Edward A. McGurk
Edward A. McGurk

Table of Contents

Edward A. McGurk

Edward A. McGurk SJ, born in 1841 and called to his eternal rest on July 3, 1896, stood as a prominent figure in the annals of American Catholicism. A devoted Catholic priest and a member of the esteemed Jesuit order, McGurk’s legacy was marked by his transformative leadership at prominent educational institutions.

Hailing from the vibrant city of Philadelphia, McGurk’s journey within the Society of Jesus commenced in 1857. His path eventually led him to impart his knowledge and wisdom at the venerable College of the Holy Cross, where he assumed the mantle of leadership as its president from 1893 to 1895. Prior to this, he had already left an indelible mark as the president of Loyola College in Maryland, steering its course with unwavering dedication from 1877 to 1885.

McGurk’s commitment to his sacred calling extended beyond the classroom walls. At Loyola College, he undertook the crucial task of alleviating the institution’s financial burden, which had accumulated in the tumultuous aftermath of the Civil War. His deft management and resolute efforts led to the liquidation of a substantial portion of the school’s debt, allowing it to flourish under his visionary leadership.

In a chapter of his journey that unfolded in 1885, McGurk embraced the role of president at Gonzaga College, situated in the heart of Washington, D.C. Under his stewardship, the college underwent a period of growth and renewal. The fruits of his labor were manifested not only in the expansion of academic horizons but also in the construction of a new residence—a sanctuary that would house the Jesuits and scholastics, fostering a vibrant community dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge and spiritual enrichment.

Beyond his administrative acumen, Edward A. McGurk SJ embodied the Jesuit spirit of intellectual rigor, compassionate service, and unwavering dedication to the betterment of society. As his journey through life concluded, his profound impact endured, leaving an indelible mark on the educational institutions he nurtured and the countless lives he touched.

Edward A. McGurk

Date of Birth 

Birth Place

Country

Died

Died Place

Resting Place

Education

October 6, 1841

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.

U.S [3]

July 3, 1896

Fairhaven, Massachusetts, U.S.

College of the Holy Cross 

Georgetown University
Woodstock College

15th President of the College of the Holy Cross

Active

Preceded 

Succeeded 

Ordination

1893–1895

Michael O’Kane

John F. Lehy

1872

Loyola College

In the year 1877, Edward A. McGurk took up the mantle of leadership at Loyola College in Maryland, succeeding Stephen A. Kelly. Concurrently, he also undertook the role of pastor at St. Ignatius Church, intricately linked with the college. As he assumed these responsibilities, McGurk was met with a multifaceted challenge—reinvigorating the college while tending to the spiritual needs of the faithful.

Loyola College stood under the shadow of significant debt, a vestige of the tumultuous era of the Civil War. This financial burden, inherited by McGurk, necessitated an astute hand to guide the institution toward fiscal stability. Building upon the foundation laid by his predecessor, McGurk embarked on a journey of financial revitalization. Through his strategic acumen and steadfast determination, he orchestrated the successful liquidation of a portion of the accrued debt, steering the college toward more promising horizons.

Yet, McGurk’s vision extended beyond mere fiscal affairs. Recognizing the paramount importance of academic excellence, he undertook measures to elevate the institution’s scholastic standards. By nurturing an environment of intellectual rigor and fostering an unwavering commitment to learning, he played a pivotal role in enhancing the academic reputation of Loyola College.

His legacy of transformation was not confined solely to the college itself. McGurk’s efforts extended to the ecclesiastical realm, where he embarked on the revitalization of St. Ignatius Church. With dedicated resolve, he oversaw renovations that breathed new life into the spiritual haven, offering a place of solace and devotion for the congregation.

As the years unfolded, McGurk’s tireless dedication continued to illuminate the path of Loyola College. It was in the year 1885 that he passed the torch of leadership to Francis Smith, marking the conclusion of his transformative tenure as both president of the college and pastor of St. Ignatius Church. His legacy endured as a testament to his vision, fortitude, and unwavering commitment to the betterment of both scholastic and spiritual realms.

Gonzaga College

On the notable date of July 31, 1885, Edward A. McGurk assumed the mantle of leadership at Gonzaga College in Washington, D.C., succeeding John J. Murphy in this esteemed role. This institution, which would later come to be known as Gonzaga College High School, held a place of prominence in the educational landscape. In tandem with his presidency, McGurk took on the pastoral responsibilities of St. Aloysius Church, an integral spiritual hub for the community.

A transformative endeavor commenced under McGurk’s guidance in 1886. With a vision to provide enhanced residential facilities for the priests and Jesuit scholastics associated with the church and school, he embarked on a campaign to raise the necessary funds. Through his efforts, a new residence began to take shape, becoming a tangible manifestation of his commitment to the spiritual and educational welfare of those under his care. Construction commenced on May 26 of that year, and on August 1, 1887, the new building welcomed its occupants, a testament to McGurk’s dedication and organizational acumen.

During his tenure, the institution faced challenges in enrollment. The academic year of 1886 and 1887 saw a modest enrollment of 87 students, a number that further declined to 57 students as the academic year of 1887 and 1888 commenced. These fluctuations prompted adjustments in the school’s structure, eventually leading to the discontinuation of upper-level classes at the outset of the 1889 academic year.

The chapter of McGurk’s presidency and pastoral leadership concluded on November 18, 1890, as Cornelius Gillespie succeeded him in these capacities. Subsequently, from 1890 to 1893, McGurk found himself engaged in pastoral work in Boston, continuing to bring his guidance and spiritual stewardship to a different corner of the realm he held dear.

College of the Holy Cross

Michael O’Kane’s performance as the president of the College of the Holy Cross had left much to be desired, prompting action from the Jesuit provincial superior, Thomas J. Campbell. In 1893, Campbell appointed Edward A. McGurk to replace O’Kane, a decision rooted in McGurk’s proven administrative experience. One of McGurk’s initial actions was to disband the college’s varsity football team in 1894, motivated by his desire to keep the team confined to playing within Worcester’s bounds.

A significant challenge McGurk encountered was a construction project initiated by his predecessor, O’Kane, without authorization from Jesuit superiors. This unauthorized expansion, meant to accommodate the growing student body, raised concerns. Under McGurk’s watch, it was determined that the college would need to assume $150,000 in debt to complete the building. Though initially halted by the superiors, construction was eventually permitted to continue, albeit limited to the building’s exterior. McGurk, despite his ailing health, embarked on fundraising efforts to see the project through.

McGurk’s own health began to decline during this period, leading to leaves of absence for recovery. He sought respite at Keyser Island in Connecticut and later embarked on a three-month European sojourn. Despite his health struggles, McGurk tenaciously pursued permissions and strategies to raise funds, culminating in the establishment of a fundraising committee and the naming of the completed building, O’Kane Hall. This expansive structure, dedicated in April 1895, eased the college’s overcrowding with its 220-foot length, 110-foot width, and 95-foot height. Housing various facilities, from a swimming pool and gymnasium to classrooms and a theater, the building came at a cost of $182,000, pushing the college’s debt to $187,000.

During the graduation ceremony of 1895, McGurk’s health took a dire turn as he suffered a stroke. Although he survived the incident, his health remained precarious. Tragically, on July 3, 1896, at approximately 5:50 p.m., McGurk passed away at St. Theresa’s, a Jesuit retreat house and villa in Fairhaven, Massachusetts. His final resting place became the College of the Holy Cross cemetery, marking the end of an era. In the interim, John F. Lehy took on the role of vice rector, guiding the college while the search for a new president began.

Personal Life

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on October 6, 1841, McGurk’s educational journey began at St. Joseph’s Preparatory School. His path took a significant turn when he entered the Society of Jesus on July 20, 1857, and subsequently embarked on his novitiate in Frederick, Maryland. The onset of the Civil War coincided with his novitiate years, transforming the establishment into a hospital for Union soldiers. McGurk, stepping into a medical role, tended to the wounded soldiers. He solidified his commitment to the Jesuit order by pronouncing his perpetual vows in 1859, followed by two more years of academic pursuit at Frederick.

By September 1861, McGurk’s journey led him to the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he embraced his regency period, contributing as a teacher. His capacity for leadership grew evident as he assumed the role of prefect of studies from 1874 to 1876. Furthering his scholarly pursuits, McGurk embarked on philosophical studies at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., in 1866. With the inauguration of Woodstock College, a new Jesuit house of studies in Maryland, he transitioned to this institution as a member of its inaugural cohort in September 1869. McGurk’s clerical journey progressed as he was ordained as a priest at Woodstock during the summer of 1872.

McGurk’s educational and leadership endeavors continued with a two-year tenure at Boston College. During this period, he also took on the role of vice president at the institution. His academic journey came full circle when he assumed the position of chair of rhetoric at the College of the Holy Cross. Completing a pivotal phase, McGurk returned to the Frederick novitiate in 1876 to conclude his tertianship, a period of further spiritual training. It was on August 15, 1877, that he solidified his commitment to the Jesuit order by professing his fourth vow, a testament to his unwavering dedication.

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