more students arrived, work began on a new school building, Mulry Hall on Grand and Warren Streets. It was dedicated in 1913.

By 1900 the College had granted 63 Bachelor degrees and 26 Master's degrees. From 1918 to 1930, the College closed due to World War I and because Jesuit superiors wanted to concentrate their manpower in other colleges on the East Coast. As noted in the 1934 College yearbook, The Peacock Pie, "The class rooms were empty. The faculty had closed their mark books and left for the battlefield. The students had thrown aside the academic black to don khaki for the flag that had floated above the school for two score years." The Preparatory Department did not close at this time and continues to operate at its original location at 144 Grand Street.

While the Jesuits in residence at the time, most notably James F. McDermott, president 1915-1921, Thomas F. Graham, president 1921-1925, and Joseph P. O'Reilly, president 1925-1931, petitioned both the Father Provincial and the Father General vigorously to reopen the College, a defining gesture of support came when His Excellency Right Reverend Thomas J. Walsh, D.D., Bishop of Newark, traveled to Rome in 1929 to urge The Very Reverend Father General of the Society of Jesus, Wlodimir Ledochowski, to reopen the college. His request was honored (Cronin, The Closing . . .: 29).

Saint Peter's College reopened in 1930 in space on the fourth floor of the Chamber of Commerce Building at One Newark Avenue in downtown Jersey City. Robert I. Gannon, S.J., was Dean. Father Gannon introduced five new Jesuit faculty members who brought a new vigor and outlook to the College, stressing, as their predecessors had done, a strong Catholic liberal arts program, the hallmark of a Jesuit education. They were dubbed "the Million Dollar Faculty," and included Dean Gannon, Arthur J. Hohman, S.J., John P. Smith, S.J., Atlee F.X. Devereux, S.J., and scholastics Messrs. William J. Gleason, S.J. And Paul J. Swick, S.J.

In December 1930, Fr. Gannon chose the peacock as the College's symbol, or mascot. The main reason for his selection was the story of the peacock in myth, which was committed to the flames of a funeral pyre and was reborn more beautiful than before. Fr. Gannon felt that Saint Peter's College was reborn better than before. It has also been recorded that in 1630 Michael Reniersz de Pauw, Burgomaster of Amsterdam and Lord of Achienhoven, Holland, secured from the Director-General and Councilors of New Netherland all of what is now Hudson County. Pauw is the Dutch word for peacock. Michael Pauw gave the area a Latinized version of his name, "Pavonia," meaning Land of the Peacock (Grundy: 4).

Besides Pavonia, use of Pauw's name is also evident in street names such as Communipaw Avenue. The peacock as a symbol for Saint Peter's College was a fitting choice at that time and remains so today. The seal of the college was also designed in 1930. It was a peacock surmounting a rock, a couple of crossed keys, and the legend in perpetuum. The peacock is symbolic of the soul finding immortality after death; the rock symbolizes St. Peter as the "rock" upon which the church was built; the keys represent the keys to heaven, and the words in perpetuum, denote the hope of going on forever (Jesuit College in Jersey City: 6).

Hudson College of Commerce and Finance, an evening school and a division of Saint Peter's College that enrolled women, opened in September 1932. The name was changed to Saint Peter's College, The School of Business in 1948, and subsequently The School of Business Administration of Saint Peter's College (Saint Peter's The College Magazine, Commemorative Issue, Vol. 15, No. 2:15; and Hudson College: The School of Business of St. Peter's College Catalog, 1950-1951:11).

Besides being the only Catholic business college in the state, Hudson College was the first in the area to offer advanced courses that led to a degree of Bachelor of Commercial Science. The first graduation was in 1936. Of the five graduating students, three were women (Jesuit College in Jersey City: 9). Classes were suspended briefly with the outbreak of World War II in September 1942, but resumed in September 1945. The session program was reduced from six to five years, and, in September of the following year, a day session was established offering a four year program towards a Bachelor of Science Degree. A major in Management was also introduced at this time (Hudson College: The School of Business of St. Peter's College Catalog, 1947-1948: 12).

By 1933, serious efforts were made to move Saint Peter's College from downtown Jersey City to its present site on the former Edward F.C. Young estate at Hudson (now Kennedy) Boulevard and Glenwood Avenue on two and one-half acres. The first building to be constructed was Collins Gymnasium in 1934, followed by Gannon Hall and the Arts Building in 1936 (Roehrenbeck). The Middle States Evaluation Committee accredited Saint Peter's College at its annual meeting in Atlantic City on November 29, 1935 (Jesuit College in Jersey City: 9). Classes started at the present site on September 24, 1936.

Changes were gradually made on the new campus. Over the next several years, a building boom occurred, and from 1947-1999, Memorial Hall (1947), McDermott Hall (1949), Dinneen Hall (1957), St. Peter Hall (1959), O'Toole Library (1967), Pope Academic Building (1970), the Yanitelli Recreational Center (1975), Whelan Hall (1993), and Millennium Hall (1999) were erected.

College records indicate that the World War II era brought the College a new mission: "The Second World War emergency of 1941-1945, more menacing even than the first, was met by an accelerated course of pre-induction collegiate training which prepared more than one thousand students for service in the Armed Forces of the United States. Alumni servicemen numbered approximately sixteen hundred, of whom thirty made the supreme sacrifice. The laboratory and instructional facilities of the college were utilized from 1944 to 1946 by more than 300 student nurses enrolled in the United States Nurses' Cadet Corps, for whom course affiliation at Saint Peter's was provided by six metropolitan hospitals" (Annual Catalogue(s), Saint Peter's College, 1946-1947: 11).

The United States Army approved a Reserve Officers' Training Corps (R.O.T.C.) at Saint Peter's College on January 12, 1951, by establishing a Chemical Corps Unit. Memorial Hall, formerly a classroom building and named for alumni who gave their lives for their country during World War II, was redesigned to accommodate "the offices, classrooms, arms room and supply room of the Department of Military Science and Tactics" (Annual Bulletin, Saint Peter's College, 1951-1952: 16).The temporary drill field was at the rear of the building. ROTC training was mandatory for full time freshmen and sophomore male day students until 1969 when it became optional for all students. The program existed at Saint Peter's until 1990, when the College entered into a cross-enrollment agreement for ROTC training with Seton Hall University; the ROTC program at Saint Peter's formally closed July 31, 1991 (Campus Monthly, September 1991: 4).

One of the College's best known academic programs was its Institute of Industrial Relations, established in 1946: "Saint Peter's, and several other colleges affiliated with the Catholic church formed such schools after World War II in order to heighten awareness of labor rights, union bargaining, management objectives, and to guard against the threat of Communist influence in the American workplace. Classes dealing with the principles of 'Unionism' and 'Industrial Justice' were held on Wednesday (sometimes on Thursday) evenings at the school building situated at 144 Grand Street in Jersey City, NJ The institute was originally open to men alone, and the only criterion for admission was the possession of a union card plus proof that each individual 'worked for a living.' Originally, there was no registration cost to attend, but by the early 1950s a $1.00 fee was charged to those who could afford it. A student was usually allowed to attend one class per term, and had the option to choose such course titles as 'Job Evaluation,' 'Union Methods,' 'Parliamentary Law,' 'Industry Councils,' 'Contract Bargaining,' and many others. A certificate of credit was conferred on those who spent 32 weeks at the school over a two-year period. Attendance at the institute piqued [sic] during the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s, but declined steadily afterward until it closed in 1973" (former Saint Peter's College Website, http://www.spc.edu).

The Division of Adult Education was started on January 27, 1953. Saint Peter's College now consisted of: The College of Arts and Sciences, The School of Business Administration-Day Division, The School of Business Administration-Evening Division, and the Division of Adult Education. By 1955, 3,431 students had graduated from Saint Peter's College (Cronin. The Closing . . .: 36).

More than half the alumni of the school came from the graduating classes 1950-1955. Enrollment remained steady through the 1950s, and then grew in healthy numbers throughout the 1960s.

Fr. Victor R. Yanitelli, S.J., holds the honor of being the longest serving President of Saint Peter's College. The Yanitelli years, 1966-1978, saw great growth and vast changes. The first Faculty Senate was formed and Saint Peter's became fully coeducational in 1966 when women were admitted to the Day Session. The Charter of Saint Peter's College was amended to allow members of the laity to join the Board of Trustees. The Act of Enactment was signed by New Jersey Governor Richard J, Hughes on January 17, 1970. Two years later the Jesuit Community of St. Peter's was separately incorporated (Cronin, The Closing . . .: 37).

The Englewood Cliffs branch campus, a "college for adults," opened in 1975, and held day and evening sessions until 1983, when the day session was terminated. The Yanitelli years also witnessed unprecedented growth in enrollment and the establishment of many new Academic programs, including majors in Fine Arts and Computer Science, Humanities courses in the Evening Division, and programs in Urban Studies and College Science Improvement (COSIP).

During the tenure of its nineteenth president, L. Edward Glynn, S.J., Saint Peter's saw the arrival of its first resident students. The College acquired apartments on Glenwood Avenue and converted them into student housing (Pauw Wow, Volume LIII, No. 1, Saint Peter's College 23 September 1984:2). Today's students reside in seven locations in the immediate vicinity.

Also under Fr. Glynn, the College reestablished its graduate program (which had been suspended in the late 1940s) in 1979 by introducing a Master's degree in Education. In 1988 the College introduced the Master of Business Administration with a concentration in Management Information Systems, followed by additional concentrations in Management and International Business (1995), and Finance and Marketing (2000). Masters programs in Accountancy and Nursing were established in 1996 and 1997, respectively (Graduate Bulletin: 3).

While religious, performing arts, debate and athletic clubs and societies were always part of the extracurricular programs at the college, the 70s and 80s saw a great increase in these activities. Today's extracurricular activities also include organizations relating to community service, ethnicity, academic achievement, student publications and additional sports teams, including an intramural program.

Saint Peter's College has an enrollment of approximately 3,000 full-time and part-time students; it represents a diverse student body from throughout the United States and more than 60 countries. Approximately one third of the undergraduates are resident students. The student to faculty ratio is 16:1.

There are 108 full-time professors, Jesuits making up seven percent of the faculty. Twenty-four Jesuits reside at Saint Peter's, with seven serving on the full-time College faculty. Saint Peter's is part of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. Including Saint Peter's, there are twenty-eight Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States with Saint Peter's being the only one in New Jersey.

The College celebrated its 130th anniversary in 2002. It currently offers 38 Bachelor's programs along with numerous Associate degree programs. The College of Arts and Sciences/School of Business Administration (CAS/SBA) offers undergraduate programs for traditional day students while the School of Professional and Continuing Studies (SPCS) offers undergraduate programs for adult students. Areas of study within the CAS/SBA include pre-professional joint programs in medicine and law. Other academic programs include: African-American Studies, Army & Air Force ROTC, Cooperative Education, Executive Seminars, Harvard Model United Nations, Honors Program, New Jersey Marine Science Consortium, Service Learning, Study Abroad, and the Washington Center Program. Areas of study within the SPCS include Business and Liberal Arts. The School of Graduate Studies offers Master's Degree programs in Education, Business Administration, Accountancy, Nursing, and Criminal Justice Administration. Doctoral programs are offered in Education and Nursing. Besides the campuses in Jersey City and Englewood Cliffs, courses are also offered at various corporate sites at the Jersey City Waterfront and in South Amboy, NJ.

The main campus offers five instructional buildings, including Gannon Hall, a state of the art science building, which recently underwent a $9 million renovation.

The Theresa and Edward O'Toole Library contains more than 50,000 square feet of space and houses more than 260,000 volumes on its four floors. The library at the branch campus at Englewood Cliffs offers an additional 30,000 volumes. The libraries subscribe to 750 periodicals and more than 10,000 full-text periodicals are available on or off-campus from the Library's Web site, www.spc.edu/library, along with 1,200 links to academic and government Internet resources.

The Yanitelli Recreational Life Center is a 125,000 square foot, multi-million dollar facility offering five indoor tennis courts; three gymnasiums; a racquetball court; indoor golf practice facility; a twenty-five yard swimming pool with two diving boards; fitness center with strength and cardiovascular training, a new weight room; and a game room.

The College is a wireless campus. It offers students access to more than 300 computers in 20 labs. In addition, each residential hall has a mini-lab open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All classrooms have Internet access.

Saint Peter's is accredited by the Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, and by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education for its Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in Nursing. The College is approved by the New Jersey State Department of Education for teacher-training.

History was made at Saint Peter's in May 2007 when Dr. Eugene J. Cornacchia was appointed the first lay president in the College's 135-year history. At a May 12 news conference, Dr. Cornacchia proclaimed that "he was 'a product of Jesuit education' and stressed his presidency will be 'always, always committed' to the Jesuit mission at Saint Peter's, New Jersey's only Jesuit College" (former Saint Peter's College Website: http://www.spc.edu).

In August 2011, Saint Aedan's Catholic Church at 800 Bergen Avenue was added to Saint Peter's expanding campus as the church prepared to celebrate its centennial in 2012. It will be known as Saint Aedan's: The Saint Peter's University Church and continue to serve its parish community. In 2013, the university opened Mac Mahon Student Center on Montgomery Street that features The Duncan Family Sky Room offering uninterrupted views of Jersey City and Manhattan.

After 140 years, Saint Peter's announced that its application for university designation was approved by the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education in March 2012. Although the original charter from 1872 grants Saint Peter's all of the "powers, functions and prerogatives of a university," this recent approval marks the beginning of the transition from Saint Peter's College to Saint Peter's University (former Saint Peter's College Website: http://www.spc.edu). The University will continue to add to the growing number of post-graduate opportunities, including doctoral, post-graduate certification, online and five-year programs, and will also continue to enhance existing partnerships with other educational institutions.

References:

Annual Catalogue, Saint Peter's College, 1906-1907.
Annual Catalogue, Saint Peter's College, 1918-1919.
Annual Catalogue(s) of St. Peter's College and High School Jersey City, 1923-1926.
Annual Catalogue(s) Hudson College, a Division of Saint Peter's College, 1932-1943.
Annual Catalogue(s), Saint Peter's College, 1946-1947.
Annual Catalogue(s), Saint Peter's College, 1949-1952.
Annual Bulletin, Saint Peter's College, 1951-1952.
Campus Monthly. September 1991: 4).
Cronin, Richard J., S.J. The Jesuits and the Beginning of St. Peter's College. New Jersey: St. Peter's College, 1978.
---. The Closing and Reopening of Saint Peter's College, 1918-1930.
New Jersey: St. Peter's College Communications Office, 1989.
Gannon, Robert I., S.J. The Poor Old Liberal Arts. New York: Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, 1981.
Graduate Program in Education Bulletin, Saint Peter's College, 1984-86.
Graduate Bulletin: Jersey City Campus, Englewood Cliffs Campus, Jersey City Waterfront, Saint Peter's College, 2003-2005.
Grundy, J. Owen. The History of Jersey City, 1609-1976. Jersey City, NJ: Progress Printing Co., Inc. 1976.
Hudson College: The School of Business of St. Peter's College Catalog, 1947-1948.
Hudson College: The School of Business of St. Peter's College Catalog, 1950-1951.
Manresa Hall, 1917-1918. Saint Peter's College Grammar School: 50 pp.
O'Donnell, Jim. Jesuit College in Jersey City. New Jersey: St. Peter's College Communications Office, 1972.
---. The Young Estate. New Jersey: St. Peter's College Communications Office, 1972.
Pauw Wow., Volume LIII, Number 1, Saint Peter's College, September 23, 1984.
Peacock Pie. New Jersey: St. Peter's College, 1934.
Roehrenbeck, William. Chronology of Important Dates in the History of Saint Peter's College. New Jersey: Jersey City Public
Library, 1971.
"Saint Peter's College Is Now Saint Peter's University," Jersey Journal 20 August 2012.
Saint Peter's The College Magazine, Commemorative Issue, Vol. 15, No. 2, Winter 1996/97. New Jersey: Office of Public Affairs, Saint Peter's College.

Former Saint Peter's College Website: http://www.spc.edu.

Saint Peter's University Website: http://www.saintpeters.edu.

Acknowledgments: John F. Wrynn, S.J., D. Litt., Chair, History Department, Saint Peter's College; and Alan Delozier, Director & University Archivist, Msgr. Noe Field Archives & Special Collections Center, Seton Hall University.