Chapter XIII: Collecting the Pledges
"Why build St. John Fisher College?" This was the question which would confront our workers. We briefed them to have the answers ready in this framework:
NEED: Existing college facilities in the area were sufficient to care for only one boy out of every 210 finishing high school in the area.
LOCATION: We had already purchased a site within easy range of car and bus, with four suburban and state bus lines passing the intersection of East Avenue and Fairport Road.
NAME: Saint John Fisher, martyred Bishop of Rochester, England, and Chancellor of Cambridge University, who gave his life because of his defiance of the power of the state and in defense of the marriage bond. Patterned after the Cambridge of Fisher, St. John Fisher College would become a center of scholarship and culture.
ENROLLMENT: For the first few years enrollment would be limited to 600 students. Normal scholastic requirements would be the sole criterion for admission. Any qualified student regardless of race, creed, or color would be admitted.
The above outline covered most of the message we hoped to translate into funds. More detailed information was available from a Campaign Speakers Bureau. Under the chairmanship of Martin Q. Moll, a dozen young men were available for service anywhere in the diocese. Members included Gerald R. Barrett, Howard M. Woods, Austin Whalen, Richard C. Spitzer, John T. Nothnagle, Thomas J. Meagher, Theodore J. Houck, Ray J. Hasenauer, Joseph H. Gervais, John H. Coleman, Eugene R. Cusker.
Marty Moll and Jack Coleman were invaluable to our cause. They had been my student leaders in the Aquinas Mission Crusade. The St. John Fisher cause became for them a new crusade.
Possibly the best wrap up of the campaign would be to resume the front page center, 3 columns wide cut and story in the Democrat and Chronicle of Tuesday, February 24, 1948:
CATHOLIC COLLEGE DRIVE TOPS GOAL WITH 118 P.C.
Beneath the above headline was a photo of an outsized check being tendered Bishop Kearney by Joseph J. Myler, chairman of the drive. Inscribed on it in large numbers was:
Continuing in large type, a two-column lead read,
48,575 PLEDGES ANNOUNCED IN ST. JOHN FISHER CAMPAIGN CLOSING DINNER ATTENDED BY RECORD 2,600
"Final totals were revealed by Rt. Rev. Msgr. William M. Hart, Vicar-General. Showers of confetti, tooting of horns, blowing of whistles greeted the totals. Bishop James E. Kearney thanked the workers for making the largest Rochester Diocese capital fund a success. 'I received the success of the drive as a personal approbation of my 10 years of stewardship in the diocese.'"
The Special Gifts Committee headed by Otto Shults reported $500,625 for 94 per cent of its quota. The total subscription from the 23 parish zones was $734,432 or 143 per cent of a $512,236 goal. Thirteen parishes attained more than 200 per cent of their quotas. Holy Cross parish in Rochester attained 400 per cent of its quota. We were surprised at the success of the drive in the counties other than Monroe. Examples were the parishes of Ovid, Red Creek, Honeoye Falls and other places remote from Rochester city.
Father McCorkell, our Superior General, came over from Toronto and thanked the workers at the closing dinner.
Chairman Joe Myler called on the "Rev. Hugh J. Haffey, Executive Director of the new College," as the last speaker. I have no written record of exactly what I said but I recall my last sentence, "I want to thank especially my Superior General, Father McCorkell, for entrusting to me this phase of the beginning of St. John Fisher College." The follow-up of the campaign moved along smoothly.
Monsignor Randall worked out with Miss Zelda Lyons the pledge redemption schedule. As expected, some 90% of the special gifts pledges were paid and the amounts banked in a month or so. Within the year, i.e., through February 1949, some 92-95% of all pledges were redeemed.
I was interested in the analysis of the results. Who worked the campaign? Who gave? There proved to be a striking correlation between the workers and givers in the city with the subscribers to our Christian Culture Series. Almost every person I found in the list of workers, in the parish part especially, had been involved in our Culture Series.
The payment of pledges had a certain rhythm to it. Almost any news story about Aquinas or the Basilians, or St. John Fisher College, stepped up the incoming receipts. The Aquinas Memorial Stadium simply had to be built. We had promised the people we would do so. If we did not move towards the stadium construction, we could expect a slowdown in the payment of pledges toward St. John Fisher College. It was the building of the stadium that enabled us to keep in the public eye during the summer and winter of 1948 following the college campaign.
I had refused to say where we would build Aquinas Stadium because, frankly, we did not know. There was a rumor that we would put it on a plot just east of the State Hospital on Elmwood Avenue and the rumor was strong enough to rouse residents of that area to call neighborhood protest meetings. They didn't want a stadium in that area and, actually, we didn't either.
Mr. Tom Broderick came to our rescue. As Chairman of the Republican County Committee, he had considerable influence with many of the municipal boards and councils of the area. I asked him if we could buy the vacant land at Mt. Read Boulevard and Ridgeway Avenue contiguous to School 40 which we had leased as Aquinas Annex. The land was owned by the city. This was effected. At that corner, we would build the stadium.
The vacant land just south of the stadium site on the east side of Mt. Read Boulevard was owned by the Bell & Howell people in Chicago. We needed assurance from them that they would not put a building close to our property line. I went to Chicago, arriving around 9 A.M., not quite sure as to how I would proceed.
I recalled from previous experience that officers in banks are always friendly people, and very knowledgeable; thus, I went into the first large bank I saw and told a vice president the object of my mission. He took over and arranged a taxi trip to Bell & Howell on the city's outskirts. In three hours I had the verbal assurance from the Bell & Howell Co. President that they would in no way hinder the stadium construction.
The reason I cite this experience is to show that in Chicago, as in Rochester, in the late 1940's, there was a growing sensitivity to the needs, aims, and purposes of schools and colleges on the part of business and industry. I suspect that the schools and colleges were to blame for the earlier absence of genuine understanding. Educators were only beginning to climb down from their ivory towers. Town and Gown would become progressively, in the 1950's and in the 1960's, one of the nation's great areas of involvement.
By way of balance, I narrate a happening which, for me, shows that not only business and industry but the leaders and men in the labor unions were the staunch friends and supporters of the educational enterprise. When we were about to begin the actual construction of Aquinas Memorial Stadium, the carpenters' union was planning a citywide strike. Any delay in the schedule would ruin the planned opening. I asked the union leaders if I could address them at their next meeting. I told them that I was the nephew of Bob Haffey, one of the founders of the labor union movement in Rochester, that (possibly) they might make an exception and not strike against the stadium. They agreed. The stadium was finished in time.
There was little to announce with regard to the college project in the remaining months of 1948, but we needed to keep our names in the daily press. To that end I set up a citywide Sports Dinner sponsored by the Aquinas Men's Club on December 8 in the Chamber of Commerce, at which time we would announce the winning bidder for the building of the stadium. It proved to be a great promotion. The football season was almost over. Some six or eight national celebrities agreed to appear and speak. Included were Jimmy Power, the noted sports columnist of New York Daily News; Lou Little, coach of Columbia College's football team; and Jerry Flynn, a former Aquinas lad who did public relations work with the Navy football team, and who proved to be the best speaker of the lot. For several weeks I could feed Elliott Cushing of the Democrat and Chronicle sports staff and Matt Jackson, Times Union sports editor, news of the football figures agreeing to come.
It was the kind of a gathering made to order for newsmen. At the preprandials and at the dinner, the sportswriters collected enough anecdotes and color stories to last for weeks. Every mention of the event fanned the financial embers of the St. John Fisher College Campaign.
For some of the citizenry, the building of the stadium was a turning point in civic history. The Rochester Sun, a paper published by Curt Gerling, Orville Allen, and Bill Pfaff, all good friends of mine, editorialized, "The stadium may well be the memorial for the 98 lads who died in conflict, but it is no less a memorial to a handful of clergymen and businessmen who got things done."