Who’s It Named For? Collins Hall, Fordham University, Bronx, New York

Who’s It Named For? Collins Hall, Fordham University, Bronx, New York December 13, 2018

At so many Catholic colleges, we pass by buildings named for people associated with the school, and yet we never bother to ask about the significance of that name. I for one have certainly been guilty of that! During my undergraduate years at Fordham’s “green and gothic” Bronx campus, I passed by Collins Hall every day, then home to the school theater as well as the Theology and Philosophy Departments.  (Today it houses the Theater Department.) Never did I stop to wonder about the name, at least till now.

It turns out that Collins Hall is named for the only Fordham president ever to be named a bishop: John J. Collins, S.J. (1856-1934). Born in Kentucky, Collins joined the Jesuits at age twenty. On August 29, 1891, he was ordained a priest at the Jesuit seminary in Woodstock, Maryland. Throughout the rest of his life, even after he had been named a bishop, he went by the name “Father Collins.”

Not long after his ordination, he was one of the first American Jesuits sent to minister in Jamaica, long a mission of the English Jesuits. He stayed there for eight years, doing parish work and ministering to the incarcerated. In April 1904, he was named Rector of St. John’s College in the Fordham section of the Bronx. He was there until March 1906, when he was named Vicar Apostolic of Jamaica with the rank of Bishop.

As Fordham historian Monsignor Thomas Shelley notes, Father Collins had one of the shortest presidential tenures at Fordham, but it certainly wasn’t due to dissatisfaction.  During this period, St. John’s College became Fordham University, with a law school and a (short-lived) medical school.

Bishop Collins was consecrated at the Church of St. Francis Xavier on West 16th Street in Manhattan. (As far as I’ve been able to determine, he’s the only Bishop ever ordained there.) The work in Jamaica wasn’t easy, due to poverty as well as a series of natural disasters that plagued the island. “I think it can be said,” Bishop Collins commented, “that during the fourteen years I have been Vicar Apostolic Jamaica has seen more natural disasters than in the four hundred years since its discovery.” In 1920, he resigned, citing the need “for a younger and more active man.”

The bishop returned to Fordham, where he stayed for the rest of his life. Monsignor Shelley notes that he went by the name “Father Collins,” and wore a simple Jesuit cassock on campus. (He left his episcopal regalia behind him in Jamaica for his successor to use.) He went back to teaching theology at Fordham, and occasionally doing Confirmations until his death on November 3o, 1934. The building now named Collins Hall was built in 1904 and later named in his honor.

(*The above drawing of Bishop Collins is by Pat McNamara.) 

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