John P. O’Dwyer, O.S.A.

1814 – 1850 (May 24)

John Possidius O’Dwyer was born in Callan, County Kilkenny, Ireland about 1814. After completing his preliminary education at the college in Kilkenny in 1835, he entered the novitiate at Grantstown, County Wexford, in 1836. After his profession of vows, he was sent to Italy to continue his studies in Perugia, after which he was ordained in Italy in December, 1838. 

In the late summer of 1840, Father O’Dwyer immigrated to the United States at the request of Father Patrick Moriarty. He served first at Saint Augustine’s in Philadelphia, PA. Later he became seriously ill and returned to Ireland at the end of 1842 where he convalesced in Pesaro on the Italian Adriatic Sea. He returned to the United States in the summer of 1843, bringing with him Father Francis Ashe and cleric William Harnett. On August 7, 1843, Father O’Dwyer formally took possession of Villanova and opened the first classes in the Rudolph farmhouse. On August 28 of the same year, he offered the first Mass, blessed the new foundation and placed it under the patronage of Saint Thomas of Villanova. Acting as President of the new college and Professor of Latin and Greek, he enrolled seven students on September 17, 1843 to begin the first college year. 

Father O’Dwyer established the first community life at Villanova, and in 1849, opened the first new building for students. In 1847, he was appointed Commissary-General to succeed Father Moriarty. And in 1848 he erected the college railroad station. After fire destroyed Saint Augustine’s Church in 1844, he built the “Lady of Consolation Chapel” to supply service for the faithful. Father O’Dwyer attended the 7th Provincial Council of Baltimore in May, 1849, and was unanimously chosen as the first candidate on the terna for the new Episcopal See of Savannah, Georgia. When he became seriously ill late in 1849, and before the election took place, he was hospitalized at Mount Hope, Baltimore, and his name was removed from the terna.

During his last illness, John Neumann, C. SS. R. later bishop of Philadelphia, administered to his spiritual needs, including the last rites. Father O’Dwyer died on May 24, 1850 at the age of 36. He is buried in the vault of Saint Augustine’s in Philadelphia. O’Dwyer Hall, a student dormitory at Villanova University, is named in his honor.

In 1893, at the celebration of the Golden Jubilee of Villanova College, J. Henry Magee, a member of the first group of students to enroll at Villanova, offered this testimony on behalf of Father O’Dwyer.

“He was, indeed, a rare character, earnest and energetic in all his undertakings, profound in his faith and convictions, and most sympathetic towards the sufferings and misfortunes of others. During the period of the riots he displayed the highest courage and immediately set about rebuilding the burnt church, or at least, a small chapel in which the congregation might worship until a new church could be built.”