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A Lasting Ideal in a Changing World: A History of Marist College

This article originally appeared in the Year Book of the Dutchess County Historical Society Volume 74, 1989. The Marist College Archives and Special Collections is very grateful to the Dutchess County Historical Society for granting us permission to reproduce this article.

Published onJun 02, 2020
A Lasting Ideal in a Changing World: A History of Marist College

Marist College today is in many ways vastly different from its beginnings in the early part of the century. Yet, I have found in my 10 years here that much is the same as it was since it began in 1905 as a novitiate to train young Marist Brothers for a life of teaching and religious duty.

Today, it is a four-year, coeducational liberal arts college with about 3,000 students, half of whom are women. Several Marist Brothers continue to teach at the college. Although now governed primarily by a lay board of trustees, the college still upholds the original ideals of the Marist Brothers. What has remained much the same at the college is the idea of community service, the idea that individuals in the college, and the college itself, should help the world around them.

Undated photograph of the early years of Marist College. Photo credit: Marist College Archives

It is, perhaps, this enduring ideal - that the college should serve the community - which, ironically, has brought about the most dramatic changes in the college. One of those changes occurred in the fall of 1966, when for the first time women were admitted to the college. Marist Brother Dr. Linus Richard Foy, who was then president, believed that the college could not rightly fulfill its mission of community service while it was open to only part of the population. Looking back on his 21-year presidency of the college, Foy has said that he believed that his success in getting women into the college was one of two of his greatest accomplishments. Later, in an effort to maintain the college's community service role, Foy authorized a small gesture, yet one in its way daring and symbolic of the college's larger mission. The six-foot-high stone wall that ran along State Route 9 and separated the campus from the community - a wall built by the Brothers between 1928 and 1931was taken down.

The college has its origins in the 19th century. The Marist Brothers, a Roman Catholic congregation of teachers with roots in rural France, was established by Marcellin Champagnat in 1817. Champagnat, who knew at an early age that he wanted to become a priest, entered a large seminary in Lyons, France, and soon became a close friend with Jean-Claude Colin, a seminarian. Together they would later establish the Society of Mary, more commonly called the Marist Fathers. Champagnat was interested in training his colleagues in Lyons to teach, and the fledgling group delegated this task to him.

On 22 July 1816, Champagnat was ordained and assigned to be assistant pastor in LaValla, a small village in the heart of France. Tradition has it that on one of his many trips to isolated homes along the narrow mountain paths of his parish, Champagnat came upon a dying boy who was apparently ignorant of the most elementary tenets of the Catholic faith. The memory haunted the young priest, and within six months he confided a new plan to two young men, who, perhaps much to his surprise, immediately accepted his offer to join him in a precarious future. On 2 January 1817, the two became the first Marist Brothers. The congregation would eventually flourish. At the time of Champagnat's death on 6 January 1840, there were 280 Marist Brothers working in 47 schools throughout France and the islands of the South Pacific.(1.)

The Marist Brothers continued to flourish in France, due in some measure to the Falloux Law of 1850, which favored the spread of communities of religious teaching congregations. Soon they broadened their reach to the United States. By 1900, there were sixty Marist Brothers teaching in six American schools. A subsequent rise in anti-clerical laws in France led to a mass exodus of Marist Brothers, many of whom joined their confreres in the United States. The Brothers now began to search for a piece of property large enough to serve as a center for the American province of the order.

At that time, Saint Ann's Academy (founded in 1892 ) in New York City was the center of the Marist Brothers' activities in the United States. Some 75 miles north, up the Hudson River in the small city of Poughkeepsie, the Jesuits occupied a large novitiate called St. Andrew's-on-the-Hudson. (The facilities are now used by the Culinary Institute of America.) The Jesuit Fathers of St. Ignatius Parish in New York City, eight blocks from St. Ann's Academy, suggested to Brother Louis Zephiriny, then superior of St. Ann's Academy, that he examine a piece of property, known as the McPherson Estate, in Poughkeepsie, just one and a half miles south of the Jesuits' new novitiate.

On 28 February 1905, the Marist Brothers, under Brother Zephiriny, purchased from Thomas J. McPherson land located along the Hudson River just north of the Poughkeepsie City limits. Since French religious communities were struggling financially at the time, Brother Zephiriny was authorized by Brother Felix Eugene, the provincial superior, to use family inheritance funds for the purchase. Brother Zephiriny and his sister supplied the $9,000 needed to buy the 44 acre estate, which, after the purchase, was renamed St. Ann's Hermitage.(2.)

St. Ann's Hermitage, where the college began. Photo credit: Marist College Archives

Although the original house on the land was only fifteen years old, the Marist Brothers made several alterations to adapt it to their needs. They converted the parlor and an adjacent room to a chapel, and turned other rooms into classrooms and living quarters. The building's first function was a junior high school for aspiring Marist Brothers, who after they completed their studies there, were sent to the Marist novitiate at St. Hyacinths in Canada. In 1908, the Marist Brothers were granted permission to found a new novitiate in Poughkeepsie. But, as they found the Hermitage too small, the congregation then purchased another estate, a 110-acre tract contiguous to the southern border of the former McPherson property.(3.) This land, owned by Edward Beck and known as the Bech estate, had been part of an earlier estate called Hickory Grove Farm, which had been owned by Frederick Barnard until 1836, and later by Thomas Clegg. By 1865, Beck had begun building his estate there, known as Roselund. Sometime after 1891, Roselund was sold to Nicholaus and Gertrude Jungeblut, who in turn sold it in 1908 to the Marist Brothers. John P Murray, a member of the Coudert Brothers law firm, loaned the Brothers the money to purchase the property. At the same time, Murray realized that the Marist Brothers had not obtained legal title to the 1905 purchase. Three days before acquiring the Jungeblut (Beck) property, a deed of sale was drawn up whereby the Marist Brothers paid Brother Zephiriny and his sister the sum of $100 for the McPherson property.(4.)

On 17 March, 1911, the North American province of the Marist Brothers separated into the province of Canada and the province of the United States. At this time, the United States province had 10 schools, 148 Brothers, 11 novices, 42 juniors, and 3,946 pupils. Soon after the separation of provinces, Poughkeepsie became the seat of the provincial administration in the United States.

The Scholasticate - called Marist Normal Training School - was founded on the campus in 1923. In 1929, the fledgling school was authorized by the state to grant Bachelor of Arts degrees, thereby establishing the novitiate as a college. The degrees were not acquired at the college; rather they were given through the college's affiliation with Fordham University and, later, Catholic University.(5.) On 9 April 1930, the University of the State of New York officially approved a two-year curriculum for the Marist Normal Training School.(6.) After completing the curriculum here, the Marist Brothers taught in New York City and New England high schools and continued their own college work at Fordham University on a part-time basis. The school's full official name then was junior College Marist Normal Training School, Division of Fordham University.

The arrangement, however, proved to be unsatisfactory because it "resulted in mediocre work in both teaching and studying."(7.) In 1943, Brother Paul Ambrose Fontaine was called upon by Brother Louis Omer, the provincial of the Marist Brothers, to transform Marist Normal Training School into a four-year institution. An account of Brother Paul's beginnings in his new position is as follows:

The phone rang. It was in 1943 at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where young Marist Brother Paul Ambrose had just finished a master's degree in English. It was his provincial: "When on earth are you going to get that degree?" "I just heard this morning that I completed it, and can either come to graduation or have the diploma mailed to me." "Take the next train to Poughkeepsie." "The next train leaves at noon." "Be on it. I expect to see you here tonight." "What's cooking?" "I'll tell you when you get here."(8.)

First appointed Master of Scholastics, Brother Paul was then given the task of transforming the training school into a four-year college. He said: "Now this was in the beginning of August. I was 29 years old. I became 30 years old on the 28th of August. And this was dumped into my lap then."(9.) From 1943 to 1946, Brother Paul worked with former colleagues at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and with members of the New York State Board of Regents. Then in 1946, the college was granted a temporary charter for five years to try to establish itself to qualify for a permanent charter. Brother Paul recalls the day the temporary charter was issued:

It was on September 20, 1946. I remember the date because I sent a telegram. We had a convocation in Rome at that time with . . . 167 Brothers from all over the world. They were studying the growth of the order, and so on. I sent a telegram to the new general: Marist College has its approval . . . as a college. And they all celebrated, and they all cheered. The news went out worldwide from our center in France to the people.(10.)

Under a temporary charter, the college began as a four-year institution of higher education when it opened its doors in the fall of 1946. The college's first catalogue for the 1946/47 academic year includes the college's mission statement, which is quoted in full:

Marian College is open only to members of the Marist Brothers Order. Its purpose is primarily to give its members a good sound training in the Liberal Arts on the college level, in order to prepare them for graduate work and at the same time, to give them some work in professional education in order to prepare them for teaching in secondary schools of the Order. Its specific purposes are to impart sound spiritual and religious convictions, cultural background in the Liberal Arts, some professional training in the educational field, and a distinctive training in Mariological background and spirit. The careful blending of these purposes will help to form sound moral principles, the intellectual excellence based on Catholic philosophy, and the professional technique which should be characteristic of every Marist religious educator." (11.)

Marist Brothers, c. 1949. Left to right: Brother Peter Bosco, Brother Charles Powell Prieur, and Brother Francis Riley.

The college opened in 1946 with 10 full-time teachers and a curriculum of 117 courses in fifteen liberal arts fields designed to fulfill the goals of the new four-year college. In a letter dated 15 December 1950, Marian College was granted a permanent charter. Its name blended the names Mary, the mother of Christ, and Ann, for St. Ann's Hermitage, where the college began.

The charter contained a statement which subtly portended the college's future, "for the purposes of providing education on the college level."(12.) The change was reflected in another way. Before 1950, the cover of the catalogue stated: "Conducted by and for the Marist Brothers." In several catalogues after 1950, the subtitle was modified to: "Conducted by the Marist Brothers." Thus, the way was opened, at least in the college's charter and literature, for lay students.

The first graduating class of the new Marian College in 1947 had four Brothers: Brothers Bernard Frederick Toomey, Christopher Emile Connelly, John Bosco Normandin, and Patrick Eugene MaGee, who is a life member of the Marist College Board of Trustees. (All but Brother MaGee left the Marist Brothers later in their lives.) Brother Paul Ambrose recalls that first commencement:

They (the students) had finished their courses during the summer. We had no parchment. We had no diplomas. We were having diplomas engraved. We had just received the approval. We had the diplomas accordingly engraved. They were not ready yet. We had a ceremony out next to Greystone, where there are a lot of trees. There is that little Japanese maple tree that we stole from our property in Esopus to plant there. I planted it when it was about one foot high. And it's now so beautiful. We used to have a stone table and benches that Brother Nilus made. We used to have our Sunday evening suppers out there ...We had the graduation there. And we cheered these four Brothers, who had accepted their work. And we had a supper in their honor. They were assigned that same night. They were told where they were to go out teaching. And they would be sent their diplomas in the various communities where they were, and they were promised to have another celebration locally with the Brothers where they went. But I felt very badly that we couldn't do anything more for them . . . Right after supper-this was about five o'clock-I put the four of them in the station wagon that we had, with me, and I drove them to Torrington, in Connecticut. And we went there for a nice ride and they were having a lot of fun talking about their assignments. It was an occasion for them to be alone with me. And we went out for banana splits, and we had a drink, and we came back and that was it."(13.)

The original Bech mansion served as the novitiate until 1949, and then as part of Marian College until 1959. Until it was torn down in 1963, it housed the Brothers who came to work on construction projects on the college grounds. Three of the other buildings on the Beck grounds when the Marist Brothers bought it are still used today: Greystone, the Gatehouse, and St. Peter's.

Greystone. Photo credit: J. Giganti, 1987. Marist College Archives

Greystone, the oldest building on campus was built in 1858 as a carriage house and given its name in 1929 when the Marist Normal Training School was founded. A hayloft occupied the top floor, carriages and horses the middle floor, and a blacksmith's shop the bottom level. Through remodeling in 1909, 1928, and 1964, the building has served as a dormitory, classrooms, science laboratories, and library. The college's library and chemistry laboratories were located here until the opening of Donnelly Hall in 1961. Since 1964 the office of the president has occupied the top floor. The bottom floor was occupied by the Office of the Academic Vice President until the Lowell Thomas Center was built in 1987. Admissions, which since 1964 has occupied the middle level, has now expanded to the level formerly occupied by the Academic Vice President's Office.

St. Peter's, 1870.

Built in 1871 as a gardener's cottage for the Beck estate, St. Peter's served until 1969 as a residence for the Marist Brothers who taught at St. Peter's High School in Poughkeepsie from 1909 until 1936. Later used by the college development office and a branch of the admissions office, it now houses administrative offices for the college's Special Academic Programs, which oversee the programs for local prison inmates.

The third building, the Gatehouse, was built in 1865 by Edward Beck for use as a residence for the groom who cared for the horses and wagons housed in the stone carriage house (now Greystone ). The original interior plan of the building has been retained, and throughout the years it has remained a private residence and office space for the Marist Brothers. In 1966, the exterior was slightly remodeled; an entrance on the north side of the building was closed and bricked, and, at the same time, the slate roof was replaced with asphalt shingles. Another new roof was installed in 1982. It is called the Gatehouse because the entrance to the estate and the former entrance to the campus-had been located there.

Shortly after the purchase of the Bech estate, the Brothers needed more room for other Brothers who would be spending their summers on the campus studying, working, or relaxing. Many of the early Marist Brothers were fine craftsmen, and they built two wooden bungalows behind Greystone, one for sleeping accommodations, the other to house summertime classes, meetings, and recreation. Later, the partitions in the second bungalow were removed to make it into a combination auditorium and gymnasium. In the the summer of 1946, a sudden fire of unknown origin quickly destroyed the sleeping quarters - fortunately unoccupied at the time.

Several years later a building campaign began dramatically to change the face and nature of the college. What is perhaps more impressive is that in 13 years between 1947 and 1960 the Marist Brothers, almost entirely with their own hands, built the gymnasium/auditorium which is now Marian Hall (completed in 1947), the Scat of Wisdom Chapel (1953 ), Fontaine Hall (1956), Adrian Hall (1957 ) and Donnelly Hall (1962). One college memorandum dated 12 July, 1966, points out that by constructing these buildings themselves, the Brothers had saved more than $1.7 million in construction costs, estimated by outside builders at more than $3 million.

An incident in the construction of the Seat of Wisdom Chapel reveals how the Brothers worked. The heavy wooden beams that hold up the ceiling - 10 laminated 2 x 6 planks 36 feet long-had been made in Oregon and were shipped to Poughkeepsie by train. The beams arrived at a small railroad depot in back of the former Western Publishing Company building, across state Route 9 from the college. The Brothers were going to use their crane to unload the flat cars, but they didn't quite know how to haul the beams to the campus. Brother Paul Ambrose explained to Brother Nilus Donnelly, the crane operator, that he had a better idea. He rounded up some 36 Brothers who would carry the beams by hand from the depot, across Route 9, and onto the campus. Brother Ambrose recalled: "I stood in my cassock in Route 9 and stopped all the traffic both ways and let the Brothers pass. They carried the beam over to the building site, and then we resumed the traffic. And we did that for every beam. We didn't need a truck, and we didn't need a hoist or anything."(14.)

Marist Brothers working on the roof of Donnelly Hall. Photo credit: Marist College Archives

Brother Nilus Vincent Donnelly is generally credited with the planning and construction of the buildings erected in the 1950s and 1960s. Donnelly Hall, still the educational center of the college, and named in his honor, took four years to build at a cost of roughly $800,000, less than half of a professional estimate of $1,719,034.(15.) When construction on Donnelly Hall began in the summer of 1958, 83 Marist Brothers came to the campus to work. They poured the cement floor at the rate of 25 truckloads of cement a day. By the end of 1959, tar paper had been put on the roof, so that work could continue inside during the winter and throughout the following year. Former Brother Adrian N. Perreault described what happened next: "With the cold winter of 1959 quickly approaching, all hands worked feverishly to enclose the main floor of the building with glass panes and Fiberglas paneling. The completion of this work made it possible for the night division to move into the Donnelly building by November 20th, and the day school was gradually moving in as each class[room] was completed."(16.) Throughout the years, Donnelly Hall has served as headquarters for nearly every college activity. It currently houses classrooms, science labs, lecture halls, offices, a cafeteria, and the computer center. Formerly, it also housed the library, the bookstore, and television studio. Plans were even drawn up and feasibility studies made to convert the building into a communications and fine arts center. At present, the building is being remodeled at a cost of about $3.5 million; the outside walls of the round, building are being extended to give the entire building more floor space, and make it more energy efficient.

During the 1950s building expansion, the very heart of the college changed. In the fall of 1957, 12 lay students were admitted into Marian College for the first time. The change was reflected in additions to the 1957/1958 college mission statements (changes are in bold face).

Marian College is open both to lay students and to the members of the Marist Brothers' Order. Its purpose is primarily to give its students a good, sound training in the Liberal Arts on a college level in order to prepare them for graduate work. Its specific purposes are to impart sound spiritual and religious convictions and cultural background in the Liberal Arts. For the Brothers, it further offers some professional training in the educational field to prepare them for teaching in the secondary schools of the Order, and offers a distinctive training in Mariological background and spirit.(17.)

The revision in the college's mission was not so much a change as it was an expansion, an opening up to more students. It was an evolutionary change built upon the foundations of the Marist Brothers' mission.

All students, whether lay or religious, were to receive a liberal arts and a Catholic education. All students were to be educated for professional work. Further, neither the course requirements for a degree nor the curriculum was changed when the first lay students were admitted. Marist thus proceeded carefully as it changed its institutional Mission.(18.)

Much of the impetus to open the college to lay students carne from John J. Gartland, Jr., a life trustee of the college, a former chairman of the Marist College Board of Trustees, and an individual who, since association with the college began in the 1950s, has contributed more in many different ways than any individual to the successes that the college has enjoyed. In 1987, Gartland recalled the initial discussions this way:

In the spring of 1956, Brother Paul Ambrose and I were on the Board of Trustees of St. Francis Hospital School of Nursing, along with five women. At one of our meetings, which became unnecessarily prolonged by much talk, I suggested to Brother Paul that he and I leave the meeting and enjoy a late afternoon cocktail. We left the hospital and went to his quarters (in Marian Hall) on the Marian College campus. He described in detail the history of the Marist Brothers' involvement in the Poughkeepsie area, and how he had been involved in obtaining a New York State Regents Charter in 1946 for Marian College . . .

Following the granting of the charter for the next 10 years, the Poughkeepsie lay community beseeched the Marist Brothers for permission to have lay students study at the college as commuters, to obtain a college education and degree by the least expensive manner. It was not until 1956 that the all - Brother Board of Trustees of Marian College agreed to accept lay students - 20 per year but never to exceed 100 total.

Brother Paul Ambrose, as president of Marian College, expressed concern about his ability, and the ability of the teaching Brothers, to handle 20 lay students starting in 1956 or 1957. He requested my aid in setting up a Presidential Lay Advisory Board. We did that.(19.)

...We set about to help the Marist Brothers in their endeavor to expand the college to aid the local community. Little did Brother Paul Ambrose, or myself, realize the growth that would occur to this fledgling Marian College.(20.)

The group included Jack Mulvey, an attorney; Nathan Reifler, a local business-man; Richard Small, president of Western Publishing Company; Dr. James J. Toomey; George Whalen, Sr.; James Dryer, a banker from Kingston, and Gartland, who was elected as chairman of this first advisory board.(21.)

One of the Brothers who helped the college adapt to the incoming lay students was Brother Paul Stokes. In the 1950s and early 1960s, Brother Paul served as academic dean, professor of biology, manager of the bookstore, director of housing, and dean of students. Known as a strict disciplinarian, he sometimes threatened any student who misbehaved with the words, "Pack your bags." Brother Paul also originated the idea of using what is now known as the 'Red Fox' for the college's mascot. After Brother Paul left the college in 1966, his many positions were soon filled with individual full-time employees.

With a broader mission, the college needed a new name. Since an all women's ollege in Indiana already had the name Marian College, a committee of Brothers and the Presidential Lay Advisory Board proposed other names such as Poughkeepsie College, Poughkeepsie University, Mid-Hudson College, Dutchess University, and Fontaine College. "Finally the Brothers decided on Marist College. Another lay committee had tried to find an 'angel' with multi-millions, who desired a college named for him or her (a la Duke University), but to no avail."(22.) The name would not be officially changed, however, until 1960.

In November of 1958, Linus Foy became president of Marian College, a position he would hold for 21 years. He was then 28 years of age, the youngest college president in the United States. His predecessor, Brother Paul, had been called to Rome to become an assistant general of the Marist Brothers order. Gartland recalled the day he first learned of Brother Paul's new assignment, and of the new college president:

One day Paul called me up and he said, 'Can you come up for lunch?' And I said, 'Sure.' He said, 'I want you to meet a young Brother . . . he is just completing his work for a Ph.D. in mathematics down at New York University . . . I would like to have you meet him. His name is Brother Linus Richard.' And I came up to meet him. Just before that, Paul said to me, 'He's a nice young man, and you're going to like him. And we have just selected him to be the new president of the college, because I'm going to leave here. I'm going toRome . . . I'm going to be one of the generals of the Order in Rome. But,' he said, 'don't tell anybody because it isn't public yet. Besides that, don't congratulate Lunus Richard becuse . . . he doesn't know anything about it. I haven't told him about it yet.' So I sat there during the whole luncheon and I just kept looking at this young man and just kept saying (to myself), 'Looks pretty good. Looks pretty good.' But I didn't say a word. I didn't dare say a word because I was afraid I would say, 'Gee, congratulations,' or something.'(23.)

At the May commencement of 1958, just before Foy assumed his new post, students received their degrees, bringing the total number of Marian College alumni to 323. During Foy's first year, the number of lay students increased to 20. The college's operating budget was $27,000. The Theatre Guild, the first student club, was formed under the direction of Marist Brotehr Joseph Belanger, a professor of French at the college.

In the fall of 1959, 169 students enrolled in the college's new evening division, introduced in March of that year by Foy and headed by Dr. John Schroeder, a layman who had been teaching at the college since 1946.

Dr. John Schroeder, the first layman faculty member of Marist College. He was hired in 1946. Photo credit: John Lane Studio, Marist College Archives

Thirty freshmen were admitted that fall as full-time undergraduates, and the total number of lay students climbed to 65, with an enrollment of 160. Nine of these students resided in King's Court Hotel in Poughkeepsie, making them the college's first resident students.(24.)

The title to the campus property was transferred in 1959 from the Marist Brothers to Marist College Educational Corporation with an independent board of trustees. That transfer of the college from the control of the Brothers struck many in the Order as a kind of betrayal, as Brother Paul recalled: "This grasped the Brothers to the very core. Many of them did not understand. Why are we giving up? They had worked so hard. And we were in a very difficult position, the superiors. We tried to explain to them that we are not giving up. Our work is continuing. It's carrying on."(25.)

Brother Paul explained that the Brothers could not afford to hold on to the ownership of the college, since to qualify for state and federal loans and grants, the school had to be independent; that the Brothers did not have the necessary contacts to the foundations and corporations that could make large donations to the school; that the Order was no longer sending hundreds of Brothers to the school to study and work. The Brothers reluctantly accepted the change, but as recently as a few years ago deep-seated emotional wounds lingered among many in the Order. These wounds were healed, Brother Paul believes, during a convocation at the college in 1986 of some 350 Marist Brothers from all over the world. They had come that summer to celebrate the centenary of the arrival of the Marist Brothers in the United States. Brother Paul stated: "This did more to smooth that difficult feeling than anything else. Because they saw what the college was all about, where it's moving, the direction it's moving. They were so well treated. They were so proud of everybody."(26.) Brother Paul had earlier cautioned the college that it had to continue being sensitive to its traditions and its heritage. "The Brothers started this. And they put their blood, sweat, and tears into it, and a lot of hard work. And they loved it. And they love to come back."(27.)

The expansion resulting from dramatically-increased numbers of lay students meant more buildings. In March 1961, Foy secured a federal loan to build a new dormitory to accommodate 120 students and three faculty advisers in the southwestern part of the campus. It would be the first building on campus that was not constructed by the Brothers since the McPherson Estate was purchased in 1905. The three-story dormitory was named Sheahan Hall for Monsignor J.F. Sheahan, who at the time was pastor of St. Peter's Church in Poughkeepsie and, as a friend of the Marist Brothers, through his contacts in the community, helped the Brothers purchase a tract of land at the southern end of campus.

As enrollment climbed to 850 for the 1961 school year, Foy secured in 1962 another federal government loan of $1.5 million for a econd dormitory. Duringthe summer of that year, a tall crane hauled buckets of cement to the roof of the building as construction progressed on the six-story dormitory, which would house 296 students. This building would be named Leo Hall after Marist Brother Leo Brouillette, the provincial superior of the Order in the early part of the century, who was responsible for obtaining, in 1928, the first state charter for the Marist Training School. Perreault writes: "While Leo Hall was under construction, the Brothers worked to complete the Donnelly cafeteria; and by September [ 19621, the Donnelly and Sheahan buildings were prepared to receive the 964 students who were to attend classes."(.)

Looking towards the Hudson River, a bird's-eye view of Marist College campus int eh early 1960's. Photo credit: Marist College Archives

Throughout the 1960s, the college would continue to grow and change; more buildings were constructed, more students came, more courses were added. In 1962, in addition to Leo Hall, the college proposed a boathouse (completed in 1964) and chaplain's residence, and sought permission for a third dormitory, which would become Champagnat Hall, the college's largest and newest dormitory. In 1961, a new business administration major and a teacher education program were introduced. In 1963, the Marist Abroad Program was started by Brother Joseph Belanger, and in 1964, Marist underwent its first major curriculum revision, changing from two-credit to three-credit courses. The curriculum, encompassing 11 major fields of study, with options in engineering and teaching, was backed by a burgeoning library of 50,000 volumes. As three additional laymen were appointed to the college's board of trustees, three-hundred freshmen entered the college that year. In 1965, Champagnat Hall, named after Marcellin Champagnat, founder of the Marist Brothers, and the three-story Campus Center were completed to become the college's major residence and the activities center. With nine stories, the dormitory became the largest building in the Marist Order's international enterprise, which included at this time institutions in 57 countries.

The year 1966 would mark another dramatic change in life on the college's campus: the admission of women. Admitting women to Marist came as an extension of its ideal of community service. Former college president Foy said that it was "very hard to convince local companies and the people around here that you're servicing the Mid-Hudson community when you service only half the population."(29.) But, Foy said, it went beyond that: coeducation was a Catholic tradition. When he first came to the college, he said he recommended that it become coeducational, but that he was told "to get lost." He was apparently, however, not the first to mention it. When the new college was being established in 1943, Foy said some Brothers, according to the minutes of those meetings, suggested the college be open to outsiders. One, Brother Leo Vincent Hall, recommended the college become coeducational.

But, Foy said, he really began asserting his wish to open the college to women after he returned from a sabbatical in France in 1965. What he found in the rolling farmlands of France as he studied the history of the Marist Brothers was rather shocking. Foy recalls:

To my great amazement, the Marist Brothers were teaching in coeducational schools in France and had been doing so since the war. And then when I began studying the history [of the Marist Brothers], it became quite clear that at their founding, the Marist Brothers taught coeducation ...They could go by themselves, or in pairs, into very small hamlets, and they taught everybody in sight. Men, women, and children. It was winter. It was cold. And their idea was to teach them reading and writing so that the priests could teach them religion.(30.)

He continued:

One of the things I felt about coeducation, why I felt so strongly about it, was because in the educational system in France you could buy [as] much education [as] you wanted. You bought the teacher. If you wanted your children to read, you would pay [the teachers] so much. If you wanted them to write, you paid them a little extra. If you wanted them to do arithmetic, you paid extra. And in most cases in France, [the parents] paid for the boys but not for the girls. So, at the time of Champagnat, while five percent of the men could sign their names on the marriage license, only two percent of the women could. And it became quite clear to me that there was nothing religious about coeducation. That it was essentially a subtle type of cultural discrimination that women were less important than men, and somehow very often you get a cultural bias which then gets religious overtones. One is worried about all sorts of sexual problems, but what it really meant was that women were not worth educating.(31.)

And so women were first admitted into the evening division of the college, headed by Dr. John Schroeder. Before coming to the college, Schroeder had been head of the English Department at Arlington High School. Brother Paul, who hired Schroeder, gives this account of their initial meetings:

I went to see Dr. Schroeder, and I said you have two degrees that I am interested in. And 1 explained that we were starting [a new college], and he said, 'Sir, I would be very, very interested in getting in on the ground floor of a young college.' I said, 'But there are a few drawbacks ...I cannot pay you the salary that you are getting now ...This is what I am able to afford to give to you now, but the college will grow, and the salary will grow, and everything will grow in time.' He said, 'Well, a young college just starting out. I would very much like to be associated with it. It is not a matter of salary.' I said, `Well, I appreciate that because then it means that it's a matter of dedication.' He said, 'Yes.' And everything was wonderful. He had agreed to come, and we drew up a contract. And one day we were waiting for him to finalize the contract. He had a copy. We were [in the dining room of the former McPherson mansion]... and one of the Brothers told me ...there was a gentleman waiting see [me]. So I came up to where the Chapel [was], and it was Dr. Schroeder with the other contract. He said, `Brother, I am ready to sign this, but,' he said, `I have some obligations to fulfill.' I said, `What's the matter, Doctor? Is the contract unsatisfactory!' He said, `Oh no, no, the contract is very satisfactory.' 'But,' he said, 'there is something that bothers me, and I must tell you.' I said, `What is it?' He said, 'I looked forward to coming here. I know it is a Catholic college. I know it's all Brothers. But,' he said `I don't know if you know that I am not a Catholic.' I said, 'It never entered into my mind ...We're all hiring you for your doctorate, not for your religion.' He said, 'I am a Quaker.' I said, "Doctor, answer me one question. Would you say that you are a good Quaker?' `Well,' he said, `I try to be.' I said, `That is all that matters.' So, we hired him, and from that moment we never questioned a persons religion. In what started out as an all-religious college, we never questioned a person't religion, but his qualifications.(32.)

It would be 1968 before the board of trustees would approve the admission of women to the day division. Still, in 1968, women were commuter students because there were no accommodations for them at the college. It was not until the following year, in the fall of 1969, that women moved onto campus, occupying the sixth floor of Leo Hall.

Although women had been admitted, Foy admits that it took another 10 years for the college to "truly go coed."(33.) Through the late 1960s and to the rnid-1970s, twice as many men as women would apply for admission to the college. There were most likely two reasons for this. One was the fact that Marist Brothers were admission officers, and to recruit students they visited high schools which were predominantly male. Foy also believed the college was "giving off signals to women" that they were "second-class citizens." The college had made a concerted effort to make everything equally open and accessible to men and women, but, Foy said, "there was something missing."

In 1977, Bennett College, a private, two-year college for women in Millbrook, Dutchess County, had announced it was closing. This gave Foy an idea: "In the last days, [Bennett College] had only two really profit-making programs. One was horsemanship, and the other was fashion design . . . So we took the opportunity when Bennett closed to grab their fashion program, to bring their teachers over." The program's eight teachers and its 80 students were moved into Donnelly Hall where the college library had been, and in 1978, the college was granted the approval to offer a new degree, a bachelor of professional studies with a major in fashion design. "That," Foy said, "plus the McCann Center, I think, really turned it around as far as [going] coed."(34.)

The introduction of computers and computer science, a major component of the college today, had come in the mid-1960s. At the time, few colleges the size of Marist had moved into this field. Foy said he was first exposed to computers in 1954 when he was a student at New York University. "I happened to choose a couple of courses where the teachers were experts in computers. In fact, I had a visiting professor, John Todd from England, that year, and we used to be able to use the computer center from midnight to seven a.m. That's when we could do our work with the Unifax. The second one ever built. I was intrigued by it," he said.

From that time, Foy had it in mind that people-all people, and not just mathematicians-should be exposed to computers, to learn how to use them. "It certainly was something that was not going to go away," said Foy. "It was going to get more and more important." Foy's hope to bring computers onto the Marist campus was at first limited because computers at the time were extremely expensive "around $700,000 to $1 million each." In fact, when the college first began teaching computer courses it did not have any computers. "This way didn't work," Foy said. "So, in the mid-60x, I had decided the place was ready for it." The college could no longer afford not to have computers. "Most colleges our size or larger than this put in what they call an [I.BM.] 1130, a scientific computer which is oriented towards the mathematics department. I saw that it should be wider than that." Hence, the college purchased a small computer from the International Business Machines Corporation, the 1401, which was more oriented towards business programs. Foy then searched for and found people to teach students and staff how to run the new computer. "And we basically built from the ground up, just the way we do everything at Marist College. You get the people with the interest, you get them started." The computer program expanded after the college bought several computers from a small corporation that had gone out of business. "What I like about the computers here at Marist now, is tht it is not considered a scientific discipline. It is considered a skill, just like typing, or the ability to write a complete English sentence. I had hoped from teh beginning to try and get this integrated into every departement," Foy explained.(35.)

With Foy having taken such a lead, the college faculty recently approved a proposal of mine that all students take a course in information technology, which shows them the fundamentals on how to use a computer.(36.)

The decade of the 1960s ended with several milestones on the college campus. Marian Hall next to Greystone was torn down. Tuition was now $675 per semester, room and board was $550, and the campus was now valued at $11 million. Enrollment continued to climb, and by 1970 the college had 1,310 full-time students, almost 10 times as many as the students who entered the college a decade earlier.

In the 1970s, the college entered a period of major academic expansion with the approval of a bachelor of science degree and a full-time internship in psychology, the nation's first.(37.)

In 1972, the graduate division was introduced with programs in business administration and community psychology. The next year, five new majors were introduced in accounting, Russian, solid state physics, criminal justice, and communication arts. Bachelor of arts degrees were now offered in 15 majors, and bachelor of science degrees in four. Also in 1973, the Science of Man program, an interdisciplinary three-year program, began. And a pilot program called the College Bridge Program, in which high school seniors could enroll in a limited number of college courses at Marist, was begun with Our Lady of Lourdes High School in Poughkeepsie.

In 1974, Marist initiated what would become a successful Community Service Program in which students earned college credit for volunteering their time to work in a human-service program. Today, the program is still strong-in the fall semester of 1989 it had more than 40 students working and earning tuition credit in several nonprofit groups in Dutchess County. In 1975, a new major in computer mathematics and a minor in Jewish studies were introduced. In that year, also, Marist expanded its community-outreach programs by establishing the Marist/ Greenhaven Higher Education Opportunity Program, offering accredited college courses to inmates at the Greenhaven Correctional Facility. Also, Marist's Special Services Program, which provides a variety of services for disabled students, and for the community at large, began. The now-defunct Marist Research Institute, which examined local politics, and the Marist Institute for Knowledge and Innovation, which offered a variety of non-degree educational, training, and development programs to organizations such as local businesses, hospitals, and government agencies, were formed.

In 1976, in the midst of the college's curricular changes, came the college's largest and most expensive building project in its history: the James J. McCann Recreational Center, named for the Poughkeepsie philanthropist whose fortune established the McCann Foundation. Gartland gives us this account:

One of the concepts that Linus [Foy] and I came up with, in order to attract students, was that we had to have a good recreational facility here. Leonidoff Field the college's main athletic field], as an example, was built with that concept... That wasn't enough. We had to have indoor facilities. The old gym, which is now Marian Hall, was not really sufficient to take care of the increase in students that were coming here. So the idea was to build a field house. That was Linus' idea. And my idea was that we needed a swimming pool . . . available to the community. So, we combined the two together, and McCann agreed to finance a lot of it.(.)

The project officially began with the establishment of the college's first capital campaign, entitled "Goal '76", to raise funds for the center and to renovate Fontaine Hall to accommodate a new library. The campaign was given its impetus by the McCann Foundation, which donated $1.35 million to the college. An additional $100,000 donated by the foundation for the project, made the total contribution the second-largest-ever-award to Marist. (The largest was the initial founding grant donated by the Marist Brothers.) The building, located on an acre of land on the south end of campus, contains an indoor track, basketball, badminton, handball, and racquetball courts, and a field house with a seating capacity of 3,500, as well as many other features. By the time it was completed and dedicated in April, 1977, construction costs were about $3 million, supported primarily through the McCann Foundation, gifts from alumni, faculty, and friends of the college.

In 1977, there came a fundamental change in Marist's curriculum when the college introduced a series of new core requirements in areas such as values and writing, the result of two years of planning and research by the college's faculty and staff. 3v The college's curriculum development was further advanced by a large Title III grant. Marist became the fourth college in New York State, and one of only 25 nationwide, to receive this $1 million award from the U.S. Office of Education for curriculum development.(39.)

The 1977/78 academic year came to a close with the news that Foy, whose vision laid the groundwork for what the college would continue to become, was resigning. He was leaving a college in which, during the year that followed, for the first time in the college's history, women outnumbered men. Total enrollment in the 1978/ 79 academic year was 1,842 full-time undergraduate students, and 51 percent of them were women. Graduate enrollment was 256, and the faculty had grown to 80 full-tithe and 60 part-time members. The total number of full-tithe and part-time employees at the college was now 300. The college's operating budget had soared to $12 million. At the college's commencement in 1979, 338 students received their degrees, just a few more than the total number of alumni when Foy assumed office in 1958. The alumni now numbered 5,723, which was over 17 times larger than in 1958.

On 14 July 1979, I became the third president of the college. In my tenure, the pattern of growth and change at Marist has continued.

To accommodate the increasing number of students coming to Marist, the college in 1981 built a townhouse complex for student residents, housing 216 students. To expand its adult education program-an increasingly important area in colleges nationwide-the college opened its Fishkill Extension Center, leasing offices and two classrooms in the Dutchess Mall on State Route 9 in Fishkill. In addition, to accommodate its need for even snore offices and classrooms for adult education and general use, the college in 1983 leased about 45,000 square feet in an empty building once occupied by Western Publishing Company across the street from the site of the college's first piece of land.

Students working in the college's television studio in the Lowell Thomas Communications Center. Photo credit: Howard Dratch, Marist College Archives

A major milestone in the college's physical plant was crossed in 1984 when the college began building the Lowell Thomas Communications Center, equipped with film and broadcast studios, computer and information systems laboratories, administrative and faculty offices, and various classrooms. The building was named for Lowell Thomas, the pioneering broadcaster of the first half of this century, who lived for 55 years on Quaker Hill in nearby Pawling, N.Y. His son, Lowell Thomas, Jr., provided significant financial support for the project through two individual gifts totaling more than $550,000, and the McCann Foundation contributed another million dollars. Robert R. Dyson, a member of the college's board of trustees who donated a gift of $250,000, was the project's first major donor. Lowell Thomas himself had received an honorary doctor of laws degree from the college during the college's 1981 commencement exercises. The Lowell Thomas Communications Center was completed in 1986, and dedicated March 14, 1987. The dedication was attended by noted dignitaries Douglas Edwards, a former CBS newsman, and Lowell Thomas, Jr., currently an air taxi pilot based in Anchorage, Alaska.

In 1985, the college began building a new student residence at the north end of campus to be called Gartland Commons, named for John J., Jr., and Catherine Gartland. When it was completed a year later, the Gartland Commons accommodated 312 students.

Of all the changes that have occurred at the college in the 1980s, one of the most significant ones began in 1984, when the college and I.B.M. began what would become a major, innovative partnership.

Press conference announcing the IBM/Marist joint study in June, 1988. Seated, from left, are: Donald Love, chairman of Marist College Board of Trustees; James Cannavino, IBM vice president, president of the Data Systems Division, and a Marist College trustee; John J. Gartland, Jr., a college trustee; and Jack Newman, a college trustee. Photo credit: Marist College Archives

The corporation donated $2.5 million in equipment and $2 million in software to the college. Through the years of 1987 and 1988, the administration of the college and I.B.M. executives worked on a plana kind of joint venture in research and education-in which the corporation would place some of their most advanced technology on the Marist campus, with which the college's faculty, staff, and students would participate in computer research. I.B.M. was interested in exploring ways to make its most advanced technology as easy to use as possible, to make it more accessible to people with little or no computer training. The result was the launching in the summer of 1988 of the Marist/IBM Joint Study.

The work of the project began when a new, large mainframe computer, an I.B.M. 3090 estimated to cost $10 million, was moved onto campus (into the Computer Center in the basement of Donnelly Hall)-a seemingly unassuming event which belied the significance of what it might produce for the college and I.B.M. The event is described in an issue of a college publication, Marist Magazine.

Moving the IBM 1090 Computer into the college's computer center, 27 July 1988. Photo credit: Marist College Archives

Early on July 27 a moving van backed up to the service entrance of Donnelly Hall on the Marist campus. Shortly after 9 o'clock, a thin, blue plastic seal-like a larger version of the hospital wrist bands worn by mothers and their newborn babies-was cut from the van door by Carl Gerberich, Marist’s vice president for information services, and the unloading began. Wrapped in moving quilts, the contents could have passed for desks and chairs. Those boxes, weighing a total of 10 tons, contained something quite different, however, and far more valuable.

In those crates was the heart of one of IBM's most powerful computers, a system worth more than $10 million. What was being unloaded with the system was even more valuable, a commodity without a price tag: possibility. The possibility of using computers as never before for teaching and learning. The possibility for a small liberal arts college to be a national leader in integrating technology in education. The possibility of exploring new territory, limited only by one's imagination.(40.)

Over the five years of the study, Marist is planning to link computers throughout campus, and even in the community, through cables and modems, so that the computer system will perform much like a telephone in which information can be transmitted from one computer to another. The Marist library is planning to use the technology to upgrade its holding capacity, putting some periodicals, and even entire books, on computer disks, in general creating a library of the future. John McGinty, the library director, described his vision of the library of the future: "The idea is that the library will expand from a print-oriented repository to a more electronically-based resource."(41.)

With this new technology, the college will continue to be of service to the community. Local libraries, schools, businesses, and nonprofit organizations will be able to use their own computers to gain access into information and programs that the college has. A high school student, for example, who cannot find a particular journal or other periodical in his school library, may find it via computer in Marist's library.

In athletics, Marist crossed a milestone in the spring of 1989 when it decided to join the East Coast Conference (ECC), beginning in the 1990 academic year. The move to the ECC from the Northeast Conference, will help the college upgrade its athletic program by offering scholarships to other sports besides basketball, and by adding new sports.

The most recent development at the college is the construction of a new classroom building, called The Dyson Center, in honor of Charles H. Dyson, a noted businessman and philanthropist who received an honorary doctor of laws degree from Marist in 1986. He is the father of Marist trustee, Robert Dyson. The Dyson Center, the construction of which began this past October, is scheduled to be completed by the summer of 1990. It will incorporate some the the most advanced technology for the education of undergraduate and graduate students in business, social and behavioral sciences, public administration, and public policy.

Undergraduate enrollment in the 1988/89 academic year climbed to just more than 3,000, the largest number of students in Marist's history. The college also had its largest graduating class on May 20, 1989. About 700 bachelor's degrees and 83 master's degrees were awarded.

Marist College has indeed grown over the years, and is now vastly different from its beginnings. Yet, its ideals remain much the same. And as the college prepares for the 21st century, it will lead in liberal arts education while keeping alive its mission of community service.

Murray, Dennis J. "A Lasting Ideal in a Changing World: A History of Marist College." Year Book of the Dutchess County Historical Society 74 (1989): 42-65.


Extensive research and editorial assistance for this paper was provided by James Kullander. Historical guidance was provided by Adrian N. Perreault, a former Marist Brother and retired librarian of Marist College; Brother Joseph Belanger, a professor of French at the college; Brother Richard Rancourt, instructor of mathematics at the college, Brother Cornelus Russell, assistant professor of management studies at the college; and Gerard Cox, vice president for student affairs at the college and a former Marist Brother. Some of the material for this paper has come from conversations with these people. Much of the following makes reference to available documents to which appropriate attribution is warranted. The photographs are from the files of Marist College.



"Marcellin Champagnat, Founder of the Marist Brothers," a pamphlet produced by the college.


"The Marist Brothers and Marist College up to 1958," a pamphlet produced by the college.


Information on the college grounds before and early after the marist purchases can be found in a July, 1987 report on the historical and architectural importance of the buildings purchased by the college and still used by the college.


"A History of the Physical Plant of marist College." The Marist College Office of Institutional Research, 1985. Information on all college buildings up to 1985 can be found here.


From an untitled pamphlet on the college history prepared by Brother Adrian N. Perreault, 1963.


Official date of state approval of the college taken from a history paper of the college under the heading "Institutional Mission," p. 63


Catalogue of Marian College, 1946/47, p.9


Marist Today, fall, 1987, p.22


Videotaped interview in 1987 wth Brother Paul Ambrose Fontaine and John J. Gartland, Jr., conducted by Anthony Cernera, former vice president for college advancement.




Catalogue of Marist College, 1946/47, p.10.


Catalogue of Marist College, 1946/47, p.3.


Videotape interview. See note 9.




"The College that Built Itself," a pamphlet produced by the college, 12 July 1966.


Perreault's history. See note 5.


Catalogue of Marian College, 1957/58, p.10.


Institutional mission paper, p. 67. See note 6.


Videotaped interview. See note 9.


A brief statement on the history of the college by Gartland, dated May 6, 1980.






Videotaped interview. See note 9.


"The Foy Years." A pamphlet produced by the college outlining the growth of the college under Foy as college president from 1958 to 1979. A good source for dates and information on construction, academic programs, and student growth during those years.


Videotaped interview. See note 9.






Perreault's history. See note 5.


Videotaped interview in 1987 with Dr. Richard Linus Foy and Brother Nilus Donnelly, conducted by Dr. Jeptha Lanning, chairman of the college's division of arts and letters.














In this course, students learn about word processing, database management, graphics, spreadsheets, communication through the college's mainframe computer, and linking external databases. Students are encouraged to take this course in their freshman or sophomore year so they can use what they learn during the rest of their college career.


By 1971, courses were offered in Afro-Asian studies, American studies, anthropology, art, biology, business, chemistry, computer science, earth science, economics, education, English, environmental science, French, German, Greek, history, Italian, Latin, literature, mathematics, music, philosophy, physical education, physics, political science, psychology, religious studies, Russian, sociology, and Spanish.


Videotaped interview. See note 9.


The college no longer allowed students to elect half their courses, a widespread development on campuses nationwide in the 1960s; instead, all students, regardless of their majors, were now required to pass a basic set of courses called the Core Curriculum.


Marist Magazine, fall, 1988, p.18.


Ibid., p.21.

Revised: 2011 March 11


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