Responding to the Call for Spiritual Renewal
In 1973, Francis Boucher, John Meehan, and Peter Sampo embarked upon the task of founding a Catholic College that would serve students of the third Christian millennium. This College, established as Magdalen College and known today as the College of Saint Mary Magdalen, was born in response to the call by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council for a spiritual renewal of the Church and of the world.
Yet, before the College could open its doors in September 1974, the founders had to accomplish several essential tasks. Meehan completed one such task in February 1973 when he met with His Excellency, the Most Reverend Ernest J. Primeau, Bishop of Manchester, New Hampshire, seeking his Episcopal blessing and approval to establish a Catholic institution of higher learning.
Meehan said he was “somewhat stunned, yet pleasantly surprised, at how readily Bishop Primeau accepted the vision of the College.” Bishop Primeau was a Father of the Second Vatican Council who served on the commission that drafted Apostolicam Actuositatem (The Decree on the Apostolate of Laity). He said to Meehan, “You have my blessing and approval, now let us see how well you laymen will conform to your apostolate.”
On August 22, 1973, the College was incorporated in the State of New Hampshire as a private, nonprofit educational institution. According to the founding documents, the College would offer a liberal arts education carried out through an open, dialogical inquiry into the classic texts of Western civilization.
The founders announced the new college at a news conference held on September 11, 1973 and donors at a fundraising dinner held just a few weeks later provided some of the critical initial funding for the creation of the College.
By June 1974 the founders had identified a suitable and affordable location for the new College: a five–acre property in Bedford, New Hampshire known as the “Bedford Motel.” The owner of the motel, Richard Deyo, was willing to carry the initial mortgage. This generous gesture by Mr. Deyo smoothed the way for the founders during these early months.
However, there was one “small” problem: The motel was booked with guests until early September 1974, when the first students were scheduled to arrive. To fulfill the terms of the purchase–and–sale agreement, Boucher, Meehan, and Sampo—and their families—agreed to operate the motel throughout the summer.
When the last motel guests left on September 1, quick renovations were made the next day, and the first group of students arrived on September 3.
From 1974 to 1991 the College remained in Bedford. During these years the College improved the Bedford campus in many ways, and continued to develop the curriculum.
On July 28, 1978 the State of New Hampshire Legislature empowered the College to grant the Bachelor of Arts degree, and in 1983 the College received authority to award the Associate of Arts degree. In addition, on October 17, 1983, the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy empowered the College to award the Diploma for Religious Instruction.
Several College traditions and customs were established during these early years: retreats and the celebration of feast days were incorporated into the academic year. The Summer Youth Program (now called the Collegiate Summer Program) began in 1975, bringing high school students from throughout the United Stated, Canada, and Mexico to the campus every summer for study, prayer, and recreation.
In 1979, the College acquired a military chapel from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. This chapel was carefully dismantled and relocated to the Bedford campus. Many students returned early that year to help in the reconstruction and renovation of the chapel. It was complete in the fall of 1982, with a dedication Mass celebrated by the Most Reverend Odore Gendron on December 8, 1982.
As the years went by, the need for a larger campus became more pressing. Increasing enrollment, limited expansion options, and the further development of the curriculum fueled a bold new initiative: relocation.
On May 6, 1988, the Board of Trustees voted to relocate the College and during the following year College officials searched for a new campus. In September 1989, the College purchased a 135-acre property in Warner, New Hampshire. Groundbreaking ceremonies for the new campus were held on May 23, 1990, and an aggressive construction schedule was initiated.
The faculty, staff, and students, moved to the new Warner campus on March 17, 1991, just ten months after groundbreaking. Later that same year, on the Feast of Saint. Mary Magdalen, the Most Reverend Leo E O’Neil, Bishop of Manchester, consecrated the altar and the chapel during the Dedication Mass. Bishop O’Neil then blessed the six other newly constructed buildings on the campus.
On August 22, 1998, the College celebrated its silver jubilee with over 300 friends, alumni, and benefactors. After twenty–five years of great sacrifice and hard work the College had become a well-established and thriving Catholic institution of higher learning, and in the late 1990s the founding generation of leaders at the College began to pass the torch to a new generation.
On October 16, of 2010, the College re-dedicated itself to its founding mission and unveiled its new name: the College of Saint Mary Magdalen. This modification of the College’s name signified a renewal of its institutional commitment to serve the Church by offering a program of rigorous intellectual formation through the study of the liberal arts.
As the College looks to the future, she gives thanks for the many men and women who have given so generously to establish, strengthen, and renew the College of Saint Mary Magdalen.