Villanova University receives $1 million commitment from Connelly Foundation to Establish Center for Irish Studies

VILLANOVA, Pa., March 17, 2016 – Villanova University has received a $1 million commitment from the Connelly Foundation to support a new Center for Irish Studies. 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 US, and provides students with diverse academic and cultural experiences that connect to the University’s Irish Augustinian Catholic heritage. 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, OSA, PhD, 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 as a school for Irish immigrants. Over the years, 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, ’90 VLS, 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.

The Center for Irish Studies 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.”

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.

Gifts to Villanova from the Connelly Foundation have supported infrastructure, academics and student programming and scholarships. The Foundation funded the construction of the Connelly Center, the creation of the Connelly Endowed Deanship in the College of Nursing and the establishment of the Connelly-Delouvrier International Scholars Program. Beyond Villanova University, the Foundation’s impact is palpable across the Delaware Valley, and it is one of the area’s premier supporters of Catholic educational institutions.

“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’s gift is part of the University’s $600 million comprehensive Capital Campaign, “For the Greater Great: The Villanova Campaign to Ignite Change.” Villanova launched the public phase of its Campaign in October 2013, which to date has raised $513 million towards its $600 million goal. The most ambitious in the University’s 173-year history, Villanova’s Campaign is aimed at cultivating academic innovation across its schools and colleges, investing in recruiting and retaining the finest teacher-scholars, dramatically enhancing financial aid and student opportunities, and continuing to build a premier living-learning environment on the University’s 260-acrecampus.

About the Connelly Foundation: The Connelly Foundation seeks to foster learning and to improve the quality of life in the Greater Philadelphia area. The Foundation supports local non-profit organizations int he fi elds of education, health and human services, arts and culture and civic enterprise. Recognizing that the Foundation's past investments in education have yielded some of its most rewarding results, learning has become the cornerstone of its mission and a uniting umbrella covering all of its philanthropic interests. The Foundation also endeavors to improve the quality of life in the Philadelphia area by promoting a culture of opportunity and civility.

About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's six colleges – the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Nursing, the College of Professional Studies and the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law School of Law. As students grow intellectually, Villanova prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them. For more, visit



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