Our Growth Through Philanthropy
“Philanthropy transforms an institution.”
- President Rooney
Since our founding in 1948, philanthropy has been a part of our story.
Fundraising for the new college began in 1947, as did the search for a site on which to build it. The Basilian Fathers purchased 70 acres on the College’s present site, at the juncture of Fairport Road and East Avenue. In 1951, the young men in the Pioneer Class of 1955 began attending classes.
The seeds of what would become St. John Fisher College started growing in the hearts and minds of two great men: the Most Reverend James E. Kearney, then Bishop of Rochester, New York; and Father Hugh Haffey, a Basilian priest from Toronto who taught at Aquinas Institute, a local Catholic high school for boys.
Students would be guided by the educational philosophy of the Basilian Fathers and their motto, "Teach me goodness, discipline, and knowledge." And Fisher's story began.
On September 19, 1951, Fisher opened its doors and held the College’s first day of class. At the time, there were 10 faculty members, and the students could choose from 11 majors. In the beginning, the campus featured just one building—the Administration Building, later rechristened Kearney Hall. A two-story wing, housing an auditorium and a cafeteria, was added in 1954. Five years later, a chemistry building opened on campus.
By 1960, enrollment had quintupled. Students, taught by 30 full-time faculty, could choose from 14 majors. As enrollment increased, so did the size of the campus. In 1963, the College purchased 55 acres across Fairport Road from the main campus in an area known as Druid Hills. That same year, the College’s first dormitory, Ward Hall, opened, and construction started on an athletic center (since rededicated as the Manning and Napier Varsity Gym). Basketball Hall of Famer Bobby Wanzer was named the College's first full-time athletic director.
The campus landscape changed even more over the course of the decade, with the addition of the Basilian House of Studies (now Michaelhouse), Basil Hall, Murray Hall, and the Science Building. Another hallmark occurred in 1968, when Fisher became independent.
1970s and 80s
In 1971, the College became coeducational, and welcomed its first female undergraduates. Murray Hall was established as a women's residence hall the following year. Other construction around this time included the opening and dedication of Lavery Library and an expansion of the chemistry building, which was renamed Pioch Hall.
In the 1980s, the major-offerings count had jumped to 25, while the number of faculty had increased to 85. Fisher’s charter was changed to accommodate the granting of graduate degrees in 1983. On the building-and-grounds front, Fisher converted a Basilian residence hall on the former Druid Hills property to student housing, naming it Murphy Hall in honor of the College's first president. Five years later, in 1986, Rochester House first welcomed students; the residence hall is now known as Dorsey Hall.
The 1990s saw the debuts of Fisher’s nursing program and the School of Adult and Graduate Education (SAGE). Coinciding with the College’s 50th anniversary charter celebration, a multimillion-dollar campus renewal project was begun in 1998. This allowed Fisher to purchase more land for building; upgrade academic buildings and classrooms with the latest technology and equipment; and renovate the athletic complex, including the addition of Growney Stadium. The NFL's Buffalo Bills football team made good use of the new stadium as the team relocated its spring training camp from SUNY Fredonia to Fisher, starting in 2000.
The new century has brought tremendous academic and capital-projects growth to the campus. Throughout the first decade, the College's academic departments were reorganized into five distinct schools: the School of Business (2002), the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. School of Education (2003), the Wegmans School of Pharmacy (2005), the School of Arts and Sciences (2005), and the Wegmans School of Nursing (2006). Facilities were built to house the School of Education, School of Pharmacy, and School of Nursing, all of which had opened their doors before the College celebrated 60 years of academic excellence in 2008. The formation of these Schools led to the creation of Fisher’s first three doctoral programs: Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.), Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), and Doctor of Education in Executive Leadership (Ed.D.).
Elsewhere on campus, the Joseph S. Skalny Welcome Center opened, and ground was broken on the Polisseni Track and Field Complex. In 2013, the School of Business took up residence in the newly constructed Victor E. Salerno Center for American Enterprise. The newest offering to the academic facilities landscape has been the Integrated Science and Health Sciences Building, which opened in 2015. Most recently, in fall 2019, the doors of the new Upper Quad Residence Hall opened to over 150 upperclass students, and completed the footprint of the campus upper quad.
Today, the College is stronger than ever. Enrollment is strong, and our reputation is growing. Over 30,000 alumni have gone on to distinguish themselves and their alma mater through their work and community commitments - values they learned and strengthened during their time at Fisher. These successes - and this strength - creates a prime opportunity to elevate Fisher’s presence throughout the region and beyond. Our upward momentum now positions us for sustained impact and achievements.
As has been true in our storied past, philanthropy will play a crucial role in supporting strategic initiatives for our future. Investing in the College’s best assets, greatest strengths, and brightest hopes will continue to move Fisher forward.