University Celebrates Demisemiseptcentennial



Agnes Cho

As the University began a new semester and a new year, it also commenced the “Big Week” of events celebrating its anniversary. Students returned to campus excited to engage in festivities that carried the joy of the University’s founding and growth. “This week will be a great start to the semester–it will be really fun to see Villanovans coming together to celebrate our school and its history,” said Briana Connolly, a junior Political Science & Humanities student. 

The “Big Week” started with Villanova’s Birthday Party on Jan. 17 in the Connelly Center, during which appearances were made by Father Peter and Will D. Cat, and at which members of the Villanova community shared birthday cake.  On Jan. 18 was the Interfaith Prayer Service & Candlelight Vigil, “a beautiful expression of our community” according to Chrissy Quisenberry, Director of Presidential Initiatives and Events. During this event, reflections and prayers were reverently offered by students, faculty and staff of different faiths as they welcomed one another. This day was also the beginning of Donation Nation, a food donation effort that aimed to collect 1.75 tons of food for Philabundance, yet exceeded by collecting over 2 tons. After a fantastic fireworks display, the 1842 Dinner & Discussion was held on Jan. 19 for students and other guests to explore Villanova’s rich history. Quisenberry “loved looking out and seeing everyone–faculty, students, and staff–sharing a meal together, serving each other…it was a really nice way to celebrate our past and our community.” Over the weekend, about 3,500 Villanovans gathered at the Winter Festival to delight in the food and activities, and approximately 1,500 students were in attendance at the Student Gala to celebrate in the company of friends. Of these events, junior Computer Science major Sam Cacela stated, “The Winter Fest and the Student Gala this week did Nova’s 175th birthday some real justice. They were epic, poppin’ and well-designed.” Emily Folse, a junior Cognitive & Behavioral Neuroscience major, shared a similar view, saying “Villanova cherishes its students, and the Student Gala really showed it. What a treat! I had a blast dancing to the band, eating festive snacks and celebrating our school with friends who love it dearly.” Rev. Peter Donohue, OSA, PhD, President of Villanova Unviersity, also particularly enjoyed this event and stated, “I loved it… I thought the Dining Services and Connelly staff did an incredible job of…making it look spectacular… And to have it filled with that many students enjoying themselves was very special.” A community Mass on Sunday held in the St. Thomas of Villanova Church, followed by hot cocoa and donuts distributed graciously by the Augustinian friars, concluded the anniversary celebrations.  

These “Big Week” festivities were made possible thanks to the efforts of the Demisemiseptcentennial Committee that planned and organized the events. Morgan Falasca, a junior Marketing & Management student on this Committee said, “I am so proud and excited to be a part of the 175th anniversary celebration at Villanova . . . We are highlighting aspects that allow Villanova to leave a special mark on those who attend the university, as well as those who share in the greatest of Villanova throughout the world.” Also on the Committee is Will Byrne, a junior Economics student, who said “It was a great opportunity to get involved in something that is incredibly important to our University. Over the course of 175 years, Villanova has witnessed a lot of change and transformation. I am glad I was able to participate in the planning of that celebration.” 

The “Big Week” entailed festivities that indeed enlivened the campus, but it was also a time that prompted much retrospection. Jan. 5, 1842 marked the official founding of Villanova, when eight Irish Augustinian priests established Villanova College on the less-than 200 acres of land they received from John Rudolph’s Belle-Air estate. Villanova College began in 1843 with a group of 18, comprised of the Augustinians and their students. Rev. Peter M. Donohue O.S.A, Ph.D discussed more information during an interview: 

“The University, originally the College, grew through the dedication of a lot of people, primarily, the Augustinians who worked very hard over many years to keep this place going” he said. “The food that was served here was served to the students, not to the friars. They didn’t eat because they couldn’t afford to feed the students and themselves. They sold off property to keep this place going. They never took salarie; they did a lot to make this place happen. And as the College grew and more people became engaged and involved with it, there have been many people who contributed in many ways…For us to have lasted for this long is because of the dedication of a lot of people who have invested their time, their energy, and their talent in making Villanova what it is today.”

Donohue shared that when the Augustinians came from Ireland and set out to start the enterprise, in order to serve the Irish immigrant community. Villanova began to educate, specifically Irish immigrants who were not well received nor treated well at the time. The Augustinians dedicated themselves to providing a quality education to these immigrants in order to equip them with the tools they needed to succeed, take their place in society and demonstrate how they could prosper. Within the first 50 years, however, Villanova’s mission suddenly changed and it became a place where opportunity was offered to anyone who wished to advance with an education. This mission has thrived for years since then, notably through the inclusion of students and faculty of different faiths, races and ethnicities, backgrounds and identities. Donohue, who himself is a first generation college student, said, “We still find ways to bring people here to take that step forward.”  

The founding 18-member community kindled an intellectual tradition that steadily ignited into the academic and compassionate excellence today’s Villanovans inherit from them. Villanovans keep alive the passion for learning and serving today.  This characterizes their community and their achievements with the warmth and light of their celebrated Augustinian ideals–Veritas, Unitas, Caritas–that Donohue teaches, “These are certainly the virtues, or the ideals, that guide this institution–living in truth, building community, doing things with a sense of love or commitment to one another. . .These are the things that move this institution forward. However, these are just words if the people that are here don’t embody them in their own lives and really take them to heart.” Quisenberry adds, “It couldn’t be easier to have a theme of Veritas, Unitas, Caritas for everything. . . So on a simplistic level, Veritas, Unitas, Caritas is woven through the events. The hope is that from those events, you take it further…continuing.” 

The 175th birthday of Villanova was celebrated by many with pride and joy, as members of the growing community understood how Villanova is vitalized by their identities and how much they are vitalized by being Villanovan. Although the festivities have ended, in many ways, the celebrations of the 175th year are only just beginning. As the University embarks on the 175th year of the community and institution’s life, they remember that today’s Villanovans have the privilege and responsibility of commemorating this milestone through their actions, achievements and aspirations. Villanovans today define Villanova itself. To be “rooted, relevant and restless” means to celebrate the 175th year to the fullest–to live wisely, justly and kindly yearlong and beyond. It also means to live bravely, as Donahue advises,“Be willing to take a risk…Villanova came about because of the willingness of some people to take a risk on a dream. We need to continue to do that.’’