A Look Back on the Last 125 Years
Erica Prenda, Tower Staff
April 20, 2012
Filed under News
Catholic University celebrated its 125th anniversary on April 10 with a much anticipated week of Founders Day activities. The anniversary is also a time to learn and reflect on the history of this university.
When the Third Plenary Council met in Baltimore in November of 1884, a call for a seminarium principal for American Catholic schools was issued. Pope Leo XIII formally approved this motion on April 10, 1887 and thus the Catholic University of America was established. It was then when Pope Leo XIII named John K. Keane of Richmond as the first rector.
Caldwell Hall was the first building to be erected on campus; the first stone was laid on May 4, 1888. Many important people, such as President Grover Cleveland and papal delegates, attended the ceremony. The hall, designed by E.F. Baldwin, is named for benefactor Mary Guendaline Caldwell of Newport, Rhode Island who donated $300,000 for its construction.
Classes officially began on campus in November of 1889. The first class arrived on campus during fall of 1889 with 37 students. At this time, only ecclesiastical students were admitted to the university.
McMahon Hall was inaugurated by Cardinal James Gibbons, the chancellor of the University, on October 1, 1895. This day also marks the first time that lay students were admitted to the university. McMahon held the initial schools of Philosophy, Science, and Letters.
The first residential hall, Keane Hall, was built in February of 1897. At this time, students paid anywhere from 10 to 17 dollars per month to live on campus. Keane, later renamed Albert Hall, was demolished in 1970.
The first undergraduate programs were offered in September of 1906. Previously, the school of Philosophy held the schools of Law, Economics, Politics, and Sociology. These schools separated from each other as independent studies when the undergraduate programs were established.
Soon after, other schools started to form officially. The School of Social Work opened in June of 1934. The School of Nursing, although it started offering classed in 1932, was not officially established until 1935. The Social Sciences department soon followed in March of 1937.
Drama courses were first offered in 1937 and have achieved great success and recognition. CUA’s first production, mounted in 1939, was broadcasted over a radio program through NBC. Since then, numerous campus performances have become a part of professional theatre, such as Count Me In and Sing out, Sweet Land.
The department was also given the honor of performing for servicemen in the Korean War in 1951, and was the first group to perform Shakespeare in the White House at the request of First Lady Johnson in 1964.
The School of Music became a separate department in 1965.
The fine arts department has proudly taught many famous actors such as Jon Voight, Susan Sarandon, and Siobhan Fallon Hogan. In addition, Tony Award winning playwright Joseph A. Wakert, who wrote “The River Niger” is a CUA graduate.
The first airplane design was formulated at CUA before the Wright brothers rose. Dr. Albert Zahm worked on a flying apparatus from 1895 to 1905 which served as the initial research for the Wright’s.
With the development in programs, the university began to construct new class buildings and residence halls for students. All of these buildings are named after alumni, leaders, and benefactors.
The initial field gymnasium, called the Crough Center and Koubek Auditorium was built in 1919. At this time, it was considered the largest gymnasium in DC. This facility contained a pool and adjacent stadium. It is now where the school of Architecture resides.
Gibbons Hall was built in 1912 and was named for Cardinal James Gibbons. This Hall was designed with a gym and chapel in its basement.
The Dufour Center, which replaced the Crough Center, was built in 1984 by WKR Inc. Raymond A. Dufour, for whom the complex is name, donated money for this new athletic facility to be built. The Dufour Center holds a 2,000 seat indoor court, a 3,500 seat outdoor turf stadium, a 6 lane swimming pool, 6 tennis courts, athletic fields, dance studios, exercise, training, and meeting rooms, locker rooms, athletic department offices, and the Cardinal Hall of Fame.
The Kane Center, which was constructed in 1962, was originally a dining hall. It closed in 1999 and was reopened after renovation in 2003 and 2004 as a health and fitness center.
Centennial Village was constructed in 1988. Designed by Roy Maleady and P.C. O’Brien, the Village can house over 600 students. Its buildings are named after “leaders, alumni, and friends,” according to Archive records.
Curley Court, commonly referred to as “the trailers,” was acquired from St. Anselm’s College in New Hampshire in 1999. Initially, Curley was intended as a temporary place of residence but students voted to maintain the trailers. Curley Court was renovated in 2007 and continues to house upperclassmen.
While many buildings are still on campus today, although serving a different function than originally designed, a collection of buildings have “vanished,” according to Archive records. Such buildings include Middleton Hall, the Observatory, and the Wind Tunnel. In addition, Spellman, Spalding, and Conaty halls were recently demolished in 2010.
The first CUA football game was played on November 30, 1905. This informal game between students and a team from Brookland resulted in a tie. Since then, the number of sports and activities has continuously grown, winning numerous championships along the way, such as the Orange Bowl.
After college, some Cardinals became professional athletes or coaches. Alumni have been in the NFL and MLB. “Dutch” Bergman, a CUA football coach from 1930 to 1940, coached the Washington Redskins in 1943.
Some alumni and staff have gone on from CUA to achieve international fame and success. Pulitzer Prize winning, New York Times Columnist Maureen Dowd, NBC anchor Brian Williams, and National Geographic editor Joseph Judge were all Cardinals, as well as television personality, Ed McMahon.
Many CUA alumni find themselves in roles of leadership in their various careers. Numerous educators are now Presidents of their universities, superintendents of school districts, and principals of individual schools.
Other famous alumni include Thomas Donilan, a National Security Advisor to President Obama, Joseph A. Unanue, the former Chairman and CEO of Goya Foods, and Timothy Shriver, the CEO of the Special Olympics.
Apart from famous alumni, CUA has played host to a number of special guests. Presidents William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Dwight D. Eisenhower have visited campus, some receiving honorary doctorate degrees.
Of all the esteemed guests to visit campus, two specific visits are considered the most prestigious: the papal visits. Pope John Paul II visited CUA in 1979 and Pope Benedict XVI came in 2008. Both Popes addressed members of the diocese and students on Catholic higher education.
A time capsule was discovered on May 23, 1996 when construction workers were placing flagpoles in front of McMahon. Most of the capsule was severely water damaged but all of the items were from the Centennial Celebration of 1987. The capsule is said to have been closed on April 10, 1987. It contained some cans and bottles of alcohol, a beach ball from the 100th anniversary celebration, a Bruce Springsteen cd ‘Born in the USA,’ a floppy disk, shoes, a campus police whistle, a CUA ID for Christopher P. Poppiti, a student at the time, a pencil, student handbook, some memorabilia buttons and a copy of the Tower
Although the campus has drastically changed since its establishment 125 years ago, it still maintains its original ideals and moral foundations. CUA will continue to progress as a school and produce exceptional students and human beings.
“It has been quite an experience to see how things have changed over time,” said Aida Lopez, who has been at CUA since 1965. Originally a student, Lopez now serves as a part of the library staff. “It is a great campus and a great place to be.”