In 1872, Saint Peter's University, formerly Saint Peter's College, was founded as Jersey City's first college. Saint Peter's with New Jersey City University and Hudson County Community College provides 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 on 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 on 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 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 at Grand and Warren Streets. It was dedicated in 1913.
By 1900 the College had granted 63 Bachelors 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 resources 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 and continues to operate at its original location at 144 Grand Street.
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. Then 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, Wladimir 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 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 beautifully 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).
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, and 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 (O'Donnell, Jesuit College in Jersey City: 6).
In 1933 (November 9), the college published The Pauw Wow. its first student newspaper. On the front page, an article describes the choice of the paper's name and its historical background back to Michael Pauw, noting the placement of an image of Pauw (left side) in the masthead and a peacock (right side).
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 they 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 and offered a four-year program toward 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 to the new campus. Over the next several years, a building boom occurred. From 1947 to 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 on 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 could 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" ("Dr. Edward Cornacchia Inaugurated First Lay President." http://www.saintpeters.edu/news/2007/10/22). The Presidential Medal of Freedom (1964) recipient and prominent Jersey City physician Lena Frances Edwards, MD, taught at the Institute until she retired in 1972.
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 from 1950-to-1955. Enrollment remained steady through the 1950s and 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 substantial 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; it 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 re-established 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's 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, with 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; 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 that 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. 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; a 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 residence hall has a mini-lab open 24 hours a day and 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, St. Aedan's Catholic Church at 800 Bergen Avenue was added to Saint Peter's expanding campus as it prepared to celebrate its centennial in 2012. It is now known as Saint Aedan's: The Saint Peter's University Church and continues to serve its parish community. In 2013, the university opened the Mac Mahon Student Center from Montgomery Street to Glenwood Avenue. It features The Duncan Family Sky Room, an event facility on the sixth floor, offering uninterrupted views of Jersey City and Manhattan.
After 140 years, Saint Peter's application for university designation was approved by the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education in March 2012. Although its original charter from 1872 grants Saint Peter's all of the "powers, functions and prerogatives of a university," this recent approval marks the college's formal transition to a university. Saint Peter's will continue to add to the growing number of post-graduate opportunities, including doctoral, post-graduate certification, online, and five-year programs. It will also continue to enhance existing partnerships with other educational institutions.
Sunday, April 3, 2022, marked the 150th anniversary of the institution from when it started in the Paulus Hook section of Jersey City. Weeks earlier, the Peacocks, led by Coach Shaheen Holloway, began their march to the Elite Eight in the year's NCAA Tournament. The team won the Metropolitan Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament and became the first No, 15 seed in basketball history to join the final eight. St. Peter's basketball beat No. 2 Kentucky, No. 3 Purdue, and No. 7 Murray State before their final match-up against No. 8 seed North Carolina.
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Annual Catalogue, Saint Peter's College, 1918-1919.
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______. The Closing and Reopening of Saint Peter's College, 1918-1930. Jersey City, N. J.: Saint Peter's College Communications Office, 1989.
"Dr. Edward Cornacchia Inaugurated First Lay President." http://www.saintpeters.edu/news/2007/10/22.
Gannon, Robert I., S.J. The Poor Old Liberal Arts. New York: Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, 1981.
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______. The Young Estate. Jersey City, N.J.: St. Peter's College Communications Office, 1972.
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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.