Villanova University, just north of Philadelphia, is planning a new Irish Studies center. Villanova University photo.
By Ray O’Hanlon
Irish Studies has become an increasingly popular academic option in a growing number of universities.
Now one of the longest running Irish Studies programs is poised to get its very own center.
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Villanova University has received a $1 million commitment from the Connelly Foundation to support a new Center for Irish Studies, the university has announced.
Villanova’s current Irish Studies Program, housed in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is one of the oldest programs of its kind in the U.S., and provides students with diverse academic and cultural experiences that connect to the University’s Irish Augustinian Catholic heritage, said a statement.
The statement said that the elevation of this program to a Center for Irish Studies will allow the university to offer additional academic programs, and increase opportunities for its study abroad and exchange programs.
“I am incredibly grateful to the Connelly Foundation for this generous gift that will greatly enhance the academic and experiential opportunities for students, faculty and scholars in Irish Studies,” said the Rev. Peter M. Donohue, Villanova University President.
“As an institution founded to educate Irish immigrants, it is particularly fitting that Villanova has a dedicated Center for Irish Studies that honors our rich heritage.”
Villanova was founded by Irish Augustinians in 1842.
Over the years, according to a release, Villanova’s Irish Studies Program has launched partnerships with institutions including the National University of Ireland Galway, University College, Dublin and the Abbey Theatre, Ireland’s national theater, among others.
It also has established the Charles A. Heimbold, Jr. Chair of Irish Studies, which brings a distinguished Irish writer to the university each semester to teach an undergraduate course.
Villanova’s current Irish Studies Program, which includes a minor in Irish Studies, is open to students from all colleges.
Students may choose to study in Ireland, either through a Semester Abroad program, or with the Villanova in Ireland Summer program at NUI Galway.
“The Connelly Foundation is proud to have deep and longstanding ties with Villanova University. This new philanthropic investment is a testament to the University’s commitment to Irish studies,” said Thomas A. Riley III, the foundation’s Vice President for Strategy.
“Both of our Founders, John and Josephine O’Neill Connelly, were from Irish immigrant families and passed down to their children and grandchildren their respect and appreciation for Irish culture and history. We are delighted that this contribution will provide so many more opportunities for students, faculty, and distinguished Irish scholars on Villanova’s campus and in Ireland.”
Financial support from the Connelly Foundation will impact a number of initiatives, including:
• Abbey Theatre Exchange: As students travel to Ireland to study at the Abbey Theatre, the Center for Irish Studies will invite Irish actors, writers and directors to teach at Villanova, enabling the University to serve as a U.S. academic home for the Abbey Theatre.
• Office of the Minister for Diaspora Affairs: The Center for Irish Studies will support this Irish governmental office through student internships, research, special events and symposia.
• Jackie Clarke Collection: The Center for Irish Studies will help fund the archiving of more than 100,000 items from 400 years of Irish history at Villanova’s Falvey Memorial Library.
The Center for Irish Studies, added the release, will help expand the current program’s interdisciplinary focus across all academic disciplines by providing more opportunities and collaboration for faculty and visiting scholars.
“Our Irish Studies partnerships—with the Abbey Theatre and others—transform the educational experiences of our students,” said Joseph Lennon, Director of Villanova University’s Irish Studies Program.
“The Connelly Foundation’s support will allow us to host world-renowned scholars and provide our students with a dynamic educational experience at Villanova and in Ireland. The Center for Irish Studies will also serve as the premier Irish Studies resource for Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley. We are deeply grateful to the Connelly Foundation for their support of our vision.”
Continued the release: Support for education is a cornerstone of the Connelly Foundation’s mission, and it has been a fervent supporter of Villanova University for nearly four decades with a giving legacy that exceeds $15 million. The foundation’s most recent $1 million commitment commemorates the foundation’s 60th anniversary.
In recognition of the Connelly Foundation’s generosity, the center’s directorship will be named for Emily C. Riley, Executive Vice President for the Connelly Foundation and a former member of the Villanova University Board of Trustees.
“The Connelly Foundation’s support of Villanova University over the years has been nothing short of extraordinary,” said Mike O’Neill, Senior Vice President for University Advancement.
“These philanthropic commitments have had a lasting impact on the University, and will have a transformative effect on the lives of generations of Villanovans. With this gift, they are honoring our collective history while helping provide an important foundation for the future of Irish studies at Villanova.”
The Connelly Foundation states that its mission is to seek to foster learning and to improve the quality of life in the Greater Philadelphia area. The foundation supports local non-profit organizations in the fields of education, health and human services, arts and culture and civic enterprise.