When considering who to write about to kick off this series it seemed sensible to start with the man who started it all: Archbishop John Mark Gannon.
Archbishop Gannon led a remarkable life that led to helping establish several hospitals and educational programs as well as numerous churches, rectories and convents.
As his last name insinuates, Archbishop Gannon is the man after whom our university is named. However, when he established the university in 1925 he simply called it Cathedral College.
Additionally, at its founding, Cathedral College was only a two-year institution. Its founder loved Erie and showed it by interacting with the people in a personal and meaningful way.
Following his education at St. Bonaventure College (1899) and Catholic University of America (1900, 1901), Gannon was ordained to priesthood in December of 1901. He then continued his educational ventures overseas at Apollinare University in Rome.
Gannon returned to Erie and was later appointed auxillary bishop of Erie in 1917. Three years later he would be appointed bishop of Erie. His installation occurred at the nearby St. Peter’s Cathedral, which is still standing near campus on West 10th Street.
In addition to Gannon University, Archbishop Gannon founded Cathedral Preparatory School and was a strong supporter of the establishment of Villa Maria College and Mercyhurst College, now Mercyhurst University.
In addition to his contributions to education in the Erie community, Gannon founded several hospitals including St. Vincent’s Hospital in Erie as well as Andrew Kaul Memorial Hospital in St. Mary’s.
Regarding his contributions to present-day Gannon University, Gannon is quoted as saying “For some time I have been conscience of a cruel inequality…Those whose parents are wealthy…may set out for college. Those sons of workingmen, however, no matter how virtuous or talented, are forced to give up hope of a college education.” With this, Gannon aimed to make education accessible and affordable to all.
In 1941, John Mark Gannon purchased the Strong Mansion, then known as one of the most elegant buildings in downtown Erie. This building is known today as Old Main. Three years later, Cathedral College was renamed Gannon College.
However, at the time, it was a men’s-only college. It was only in 1964 that Gannon became co-educational. This same year, Gannon introduced its graduate school.
That graduate school has since grown immensely to become what it is today. In 1979 Gannon College became Gannon University with its official appointment of university status.
Although Erie was not an archdiocese, Archbishop Gannon was bestowed the title “archbishop ad personam” as a result of his great service to the Catholic Church. Through his life Gannon was a positive force for the Catholic Church and the city of Erie and embraced the changes of both. Gannon worked up until his last few years of life, retiring at the age of 90. He died just two years later on Sept. 5, 1968.
From Cathedral College to Gannon College to Gannon University as we know it, the university that we call home would not be where it is today without Archbishop John Mark Gannon. He was a man of many accomplishments and accolades and his legacy will certainly live on at Gannon.