Fairfield University in words and pictures, 1942-1966

Fairfield University in words and pictures, 1942-1966

Fairfield University celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. There are thousands of Fairfield stories that could be told, and limitless ways to tell those stories. But we thought the best way was to look back through The Manor yearbooks, which have been published annually since the first Fairfield class graduated in 1951. The photographs in The Manor capture the nuances and curiosities of campus life that would be difficult to express in words — the styles, the optimism, the drama, of a university as it is lived in the moment.

St. Patrick’s Day 1942

If Rev. John J. McEleney, S.J., was filled with misgivings as he made his way to a meeting at St. Roberts Hall Seminary in Pomfret, Conn. on March 17, 1942 his apprehension would have been perfectly justifiable. Three months prior to this meeting, 60 million Americans had gathered around their radios to listen as President Roosevelt described December 7, 1941 as a date that would “live in infamy.”

The foremost sacrifice on everyone’s mind was the certain deployment of millions of young men overseas to fight the Axis powers in what would become the deadliest and most widespread war in history.

With this backdrop of World War II, Fr. McEleney and six fellow Jesuit incorporators convened on the feast day of St. Patrick in 1942 to create the articles of association and adopt the by-laws for a new preparatory high school and college in Fairfield, Conn. The school was originally named The Fairfield College of St. Robert Bellarmine and Fr. McEleney was appointed rector.

Pro Deo et Patria

Marketed with a slogan of “Pro Deo et Patria” (For God and Country) and blessed with higher than anticipated enrollment, the all-male Fairfield College Preparatory School opened its doors to an enthusiastic response in the fall of 1942. High school classes were well underway when the Jesuits invited more than 300 Fairfield townspeople to campus for a formal welcoming program on December 6, 1942 — just one day shy of the first anniversary of Pearl Harbor. John Ferguson, the town’s first selectman, praised the Jesuits’ “valor” in opening the school during wartime, telling his constituents, “…there is no ceiling on the value of the returns that result from having such wonderful educational leaders in the community.”

Campus at this time consisted of two former estates on over 180 acres of land: McAuliffe Hall, the classroom building, and Bellarmine Hall, the Jesuit residence. Priests had to walk a long hilly path through dense tree growth to get from their residence to the classrooms.

“College Town?”

In 1944, Rev. James H. Dolan, S.J., replaced Fr. McEleney as rector of Fairfield Prep. Fr. Dolan spoke publicly of the Jesuits’ vision to expand from a preparatory school to a college. A March 2, 1945 editorial in the local Fairfield News responded with optimism, “This is a post-war picture we like to dwell on. In less than three years, Fairfield Prep has become a leading preparatory school in this state. There is no reason why it should not become one of the leading colleges in the nation.”

Later in 1945 as the war drew to a close and soldiers returned home, Fr. Dolan began planning in earnest for the influx of potential college applicants. The first freshman class of Fairfield University in 1947 was composed of 303 men. Many were graduates of Prep and more than 40 percent were veterans of World War II. Sixty students lived too far to commute, so the Jesuits set them up in boarding houses around town.
This pioneer class is remembered fondly for its spirit and initiative. The veterans were slightly older than the rest of the student body and shared a discipline and drive that positively influenced the younger students. In paying tribute to this class when they graduated, Charles E. Black ’52 wrote in an editorial for The Stag, Fairfield’s student newspaper:

“(Many) of you entered Fairfield not as eager, bewildered, perhaps frightened young boys just recently graduated from high school, but as mature men who in the majority of cases met, accepted and survived the numerous challenges of military life. You were world-wise from your experiences, eager to attain an education for its own worth, and serious in your intent. You were exactly what Fairfield needed for its first class…men, not boys.”

With this class, Fairfield University became the third Jesuit institution of higher education in New England, joining The College of the Holy Cross (founded in 1843) and Boston College (founded in 1863).

Korean War

As Fairfield’s first class reached its senior year, a new war would affect campus life. On June 25, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea and President Truman ordered the activation of Marine and Air Force reserves as well as National Guard regiments. The Stag reported in its first September 1950 issue that over the summer, nine men — four seniors, two juniors and three sophomores — had withdrawn their Fairfield University enrollments and reported for active military service. The following spring, more than 50 members of the Class of ’51 enlisted shortly after the University’s first commencement exercises.

New construction on campus was postponed until after the war, and Fairfield remained a college of commuters and off-campus boarders until 1955 when the first residence hall opened. This brought significant changes for the undergraduate student body, which now included 104 Korean War veterans and drew from 15 states and four foreign countries.

Loyola Hall housed over 200 students and also contained an infirmary, a chapel and a hall used for dining and recreation. A typical school day in the life of an undergrad living in Loyola might have looked like this:

He would wake up early and dress in a shirt, tie, suit jacket and trousers, then head down to 7:30 a.m. Mass in the new chapel. After Mass, he might join friends for breakfast in the dining hall before classes began at 9:15 a.m.

With a break for lunch, his classes would continue until about 4 p.m. Late afternoon and early evening hours might be spent on club activities, sports or socializing before a final return to the dining hall (still in jacket and tie) where dinner was served family-style.
At night, he would sign in with the Jesuit prefect assigned to his residence hall floor, and then head to his dorm room for study hours. Any variation to this assigned study period — leaving the dorm, studying with a classmate on another floor — required the prefect’s permission and a campus pass. On nights before class, he had to be ready for bed by “lights out” at 11 p.m.

A second dormitory, Gonzaga Hall opened in 1957, doubling the number of undergraduates housed on campus. It featured a theater for drama, debate and movies. The Canisius Hall classroom building was completed the same year and housed the University library as well as faculty offices.


Student clubs like the Debating Society, Public Affairs Club and Radio Club were instrumental in expanding Fairfield’s reputation by allowing student and faculty voices to be heard outside of the classroom. By 1956, the Fairfield Debating Society was recognized as one of the strongest in New England.

The Public Affairs Club was active in the Connecticut Intercollegiate State Legislature where Fairfield students contributed a decidedly Catholic perspective to issues such as birth control, sex education and euthanasia.

The Radio Club studied broadcasting techniques of what was then the dominant electronic home entertainment medium (before television displaced it). A student-run broadcast called “Fairfield University Interprets the News” aired weekly on Bridgeport station WICC. Professors and administrators often served as panelists on the show, offering insight into political, economic and social matters while promoting the benefits of a liberal arts education.

Other Fairfield University voices heard on radio broadcasts during this time were raised in harmony. Glee Club members, under the direction of Mr. Simon Harak, truly were “ambassadors of song” for the young school, making radio appearances and performing live at events sponsored by the University’s regional clubs in Danbury, New Haven, Waterbury and elsewhere. Their “home” performances at the Klein Auditorium in Bridgeport were so popular they often sold out.

It wasn’t long before the Glee Club’s reputation had grown and they were invited to perform in New York City at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in 1951, and at Carnegie Hall in 1954 and again in 1968.

“Father of Athletics”

With the formation of a cross country team in the fall of 1947, a young teacher by the name of Mr. Victor Leeber launched intercollegiate sports at Fairfield. Mr. Leeber also founded the basketball program a year later.

In 1948, the Stag emerged as a symbol of Fairfield University, and the basketball team became known as the “Red Stags.” The State Armory in Bridgeport served as home court in the early years and legend holds that a Jesuit was dispatched to every game with instructions to “keep an eye on the ball.”

The request was intended quite literally; operating on a tight budget with no extras to spare, it was important that the ball be transported safely back to campus. Woe to the Jesuit who returned empty-handed and had to ask Fr. Dolan for ten bucks to get a new one!

Mr. Leeber left Fairfield for a few years and in 1957 returned as Rev. Victor Leeber, S.J. During his 45 years at Fairfield, Fr. Leeber taught, chaired the Modern Languages Department, founded other varsity sports and remained active in Stag athletics as a faculty moderator and chaplain. He was formally recognized as Fairfield’s “Father of Athletics” upon his 1992 induction into the Fairfield University Athletic Hall of Fame.

The basketball team played at the small-college level through the 1950’s, and in 1958 George Bisacca took over as coach just as construction began for the University’s first athletic facility.

In 1960, the gym was completed. The first basketball game at Alumni Hall was an exciting match-up between Holy Cross and Fairfield in which the Red Stags had a hard-fought 30-29 advantage at halftime, but the win ultimately went to the Crusaders.

Under Coach Bisacca’s leadership, the Red Stags came to dominate the Tri-State league. Beginning with the 1964-65 season, the NCAA reclassified Fairfield University as a major college competitor, making it eligible for participation in the annual NIT or NCAA tournaments. In their first season of big-time ball, Fairfield had notable wins against Georgetown, Seton Hall and Iona.

“Play Ball!”

The year 1951 marked the beginning of the baseball program at Fairfield University, but it wasn’t until a May afternoon in 1958 that the team got a rare chance to play at Ebbets Field in a game that earned Jack Redway ’59 an even rarer thrill of a lifetime.

The Dodgers had just left Brooklyn and the Fairfield sluggers traveled to New York to play Long Island University at the iconic ballpark. “Playing in Ebbets Field with major league scouts in the stands, short stop Jack Redway powered out a triple and a home run,” recorded the 1959 Manor. A month later, Redway signed a major league contract with the Milwaukee Braves, defending World Series champs at the time.

Because of his contract with the Braves, Redway was ineligible to play for the Stags his senior year. But he later returned to Fairfield and was head coach of the Stags in 1964 and 1965. In 1982 he was part of the first group of inductees into the Fairfield University Athletic Hall of Fame.

The Fitzgerald Era

The years from 1951 to 1964 are commonly referred to as the “Fitzgerald Era” in Fairfield history due to the consecutive terms of two (unrelated) University presidents with the same surname: Rev. Joseph D. Fitzgerald, S.J., (1951-1958) and Rev. James E. FitzGerald, S.J., (1958-1964). This era is remembered as a time of steady growth and quiet change, notable in the differences between the University that Fr. Joseph Fitzgerald arrived at in ’51 and the one Fr. James FitzGerald left in ’64.

In the spring of 1951, the University operated as a commuter college with four campus buildings. Total student enrollment at Fairfield was about 900, with 120 or so of those enrolled in the Graduate School of Education, which had begun coeducational classes in the spring of 1950. Off campus, a gallon of gas cost 19 cents, the average annual family income was $3,700 and the I Love Lucy show was in its first season on a relative newcomer to mass media, television.

By 1964, there were nine buildings on campus, including three residence halls and a million-dollar gym. Alumni Hall featured a 35,000 square foot floor area and was built in “Quonset” design with 11 parabolic arches of reinforced concrete that were longer than any other in the country and curved to a height of 40 feet.

Total University enrollment in 1964 neared 2,100 with the number of graduate students climbing to more than 800. About half of the undergraduate students now lived in dorms on campus. Around the country, drivers paid 30 cents per gallon for gas, the average annual family income was up to $6,000 and Bewitched was making its premier on television.

College Bowl

TV’s enormous cultural impact was realized on campus in October 1963, when four students (George Greller ’64, John Horvath ’64, John Kappenburg ’64 and Joseph Kroll ’65) put Fairfield University in the spotlight on a nationally televised game show called the General Electric College Bowl.

The popular quiz show pitted college teams against one another in a competition of history, science, literature, sports and trivia knowledge. In a series of Sunday night appearances on NBC, Fairfield’s team claimed victory three times — over Creighton, Southern Illinois and Clemson University — winning $3,000 for the University and instantly turning the team members into campus heroes.

The Stag reported that after one of their winning appearances “a cavalcade of cars led by a police escort” returned the four students and their coach, Rev. Donald Lynch, S.J., from the Fairfield train station to campus where hundreds gathered for a welcome home rally and celebration that lasted into the morning hours. (To watch the team’s appearance against Clemson go to www.fairfield.edu/75)

“College Bowl” success brought another form of recognition to Fairfield University. According to The Stag, Rev. George Mahan, S.J., reported that the University had received a total of 3,000 admission applications during the previous school year, but in just the five-week period the team appeared on nationwide TV, 2,800 applications had been received.

Off-screen Scholars

Academic pursuits in Fairfield’s classrooms and labs were also shining a spotlight on the campus during the 60s. In 1962, John Barone, PhD, professor of chemistry, raised national awareness of Fairfield’s science programs when he received funding from The National Cancer Institute for a research program seeking possible anti-cancer agents and tuberculosis cures.

The Modern Language Department’s innovative Canisius Hall language lab attracted national attention in the mid-1960s when it received several National Defense Educational Act grants, to be used for language teacher retraining. Using state-of-the-art equipment, the language lab allowed students to listen to recordings in foreign languages and then record themselves in soundproof booths in order to compare their accents to those of fluent native speakers.

Above-average acceptance rates of Fairfield’s pre-med students into medical schools prompted the University to boast in promotional publications of the 60s: “Among 100 undergraduate colleges having the highest proportion of alumni receiving medical degrees during 1950-59, the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare credited Fairfield with a 10.1% rate against an average rate of 4.9%.”

As the alumni base grew, Fairfield graduates began making a name for themselves — and their alma mater — through success in the sciences, businesses, communities and post-graduate studies.

Vatican II

The winds of change stirred over Fairfield’s conservative, parochial campus in 1962 when Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council in Rome, vowing to “throw open the windows of the church and let the fresh air of the Spirit blow through.”

As historian Walter J. Petry, PhD, described in The Stag on November 7, 1962, “The Roman church sits majestic, ageless, even attractive at present, but alas, in the last analysis her real influence has been vastly diminished.” He went on to challenge, “With the aid of the Holy Spirit, the faithful must initiate a vast program of re-statement and reform, renewal and modernization.”

The Society of Jesus met this challenge and as Vatican II reshaped Jesuit education at colleges and universities across the country, Fairfield was no exception. By the time the Council closed in 1965, its effects were already evidenced in changes to curriculum, leadership and parochiality.

The scope of Fairfield’s course offerings in philosophy and religious studies was broadened beyond those focused on Roman Catholic
doctrine. At the same time, the number of core requirements in these subject areas was reduced so that students could apply more credit hours to their major areas of study. Lay people and non-Jesuit faculty members were appointed — for the first time in the history of the school — to important advisory and decision-making positions.

In response to a petition signed by more than 600 students, compulsory attendance at Mass ended and participation in religious retreats became voluntary in 1966. Residence hall rules and dress code restrictions were also loosened around this time, although student handbooks still cautioned that “dungarees, Bermuda shorts and T-shirts, and fatigue clothes in general, are out of place except on the playing field.”

Fr. McInnes

When Rev. William C. McInnes, S.J., became president of Fairfield University in 1964, the first thing he did was move his executive
offices out of Bellarmine and into Canisius Hall. This new, accessible location came with an open-door policy that was applauded by both students and faculty.

Described by history professor Paul Davis, PhD, in Book Three of the Chronicles of Fairfield University, Father McInnes “was the quintessential American leader of the 1960s: young, urbane, self-assured, handsome and articulate… [He] entered the Fairfield presidency in 1964 much as John F. Kennedy had the American presidency in 1961, projecting an aura of hope and promise, change and progress, which thrilled us all.”

What Fr. McInnes couldn’t have foreseen early in his presidency was that it was going to take every ounce of faith, intelligence and confidence he had to withstand the impending turmoil as Fairfield entered its “adolescent years” and the newly energized campus he helped to create became the scene of building takeovers, protests and student unrest. ●F