Augustinians of Villanova: Father Allan Fitzgerald


Courtesy of Olivia Sabalaskey

Father Allan is a writer, professor and Augustinian at Villanova University.

Olivia Sabalaskey, Staff Writer

“Follow your star, whatever it is,” Father Allan Fitzgerald, O.S.A., said. “Recognize that there is a huge inclination today for people to forget about their own humanity. There is so much good still to be done. Most of it is just a matter of being kind.” 

This week, Fr. Allan offers Villanovans a glimpse into his life as an Augustinian at Villanova University in the Augustinians of Villanova Column. 

Fr. Allan grew up in a household with three sisters, one older and two younger. Interestingly, half of his family house lay in Washington D.C. while the other half lay in Maryland. Having grown up in a devout Roman Catholic family, Fr. Allan attended the Order of Saint Augustine’s ​​Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington D.C. from 1955 to 1959. 

“There were 35 Augustinians living in the monastery at my high school,” Fr. Allan said. “They all cared for one another deeply.”

During his time at Carroll, Fr. Allan enjoyed science courses; in particular, physics. He enjoyed physics so much, in fact, that Fr. Allan applied for the U.S. Naval Academy, hoping to help build nuclear submarines.  

“I applied to the Naval Academy, but I was rejected because my left eyelid was too droopy, and it wasn’t fitting as an officer, apparently,” Fr. Allan said. “So, I really owe my vocation as an Augustinian to a droopy eyelid.”

Although becoming a navy man was not in the cards for Fr. Allan, he sought other opportunities to receive a college education. At Carroll, the Augustinian faculty selected a graduating senior to receive a four-year scholarship to attend Villanova University, an Augustinian Catholic university. Although the scholarship was first awarded to his friend who lived down the street, Fr. Allan was chosen later given the first candidate’s decision to enter into the Novitiate as an Augustinian.

“I came to Villanova as a physics major,” Fr. Allan said. “My physics teacher from high school, A. J. Mullen, happened to transfer here the same year, and he became Dean of Electrical Engineering. Sometime in October, we happened to cross paths in front of Jake Nevin Field House. Casually, he asked me when I was going to become an Augustinian. Prior to this moment, it had never crossed my mind, but all I can remember is that I automatically responded, ‘I don’t know, one of these days.’”

One week after their serendipitous meeting, Fr. Allan went to visit the Vocation Office. About nine months later, he joined the Augustinians and was one of four lucky Augustinians chosen to travel to Rome, Italy to continue studying theology. 

“I was there at the time of the second Vatican Council,” Fr. Allan said. “I’ll never forget it. At almost 1 p.m., the steps of the Basilica turned a bright red because there were so many bishops headed to get their lunch. It was almost like blood flooding the steps.”

Not only did Fr. Allan travel to study theology overseas in Rome, but he also spent four years in Paris, France. Most notably, Fr. Allan received his doctorate in theology. One summer, Fr. Allan journeyed by train to a town near Madrid, Spain with his fellow Augustinians. While in Spain, they lived with the Spanish Augustinian community members.

“I didn’t speak any Spanish when I got there,” Fr. Allan said. “I was able to pick up Italian and French in Rome and France, respectively, but Spanish was a bit trickier. When I came back to Italy after the summer, I got goosebumps because I felt like I was back home. I knew Italian so well by then.”

In 1972, Fr. Allan returned to Villanova as a professor in the Department of Theology. He taught introductory courses to Roman Catholic theology, as well as general religion courses. Given that his primary field of study in theology was Christian worship, he taught upper level courses focused on this area, as well. 

“Most professors who taught theology back in the day were Augustinians,” Fr. Allan said. “The lay theologian was not the most prominent professor. Today, the Department of Theology is much more balanced. We have both men and women, Augustinians as well as lay theologians.”

In 1986, the Augustinian founder of the semi-annual journal on Saint Augustine, Augustinian Studies, passed away. Fr. Allan volunteered, eager to study more about Saint Augustine, and he took over as the journal’s editor in 1989. 

“My doctoral thesis was on Ambrose, so fourth century Italy, essentially,” Fr. Allan said. “In the early 1990s, I got an email asking me to write an encyclopedia of Saint Augustine. They thought that I was an expert on him given my work for the journal. I was far from an expert, but I knew several people in the area who were.” 

Fr. Allan’s book, Augustine Through the Ages: an Encyclopedia, is one of his many written accomplishments. It took him about six years to complete the more than-900 page book.

Later, the Order in Rome asked Fr. Allan to return as a teacher, not a student. In 1997, he started his 12 years of teaching one of his favorite religious figures, Saint Ambrose, in Rome.

“The persecutions of the early fourth century led many Christians to deny their faith,” Fr. Allan said. “Many said that you couldn’t be forgiven in the eyes of God, but then others would remind them that Saint Peter was after he denied knowing Jesus. I focused a lot of my work in Christian forgiveness.”

In 2009, Fr. Allan returned to Villanova from Rome to serve as a teacher in the Department of Theology. He also assumed the Office of the Provost’s role, Director of The Augustinian Institute, a department at Villanova that serves to infuse Saint Augustine’s teachings and values into the University’s efforts.

Fr. Allan continues to work for the Office of the Provost at Villanova, now as the Director of Special Projects. Given his fluency in the French language, Fr. Allan also says a French Mass once a month at Rosemont Chapel in Bryn Mawr. The next Mass will take place on Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 14th.