It took a century and a quarter for Erie's classrooms to reach the ridge crowning the city. In 1926, Mercyhurst College opened its doors on a wind-swept hill overlooking Lake Erie, just a few blocks away from the city's southern boundary. Today, the college is in its 80th year after being founded by the Sisters of Mercy of the Erie Catholic Diocese, who were led by Mother M. Borgia Egan, first president of Mercyhurst College. The heritage of Mercyhurst, however, can be traced back to Mother Catherine McAuley, who founded the Sisters of Mercy in Dublin, Ireland.
From its roots on 75 acres of farmland on the bluffs overlooking Lake Erie to Mercyhurst's modern campus, the college has undergone dynamic change. Today Mercyhurst covers six blocks and is the largest piece of unbroken real estate in Erie. More importantly, Mercyhurst has emerged as a major force in the educational landscape of the region, while remaining true to its mission as a private Catholic comprehensive college in the Mercy tradition.
From the beginning, Mother Borgia was determined to make Mercyhurst the "beauty spot in the diocese of Erie." Wanting the institution to be a masterpiece of harmony, she directed that the exterior of the college be given as much attention as its interior. Under her direction, the Sisters hired prominent architect F. Ferdinand Durang of Philadelphia to create Old Main. It became a masterpiece of English Gothic design and stateliness that has a suggestion of medieval castle in its lines. With the addition of the college gates in 1950, the Mercyhurst campus became a city landmark.
Mother Borgia Egan was the foundress and first president guiding the college from 1926 to 1959. Sister Carolyn Herrmann, who led the college through the challenge of coeducation, was the most recent Sister of Mercy serving as president from 1963 to 1972. Since then the college has been led by lay presidents who share the commitment to Mercy higher education.
In Mercyhurst history, five dates stand out above all others: Sept. 20, 1926, when the college opened; Oct. 5, 1928, when the school received its charter; Feb. 3, 1969, when the board of trustees voted to admit the first class of men to Mercyhurst; March 27, 1991, when the 100-year old Redemptorist Seminary in North East was purchased for use as the North East campus; and May 28, 2005, when Mercyhurst College purchased a 405-acre site in Girard, formerly the site of the Divine Word Seminary, as the future site of Mercyhurst West, now in operation in a temporary facility in Girard.
In the past two decades, Mercyhurst has become one of the top comprehensive colleges in the North and the second largest Mercy college in America. Between its three campuses, enrollment has grown to a record 4,000 students, full-time faculty members number 168, the endowment has increased to more than $20 million and its budget to more than $80 million.
An unprecedented $40 million program of buildings and campus renovations has dramatically changed the look of Mercyhurst during the past 20 years. Old Main remains the spiritual center of a campus that has blossomed to include more than 50 structures. In fall 2002, the $7.5 million Audrey Hirt Academic Center opened on the southeast edge of campus. The much-anticipated, technology-rich classroom building was funded largely through the college's $22.8 million capital campaign.
In addition to the pace-setting growth on the main campus, in 1991 Mercyhurst purchased the 100-year-old Redemptorist Seminary in North East. More than 900 students are enrolled in two-year and certificate programs at the 84-acre campus. In August 2005, the $5 million Michele and Tom Ridge Health and Safety Building was dedicated at Mercyhurst North East. A $1.3 million residential apartment complex opened in time for the academic year.
In May 2005, the board of trustees authorized the purchase of 400 acres in the community of Girard in west Erie County as a first step toward developing Mercyhurst West, a two-year campus envisioned to serve west Erie County, northwest Crawford county and northeast Ohio. Classes began in August 2006 in a temporary facility just west of the future site.
Following a nation-wide search by a 17-member committee, the board of trustees elected Dr. Thomas J. Gamble as 11th president of Mercyhurst College. Dr. Gamble, who previously served as vice president of academic affairs at the college, assumed the presidency March 1, 2006, and was officially inaugurated at a ceremony held on Sept. 16, 2006.
In 2012, Mercyhurst College officially became Mercyhurst University and even opened an academic center in Dungarvan, Ireland.