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Beginnings

1842-1865

"He is truly happy who loveswhat he ought to love"

St. Augustine
Commentary on Psalm 26, 7

The story of Villanova College and University begins with the founding of the first Augustinian Province in the United States in 1796. Nearly a half century later, on 13 October 1841, Augustinians from this province agreed to purchase just under 200 acres of land from the "Belle-Air" estate of the late John Rudolph. The Augustinians received title to Belle-Air on 5 January 1842, a date that later generations would recognize, with some exaggeration, as the founding of Villanova College. In fact classes did not open until 18 September 1843. Less than two years later on 20 February 1845, the college had to close its doors, reopening on 6 September 1846. This hiatus was a direct consequence of the anti-Catholic riots in Philadelphia during the summer of 1844, causing the Augustinian community to sustain severe losses. In 1857, the college suspended operations again, this time because the Augustinians wanted to concentrate their limited resources on missionary work in the region. The financial panic of the late 1850's and the ensuing Civil War forced the college to remain closed until September 1865, some five months after Lee's surrender at Appomattox. Despite these early struggles the college managed to enlarged the former Belle-Air mansion; to erect a small chapel; to build the east wing of a new College building (Alumni Hall); and to obtain a charter from the state of Pennsylvania. It was also during this early period (1848) that Villanova opened a seminary program for the training of Augustinians.

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