Laurence J. McGinley Biography

Laurence J. McGinley, SJ, (1905-1992), the 26th president of Fordham University, was perhaps the single most important figure in Fordham’s mid-20th century transformation into a true metropolitan university woven into the fabric of New York. A Christian humanist and a man of cosmopolitan interests, he was an influential voice in Catholic higher education and the driving force behind the creation of Fordham’s campus in the heart of Manhattan.

Father McGinley grew up on 105th Street in Manhattan, the first of two sons born to James and Alice McGinley. (His father, who had been chief of staff to the city’s commissioner of accounts, once introduced him to Robert Moses, the powerful city planner with whom Father McGinley would work as president of Fordham.) He attended P.S. 128 in Brooklyn and Xavier High School in Manhattan before entering upon his novitiate in the Society of Jesus at age 17.

To prepare for ordination, he studied at the school of St. Andrews-on-Hudson in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and at Woodstock College in Maryland, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and taught for three years at St. Joseph’s Preparatory School in Philadelphia. After further studies at Woodstock College, he was ordained in 1935 and earned his Licentiate in Sacred Theology the following year. He then he served as chaplain of City Home Hospital on New York City’s Welfare Island (now Roosevelt Island) and as an editorial assistant at America magazine before being sent to Rome, where he earned his doctorate in theology at the Gregorian University and Biblical Institute.

After working for a few months as operations director for the Vatican radio station in 1939, he served as a Woodstock College professor and administrator and as associate editor of the Jesuit publication Theological Studies. In 1943 he became consultor to the provincial general of the New York Province of the Society of Jesus, and in 1949 was appointed president of Fordham.

As president, he not only became known as one of the nation’s best university administrators but also launched several building projects that positioned Fordham for a more prominent role in New York, rapidly growing into a leading world capital at the time. At the Rose Hill campus he oversaw the construction of a student center—later named for him—and the Martyrs’ Court residence halls, preparing for Fordham’s shift away from serving primarily commuter students. And like the priests who were Fordham’s first Jesuit overseers in 1846, he sought a new presence for the University in Manhattan.

Father McGinley wanted a new facility to consolidate Fordham’s law, business and education schools, which were housed in ill-suited quarters around Manhattan. But his concerns went beyond the practical. He fervently believed that great universities and great cities belong together, and wanted Fordham to grow in tandem with New York’s expansion as a center for culture, the arts, and international affairs. Under Father McGinley’s leadership, Fordham became the first institution to commit to Robert Moses’s proposed redevelopment of the Lincoln Square neighborhood north of Columbus Circle. Fordham’s early support was crucial to the project, which resulted in a two-block campus for Fordham alongside the new Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, of which Father McGinley was a founding director.

Father McGinley also oversaw academic initiatives including a Russian studies institute, junior year study-abroad programs in Europe and South America, and an honors program at the Rose Hill campus to promote independent scholarship by undergraduates. He provided educational leadership beyond Fordham, serving as president of the Middle States Association of College and Secondary Schools and the Association of Urban Universities. After retiring as president of Fordham in 1963, he served as a higher education consultant to church leaders including John Cardinal O’Connor, who was “deeply impressed by his goodness, his wisdom and his holiness.” In 1979 he came back to Rose Hill as president emeritus, and in 1985 the University marked his birthday with the creation of the Laurence J. McGinley Chair in Religion and Society.

At a Fordham Law School event in the mid-1980s, he described the vision behind his efforts to create the Lincoln Center campus: “We were building a neighborhood … where it would be possible to provide the daily mingling of town and gown in a new and wonderful unity, where the world of ideas could join the world of art, and truth lend strength to beauty, and the shared vision of the things that enrich man’s spirit could be focused, supported, embraced, and spread abroad.”