1943–1946 Growing Pains: Building the Faculty

We had come a long way in our growth at Marist College, for we had managed to build a college campus for the exclusive use of the Scholasticate. The young Juniors were now across the Hudson River at our Esopus property, along with the retired Marist Brothers. Our Novices and Postulants had moved to Tyngsboro, Massachusetts, for their two years of Marist training. The Scholasticate had been approved as a junior college in 1929 under the title of Marist Normal Training School. We had the infrastructure, and now it was up to us to turn this Normal Training School into a full-fledged four-year college. That was the mandate given me upon my arrival, and the entire Poughkeepsie property was available for that purpose. We realized that there was a lot of work to be done before we could ever rest at ease and enjoy the college, but we had the cream of the crop in the young Brothers assigned here and they were ready and willing to face hard work. In fact there were really three aspects to that growth: a competent faculty, adequate buildings, and an unexpected blessing.

We were planning at first to qualify as a small college where our young Brothers would be able to complete all the courses required before being sent out to our various schools to teach. Up to the present time we had been certified to become the Marist Normal Training School, and had made the required changes to provide for a proper library and labs for both physics and chemistry. All three of these were adequately lodged in the Greystone building after its complete renovation. We still had young Brothers lodged in the former Provincial House known as St. Ann’s Hermitage. This served as sleeping quarters for our young Brothers and would urgently need to be replaced by some adequate dormitory at the center of the campus. We already envisioned our future chapel, a proper study hall, and dining facility as well as the much-needed dormitory building to lodge all our young candidates.

We sincerely felt that it would be impossible to attack these needs all at once, but we would have to attack the academic needs first, which was a major issue in our needed qualification. At the same time we would have to become active at once in planning and getting the various construction projects underway. At least we would have a definite plan to keep us busy for the next several years, and we would seek the approval of Albany only when we felt that we had satisfied the requirements and were also assured of an approval. We knew it would require plenty of hard work but we knew that we were walking in the footsteps of our Founder, Blessed Marcellin, who had given us the motto of Prayer and Work. We would provide both of these and felt assured of success. I must add that we knew it was a daring undertaking but there never was any fear or even hesitation. The motto was “Go!”

The Brother Provincial promised complete cooperation, and we were anxious to see if he really meant it. We already had several on our campus faculty had ample qualification. The Brothers who were out teaching represented quite a list of possible and available teachers for our Marist College. I asked the Brother Provincial to make available to us any Marist Brothers with qualifications who would be able to teach with us. There were many in America who could be available if needed, but we generally had enough from local houses or apostolates. I asked the Provincial to assign to us all or any other available doctorates that we might know or be aware of among the Marists of the United States.

Brother Provincial had appointed a Brother as Supervisor of Schools for the whole Province and I asked him as he went around the various schools and found our best teaching Brothers to please tell me so that I could invite the best and the brightest to join our college faculty. After gathering together all the available doctorates in the Province, I also asked for help from the New York Archdiocese. We were promised one of the newly ordained available for that year, and Father Aldo Toss was assigned to Marist College for the coming school year. I contacted some of the teachers at Manhattan College and was able to persuade two of them to come here to Marist College to teach twice a week on a temporary basis. One of them taught math and the other English. After a few years of service, one of these transferred to Marist College, whereas the other returned to teach at Manhattan. We needed a doctorate in philosophy and were advised that the pastor of the Catholic Church of St. James in Milton, N.Y., across the river was competent and available at least on a special time basis.

I had been seeking a doctorate in English whom we could hire on the full-time staff. Someone advised me of Dr. John Schroeder, who was head of the English Department of Arlington High School in Poughkeepsie and who had a doctorate in education. This would be a boon for us, as he could help in both areas. He was approached and was delighted. He was an elderly person well-known in the area for his ability and kindness. He was from Pleasant Valley where he had his home and his horses, which he enjoyed riding regularly. He was a perfect gentleman with fine credentials.

I recall that after agreeing to the meager salary we could afford, he said that he was interested in getting in on the ground floor of a young college. Although Dr. Schroeder had agreed to the contract, he had not yet come to sign it. One day he came to campus and asked to see me. When I asked him if there was any difficulty he quickly assured me that there was none. But he hesitated, for I had not asked him about his religion and he knew that he would be teaching only Marist Brothers at first. I assured him that his religion did not matter and that he was hired for his qualifications in English and education. He told me that he was a Quaker and I told him that as long as he was a good Quaker we would be very happy. He turned out to be a wonderful teacher, serving here for many years, and eventually became dean of the evening school, retiring only in his late years after many years of service. He was our first gift from the Lord, and our first full-time employee. We always had good relations with Dr. Schroeder. When there was a fire at his house, we sent over all the Brothers needed to help clean up and to get things back in shape. It was a pleasure to be able to reciprocate for his kind service to us.

He continued on for many years under President Linus Foy. It was my privilege to attend his funeral in 1986. His beloved wife is still in their summer home in Florida, and we have kept in touch with her over the years.

We had been advised that a qualified faculty was most important, and we had succeeded so far in obtaining a fine blend of religious and lay teachers with qualifications in their own fields, for one thing, but with an especially high dedication to their tasks as educators for another.

When I was first asked to organize our Scholasticate into a full-fledged college I went to consult Dr. Roy J. Deferrari, the dean at Catholic University, who was most useful with his advice. As I said before, I had literally just graduated when I was given this monumental task, and I knew Dr. Deferrari very well. He was very kind and willing to cooperate. He told me the number of faculty members I would need and qualifications the teaching faculty should have. He also had a personal friend in the New York State Education Department in Albany and introduced me to Dr. J. Hillis Miller, who was in charge of all graduate education in the state.

I had the pleasure of having Dr. Deferrari come to visit our Marist campus and spend some time here with us. He examined the whole campus and could not get over the very special location right on the Hudson and our proximity to Vassar College. He was satisfied with the number of doctorates on the staff and suggested that we invite his friend Dr. J. Hillis Miller to come for a visit here also. He promised to put in a good word for us. It was our pleasure of course to invite Dr. Miller to come, and his visit convinced me that the time was ripe for us to present our application, but I first wanted to invite both doctors to come for a visit at the same time. We had carefully fulfilled every requirement that each had suggested and made the changes necessary. This was our way of assuring that we had solid backing for our application. It had taken us two years to reach this point where we felt pleased to be able to make the application with some assurance that we had a good chance of succeeding. We prayed to our Founder, of course, and sent off our request for approval by the New York State Education Department in Albany in the spring of 1946.

We always wanted to keep the name “Marist” from the very beginning, but there was already a college by that name in Washington, D.C., for the Marist Fathers, who had named their seminary Marist College. It was then that we decided that we should change the name to cover a combination of Mary and Anne. This had been St. Ann’s Hermitage and we were Marists, so we would call the College Marian College. The only other Marian College was a college for girls operated by nuns in the Midwest. It was only a few years later, after a bit of pressure on the Marist Fathers, that we got them to rename their program as the Marist Seminary, and we were now free to obtain the title Marist College. This is well recalled by those who were here at the time but very few people would remember that detail. It was a real pleasure and blessing from the Lord when we received the final approval on September 20, 1946.

This called for a campus celebration and many grateful prayers to the Lord. In fact, the Marist Brothers had an important meeting in Rome at the time. Periodically, about every nine years, we would have a special convocation of the Superiors of each one of our Marist Provinces. They would come to Rome for a couple of months of meetings to reappoint our Superior General, and to make the changes and adjustments in our life that should be made, all with the approval of the Holy See. We took it upon ourselves to send a cable to our general headquarters to notify them of our good news, and since the Superiors of every country where we work were present, we invited all of them to send us students to represent their country if they so wanted.

That was the reason we had so many foreign students studying here from 1947 to the early ’60s. When the religious were being kicked out of China in the early ’50s we would regularly get three or four Chinese Brothers as students here at Marist College. Other countries represented in the early years were France, Italy, Germany, Brazil, Philippines, Mexico, Canada, and those of Central America.

I still recall the first two Chinese to have been sent out of China to our communities in Hong Kong and then sent to us to continue their studies. They were Bro. Joseph Dufress and Bro. Peter Bosco. They arrived in Poughkeepsie at the railroad station in their white cassocks and Frank Buck hats that were in style then. Each one had a suitcase of basic clothing and books, and one of them had a violin under his arm. I met them with open arms, and they quickly changed to our style of clothing. Eventually, they both graduated with honors. One of them who had been principal of our present school in Hong Kong returned to Poughkeepsie two years ago to take some graduate courses here at Marist.

It is incredible the number of exceptional teachers and administrators we have had here at Marist College over the years. Each one of them a special gift of the Lord. I would like to take a bow in the direction of a number of these Brothers whose service has been excellent. I know that it is a risky undertaking for I am sure that I will forget someone who is deserving of praise. How can a college grow and go forth without such key people who leave an impression on so many of the students, and who after passing are lost to posterity?

I wish to single out at least those for whom a building was named. Sheahan Hall is named after the pastor of St. Peter’s Parish here in Poughkeepsie who helped and boosted Marist College on every occasion he had. He presided at a number of our graduations. Leo is named after the first American Provincial we had, who succeeded a number of French Brothers who had come as missionaries. He was a science person responsible for a number of inventions in the field of physics, an educator, and a down-to-earth person who was filled with the joy of living.

Champagnat is named after the Founder of the Marist Brothers, a worldwide organization working in seventy-two countries with some 860 schools or communities, who was canonized in 1999. Adrian is named after Bro. Adrian August, our music teacher and organ player for religious services and frequent entertainment. He had a joie de vivre that was unique and he was always ready to render a service. Donnelly was named after Bro. Vincent Donnelly who was a genius in his own right and was responsible for all the major constructions of the Marist Brothers, and who worked without the help of engineers or specialists. He was a man of vision who planned the chapel nine years before Vatican II asked in 1962 for the priest to face the people. Nilus, as he was called, was exceptional in just about everything he did. He built the chapel, the library, Fontaine, Adrian, Marian, and Donnelly.

Greystone was named because of its structure of an early period in the ’60s. The same applies to St. Peter’s, which was where our Marist Brothers lived as they taught in St. Peter’s School here in Poughkeepsie. This is also the same for Kieran, also built of that style, but named after Bro. Kieran Thomas who replaced me as Master of Scholastics when I went to Rome. There is also Benoit, named after Bro. Francis Xavier, a dedicated teacher who literally performed for his classes and typed all his lectures himself and handed them to the students. He built many of the smaller buildings and was a great storyteller and a real actor. Byrne was named after Bro. George Francis Byrne, who died here while he was an active history teacher and a scholar. Gregory was a quiet, capable teacher who worked hard at his studies and suffered also in silence during his years of sickness. He was a great teacher. As also was Kirk, one of the best teachers ever at Marist, after whom a house was named. He was a psychologist of the first class. Gartland Commons was named to honor the very first trustee Marist College ever had and the first advisor of the college founder. He is also still active as the oldest trustee of the college and the manager of the McCann Foundation that has made many grants of help to Marist College both from the McCann Foundation and from the Gartland family. Dyson was named after the parents of Rob Dyson, who is presently chairman of the Board of Trustees. I would also like to refer to Bro. Leo Vincent and Linus Willam who were family brothers of the Hall family and are responsible for the statue of the Founder at the entrance of our chapel. There are so many more, but I will name just two: Paul Stokes and John Malachy, who contributed so much to the original foundation of Marist College.

We progressed as quickly as we could to provide an adequate and efficient staff that would assure success in our application for a four-year college. The next problem we had to consider was that while we had concentrated on the educational buildings at the center of campus, the young student Marist Brothers were still lodged at the northern end of the property in a building that had been condemned as a firetrap. It was indeed long overdue for us to now provide adequate living quarters. We even considered the possibility of housing our young people in tents or trailers while construction progressed.

At a meeting I had with Nilus, I suggested that we call upon the fire station to advise us whether it was safe enough to continue using the dormitories until we could build adequate sleeping facilities. He agreed with me in that we should at least speak to the authorities about continued use of the dormitory. He added that we might provide security for that building all night long even if we had to hire someone to do that.

The Fire Department made a thorough examination of the place and decided that all of the facilities except one could be used as long as there were some night guards to walk around periodically and keep a written log of their tours. We needed two night watchmen, and their reports had to be synchronized and checked daily. We also undertook to keep the Fire Department informed, and they were free to come any time for a checkup, which they did occasionally. We asked the Lord's blessing on that decision and proceeded to implement it. We informed the Brothers of the problem and of the plan that had been made. Some of the young Brothers came forth and volunteered for the night watchman position, and before we knew it we had a powerful and reliable team to keep watch each night. I was given the reports each morning, and at least two or three times per week I would make my own tour in the middle of the night to check up on the watchmen.

This decision allowed us to delay the construction of a dormitory until we could afford to do it well. We also organized to have the nightly report of the watchmen posted daily on the bulletin board, and it kept everyone conscious of the risk we were taking and the importance of a thorough and careful watchman service. In fact, after awhile the watchmen would post bulletins regarding who was doing the snoring and who was doing the talking in his sleep. And the whole matter became most fascinating.

This went on for a few years and allowed us the time needed to follow our plan in the center of the property. It would be a sad day a few years later after the new dorm was completed when we all gathered around the fire engines with a squad of firemen on the ready to set fire to the building. We celebrated the majestic building that had given us years of service by having a grand party that evening.

The study hall and dining room was the next building to be put up after the chapel, and at the same time Nilus also worked on enlarging the Adrian building, where he had had his office for some time. Cardinal Spellman, who had come to help consecrate the new chapel, crossed the road and turned over the first spade full of dirt to symbolically start what would become the Donnelly building, and he also blessed the Adrian building.

What became our old library was originally the study hall. The top floor was our study hall and conference room, our kitchen and dining room were on the bottom floor, and the chapel and library were connected. The Brothers were able to come from Mass in the chapel and go downstairs directly to the refectory for the meals. When this building was finally converted to our old library all possible communications with the chapel were discontinued. Now we had the facilities to feed our Brothers at the center of the property, a beautiful avant-garde chapel, and a study facility, which later became our library. All we needed was a new dormitory building so that we could discontinue our use of the old McPherson estate house.

We erected the new dormitory building very quickly using a simple form of construction. Brother Nilus managed all of that himself. The building, which was called the Fontaine building, served for years as the offices for the Humanities Division until it was torn down in 1998 to make room for a new library.

The Marian building was originally a wooden building used to house our Brothers who would come to Poughkeepsie for their annual retreat, and we had some long wooden bungalows where the Brothers could stay and sleep during the summer months. They were very primitive and had only the basic facilities. That building became our gymnasium, and it was used on a few occasions for graduation and special functions.

In the early days of the college when we finished our first brick building, Cardinal Spellman came for a visit. He was impressed with our works and because he wanted to encourage us he said at the end of his speech that he would pledge $10,000 to help our building program. I at once took the floor and thanked him by saying that his help would go towards a new Cardinal Spellman Library when we moved it to Donnelly. He immediately rose and said, “In that case, Brother, I will make it fifteen thousand dollars.” The old Monsignor Sheahan, after whom one of our buildings is named, congratulated me and said that he had never seen anyone make so much money so fast.

The Marian building was built mostly by Bro. Francis Xavier, a tremendous teacher and worker. It was our first gymnasium and there were some storage garages on one side and on the opposite side a laundry and a new print shop for Brother Tarcisius. It would later be rebuilt and adapted for use as a dormitory for Marist students. I believe that it is dedicated to the elderly Marist Brothers who worked so hard on this campus during its growing years.

When we first took over the property, the railroad built two overpasses for us to get to the riverfront. Since then the walking bridges fell into disrepair and have long since been torn down. Now, the only way to the waterfront is through the very narrow tunnel built in 1913. One project that should be considered is rebuilding at least one of the overpasses to the waterfront so that Marist students could quickly and easily have access to this enjoyable resource.

Over the years we’ve needed to build several dormitories or residences for our students, for the majority prefer to live on campus. We have been able to provide these with the low rate of interest and loans from the government. The buildings are: Sheahan, Leo, Champagnat, the Mid-rise, Benoit, and Gregory–named after two of our faculty–the townhouses, and Gartland. We also built new classroom buildings Dyson and Lowell Thomas and renovated Donnelly, Greystone, Kieran, and St. Peter’s.

Another very special building along with its recent doubled extension is the McCann Recreation Center This is quite a legacy, which one of our dedicated members of the Board of Trustees provided for Marist athletic programs. We can never thank John J. Gartland, Jr. enough for his outstanding dedication to Marist. We also look forward to using the new James A. Cannavino Library and the new Fontaine building.


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last updated on June 10, 2004