Obituary: Vernon F. Gallagher / Duquesne president expanded campus in the 1950s

Sept. 26, 1914 - Aug. 14, 2014

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One of Duquesne University’s youngest presidents lived a humble life committed to education and his family, his stepson said.

Vernon F. Gallagher, who served as the eighth president of the university from 1950 to 1959, died Thursday. He was 99.

He grew up in Sharpsburg, and as a young man, farmed and worked for a soda company.

“He had a religious calling, so I don’t think he was a lot of trouble” as a child, said Mr. Gallagher’s stepson, Bob Adams of Emsworth.

Following that calling, Mr. Gallagher became a Catholic priest with the Holy Ghost Fathers in 1939. He earned a master’s degree and doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania and was awarded several honorary degrees. Mr. Gallagher spoke numerous languages, including Latin, Greek, Italian and Slovak.

Mr. Adams said his stepfather was very committed to providing a strong educational element in his religious order.

Mr. Gallagher started as a professor at Duquesne and quickly moved through the ranks, becoming the dean of academics and vice president before assuming the presidency at age 36.

“Duquesne was a very little-known university at that point, and his job as president was to put it in the spotlight,” Mr. Adams said.

At that point, it consisted mainly of the Old Main Building, Canevin Hall and several rowhouses.

Mr. Gallagher and another priest built Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto at the Old Main Building themselves.

“I think he got a lot of smashed fingers, because I never saw him being a very good handyman,” Mr. Adams said.

The university also acquired land in the Bluff during his tenure and built Assumption, Rockwell and Trinity halls.

“I don’t know that it would exist in its current form without his leadership,” Mr. Adams said. “There were people who followed, certainly, who took his plan and expanded on it as time went on.”

Duquesne president Charles J. Dougherty said in a statement that Mr. Gallagher was a great president.

“He added lay representatives to our Board for the first time. And he refused a Sugar Bowl bid for our basketball team because Louisiana enforced segregation at the game. Gallagher was a man ahead of his time,” Mr. Dougherty said.

In 2005, Duquesne established the Vernon F. Gallagher Endowed Chair for the Integration of Science, Theology, Philosophy and Law. Gerard Magill, a professor of health-care ethics, holds the position.

During his tenure as president, Mr. Gallagher was committed to fighting the Communist movement and met with President Dwight Eisenhower and gave the opening prayer to Congress in 1955.

Mr. Gallagher served as provincial superior of the American Province of the Holy Ghost Fathers and director of the Association of the Holy Childhood. After leaving Duquesne, he became parish priest at Sacred Heart Church in Emsworth.

He left the priesthood in 1972. Mr. Adams said he believes Mr. Gallagher thought he had given all he could as a priest and was looking for another outlet through which to serve.

Mr. Gallagher continued his career in education at St. Michael's College in Burlington, Vt., where he was a professor, academic dean and vice president.

He also served on the steering committee for a new public TV station in Pittsburgh — WQED.

When he “really, really retired,” Mr. Gallagher lived in Florida for several years and enjoyed numerous hobbies, Mr. Adams said. He taught classes to seniors in Italian, grew and gave vegetables to family members and finessed fickle plants such as orchids.

Through his 90s, Mr. Gallagher played music. He would sit with his grandchildren at the piano and play for them.

He also taught his grandchildren art.

“He was a great grandfather and a great, great, great-grandfather,” Mr. Adams’ wife, Michele Adams, said.

The homes of Mr. and Mrs. Adams, their children and Mr. Gallagher’s friends are filled with his paintings. Mrs. Adams said her favorite — a painting of red asters in a gold vase — was a birthday present.

“He was diverse, yet a humble human being,” said Mrs. Adams of Emsworth. “There was nothing you could imagine him bragging about. He was dignified, humble, kind and classic.”

Mr. Gallagher also is survived by his wife, Catherine Gallagher, four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

A public service will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at the Chapel of the Holy Spirit at Duquesne University.

Lexi Belculfine:

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