Chapter V: Choosing the Site
It was at one of the meetings of the Aquinas Men's Club that I announced the definite plan of the Basilians to establish a college for men in Rochester. Much of my speech that night dealt with St. John Fisher, whose name the college would bear. His work as an educator, his saintly life, and his martyrdom seemed to be new material for the audience. One could tell from the attitude of the audience that both the college plan and its name were enthusiastically received. Jack Jardine, president of the Genesee Valley Trust Company, was there. He was a Protestant and declared that the account of St. John Fisher's life was one of the most stirring things he had heard. Jack would soon be an important cog in the financial gearing as the Fisher machine rolled along.
In the fall of 1946, I was still teaching full-time at Aquinas and going to football games at the Red Wing Stadium, often with Father McCorkell, or Father Dillon, or some other General Councilor from Toronto. Each time one of these councilors came to Rochester we did some scouting around, looking over sites for the proposed college for men. Gradually we came to the decision that if the Bishop was willing, we would have a campaign for the new college after we had purchased a site.
The present site of the college at Fairport Road and East Avenue, as it turned down to Pittsford, was always the spot, in my mind, that would be ideal for the college. A spur railroad or unused suburban railroad route was the northerly limit to the site, At least twice I went over that entire site with Father Vince Eckardt, the treasurer at Aquinas, to get his impression of the layout of trees, soil, and other considerations which a man reared on the farm would have in mind.
I remember one day, the grass being so high and so wet that we wore rubber boots. We were always in sweaters and other non-clerical garb in order to preserve our incognito. Another time Louis Langie and I parked up near Kate Gleason's property to the west, and having looked over that parcel thoroughly, walked down the old road bed of the railway, down past the present site, getting the Jay of the adjoining land to the north, and thence over a high hill, where ran the main tracks of the New York Central Railroad. Both Louie and I agreed, "This is it!" - if we could get it.
In this fall and early winter of 1946, Father McCorkell commissioned me to go ahead and handle everything for the campaign which had been agreed to by Bishop Kearney. To secure the support of the General Council in the selection of the site, I recall employing Herb Schaeffer, a photographer on the Times-Union. (I believe he was also the aviation editor of the paper and about the only one around Rochester who took aerial photographs.) I arranged to have him fly over the site and photograph it for us. The General Council meeting with Father McCorkell in Toronto was supplied with these photos. Father Dan Dillon of the council was one, to whom I showed the tract. I can't recall others. Possibly Father Vincent Kennedy was another. Father McCorkell on his next visit told me to go ahead with the acquisition of the Fairport Road property. It had been approved by the General Council.
At no time in these late months of 1946 and early winter of 1947 were any diocesan officials consulted with regard to the selection of the site. I was determined to keep it a strictly Basilian venture. If we were to build the college, we ought to be allowed to build it where we thought best. I have always regarded committee meetings and group discussions as fruitless when action is required. The only interests which should bear on the site selection should be our own. A committee trying to decide among half a dozen locations would take months, possibly years, before a site would be chosen. We simply bypassed all this. Even the staff and the officers at Aquinas were not consulted - for the same reason.
I had in mind locating the college out in the general area where it is now for several reasons. If we were to set up a good liberal arts college, without getting mixed up in big-time football then we should keep the site geographically distinct from the Aquinas area. At this time we did not know where the Aquinas Stadium would be located, but in my own mind I had the far south end of Rochester, out toward the University of Rochester, or the area near Aquinas, as the most probable sites.
To eliminate any connection between Aquinas, the high school, and the new Basilian college, intervening miles would help in creating the image of complete separation. The proximity to Nazareth College, a flourishing college for women, was also a consideration. I foresaw the time when the two Colleges, Fisher and Nazareth, might invest mutually in eminent professors. There was not the slightest thought of Fisher ever being a co-ed college, but the possible liaison and interchange of good college staffs was very prominent.