Gannon University has been a pillar of the City of Erie for decades. Yet, the history of Gannon University is far richer than most people would image. The University began as a mission of the Catholic Church, which has influenced its goals and teachings since its inception.
The namesake of Gannon, Bishop John Mark Gannon, was born in Erie in 1877 and went to St. Bonaventure’s College where he graduated in 1899. After becoming ordained, Gannon focused on work in education. He was installed as the Bishop of Erie in 1920 and founded Cathedral Preparatory School in 1921 as well as helped in the establishment of both Mercyhurst College (now Mercyhurst University) and Villa Maria College (which later was integrated into Gannon University). “With the death of Bishop Fitzmaurice on June 11, 1920, Bishop Gannon (1920-1966) succeeded to the Erie See. It was the beginning of a golden era in the history of the Erie Diocese.”
In 1933, John Mark Gannon founded Cathedral College under the charter of Villa Maria College. Catheral College was, at that time, only a two-year institution. He was given the title of Archbishop by Pius XII in 1953 and was part of the Second Vatican Council.
“Besides the impact Bishop Gannon made on his own diocese, he became a national and international figure in 1936 when he was appointed chairman of the Bishops’ Committee to establish a seminary at Montezuma, New Mexico. It proved to be a monumental achievement of the American Catholic Hierarchy which preserved the Catholic Church in Mexico in the face of brutal persecution. Following this appointment, he was chosen the director of the Press Department of the National Catholic Welfare Conference and founded the National Bureau of Information within the Department. The latter was founded essentially to combat anti-Catholic propaganda in the western hemisphere.”
The mission of the Catholic Church, especially the priority for those less fortunate, was critical to the mission of Cathedral College. Even today, this mission can be seen though the tremendous amounts of financial aid and emphasis on low-cost/high-yield education for the students attending Gannon University today. Students, in the spirit of John Mark Gannon, visit the city of Immokalee in Florida each year for a mission trip to work with the migrant workers for social justice. This Catholic Social Teaching permeates each facet of life at Gannon University.
In 1966 John Mark Gannon retired as Bishop of Erie. “Before his resignation in September 1966, Bishop Gannon had witnessed the Catholic population in the Erie Diocese grow to 212,000. Catholic schools had opened their doors to 30,000 students. There were more than one thousand nuns of various communities working in the diocese. In 1953, Bishop Gannon was honored with the title of Archbishop in recognition of his many accomplishments both at home and abroad.” On September 5, he died at the age of 91.
In 1941, John Mark Gannon purchased the Strong Mansion, which would later become known as the cornerstone of Gannon University’s campus, Old Main. In 1944 Cathedral College received its’ own charter, previously it was under the charter of Villa Maria College, and was renamed Gannon College for the Archbishop.