Villanova University was founded by the Augustinian Order in 1842. It traces its origins to old St. Augustine's Church in Philadelphia, which the Augustinians founded in 1796, and to the parish school, St. Augustine's Academy, established in 1811. The university is located outside of Philadelphia on the site of the "Belle Air" estate of John Rudolph, whose wife, Jane Lloyd Rudolph, was a close friend of the Augustinians. A few years after John Rudolph's death, in 1838, Jane Rudolph generously agreed to sell the estate to the Augustinians for $18,000, well below its reported worth of $40,000. The college was placed under the patronage of St. Thomas of Villanova, a sixteenth-century Augustinian theologian, educator, and bishop of Valencia, Spain, and called the "Augustinian College of Villanova." The college came to be known simply as Villanova and gave its name to the town that eventually grew up around it.
The college opened on Sept. 18, 1843 with an entering class of thirteen students, but its beginnings were uncertain. The anti-Catholic, "Know Nothing" riots in Philadelphia resulted in the burning of St. Augustine's Church in 1844, causing a financial crisis for the Augustinians. As a result, the College was forced to close on February 20, 1845. It reopened in September of 1846, with a student enrollment of twenty-four, and the first commencement took place on July 21, 1847. On March 10, 1848, the Governor of Pennsylvania, Francis R. Shunk, signed the Act of Legislature incorporating "The Augustinian College of Villanova in the State of Pennsylvania," giving it "the power to grant and confirm such degrees in the Arts and Sciences."
During its first fifty years, the college concentrated exclusively on the liberal arts but remained open to the changes in the curriculum that were required to meet students' needs and the demands for specialization. The School of Technology, later, the College of Engineering, was established in 1905 and, in 1915 a two-year premedical program was established. In 1926, a four-year pre-medical program and the B.S. in biology were established. The College of Commerce and Finance was founded in 1922.
In 1918, the college began to offer programs to women religious, in large part to assist in their preparation to teach in the parochial school system, aa well as to laywomen. The first degree was granted to a laywoman in 1938. The College of Engineering admitted its first female student in 1958, and the other academic divisions were allowed to admit women as commuters. Finally in 1968, Villanova became fully coeducational.
In 1953, the College of Nursing was established, the first of its kind under Catholic auspices in Pennsylvania. That same year, the School of Law was established and distinguished itself as the first law school under Catholic auspices to be awarded a chapter of the Order of Coif, a national honor society devoted to the encouragement of high standards of legal scholarship. In recognition of its enhanced academic programs and reputation, Villanova achieved university status on Nov. 18, 1953. The university's 1979 Mission Statement reaffirmed Villanova's Catholic, Augustinian character and commitment to the liberal arts.
Falvey Memorial Library holds over 800,000 volumes, 5,600 current serial subscriptions, approximately two hundred and fifty electronic databases, nearly ten thousand full-text electronic journals, and extensive microfilm and audiovisual collections. The Special Collections Department has incunabula, early Catholic Americana, the Augustiniana Collection, and the Joseph McGarrity collection of approximately 10,000 items that have an Irish and/or Irish-American focus. Other publications emanating from the university include the Journal for Peace and Justice Studies, Journal of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, and Horizons.
Bibliography: a. j. ennis, No Easy Road: The Early Years of the Augustinians in the United States, 1796–1874 (New York 1993). d. r. contosta, Villanova University 1842–1992, American-Catholic-Augustinian (University Park, Penn. 1995). A Future of Promise, A Future of Excellence, The Comprehensive Academic and Administrative Plan of Villanova University (Villanova 1995).