Rev. Robert Joseph Slavin, O.P.
SIXTH PRESIDENT, 1947-1961
Birth: March 19, 1907, in Dorchester, Mass.
Death: April 24, 1961, in Providence, R.I.
Burial in Dominican Cemetery, Providence College, Providence, R.I.
THE SLAVIN YEARS AT PROVIDENCE
Rev. Robert Joseph Slavin, O.P., received the call from the provincial to proceed to Providence College on May 30, 1947, and assumed his duties as the sixth president on June 4th. For several years of his fourteen-year presidency, Father Slavin held the same positions as did his predecessor—corporation treasurer (1947-1961) and Alumni Association chaplain (1947-1953), and superior of the Dominican community (1947-1956). The third term as superior was obtained only after receiving special permission from Rome, and he was the last president to simultaneously oversee both the religious and academic communities. From 1952 until his death, Father Slavin also directed the faculty of the Archbishop/Cardinal Cushing School of Theology for the Laity, the Boston-area affiliated institution conducted by the Dominican Fathers.
Father Slavin knew the College from his days as a member of the Class of 1928. His reputation as an outstanding scholar, educator, and orator was well established by the time he returned to PC in 1947 and grew throughout his presidency. He was a member of several learned societies and an active participant in numerous religious, civic and, especially, educational groups. He represented the Province of St. Joseph at conferences held in Rome, Paris, Spain and the Near East and received the 1958 Rearing Children of Good Will Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews.
He was a prolific author, especially regarding his specialties, Thomistic philosophy and education, and he co-founded The Thomist, a speculative philosophical and theological quarterly still in publication. He served in varying capacities on a number of groups interested in private and public education, such as the National Catholic Educational Association, College Entrance Examination Board, and Rhode Island higher education study groups. Father Slavin was frequently asked to speak on the subjects of family, labor, Thomistic philosophy, communism and materialism, and religion in public education. During his years at both The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and Providence College, his voice was heard nationwide on numerous Catholic radio programs. He raised the College’s visibility and reputation by participating in several lecture series in the new medium, television.
The student body was a mix of World War II/Korean War veterans, who were taking advantage of the financial assistance provided by the G.I. Bill, and young high school graduates. A Student Congress was established in 1948. Father Slavin benefited by the foresight of his predecessors in planning for post-WWII expansion of classroom and athletic facilities. Dormitory space greatly increased after the 1955 acquisition of the adjoining House of Good Shepherd property. After several attempts over a ten-year period, College authorities and Washington political allies finally secured an agreement for an on-campus Reserve Officers’ Training Corps unit. Military science became a part of the undergraduate experience in September 1951, when an Army ROTC unit was activated. All physically qualified students were required to enroll for the basic two-year course including classroom work and field drills. Participation in ROTC has been voluntary since 1957.
Not long after his appointment Father Slavin said, “I suppose, since the Dominican Order has spent a small fortune in training me in educational techniques, I am now asked to produce. I knew that some day an opportunity such as this would arrive, but it had to wait upon my own maturity.” The teachings of Thomas Aquinas remained the foundation of the curriculum—he introduced the requirement of four years of theology. A PC education became more widely available through extension school courses for lay people and a summer program for religious women.
The Slavin era included the introduction of two notable programs for gifted students—Liberal Arts Honors and Honors Science. Father Slavin initiated major changes in the alignment of academic disciplines, educational policies and administrative structure from the very beginning of his tenure. Many of these changes are evident to this day. Thousands mourned Father Slavin’s sudden death on April 24, 1961. His leadership on groups dealing with issues and strategies in higher education increased the College’s visibility at not just the local but also the National level.
Ambrose A. and Mary (McLaughlin) Slavin had two sons and three daughters. Two of the Slavin children showed interest in entering religious life from an early age — one daughter became a nun with the Sisters of Charity, and Joseph became a frequent communicant and altar boy at his parish church. He attended parochial schools in the Dorchester area and the Jesuit-run Boston College High School. He finished his secondary school education at Aquinas College High School in Columbus, Ohio, in 1924 and entered Providence College as a freshman with the Class of 1928 as a pre-ecclesiastic student.
He took advantage of the young institution’s extracurricular opportunities, such as writing for the college literary magazine and participating in the debating society. In 1926 Joseph began his novitiate training at St. Rose Priory in Springfield, Ky., and professed there in 1928. He continued his education at the Dominican House of Studies in River Forest, Ill., from 1928 to 1931, during which time he received a bachelor of arts (B.A.) degree from Aquinas College. He spent the next year at St. Joseph’s Priory in Somerset, Ohio, and then went to Washington, D.C., where he was ordained on June 14, 1934. From 1932 to 1936 he earned three degrees, a master of arts (M.A.) from Catholic University in 1934, lector in sacred theology (S.T.Lr.) from Immaculate Conception College in 1935 and doctorate (Ph.D.) from Catholic University in 1936.
Father Slavin continued his studies even after becoming President. In 1949 he passed the rigorous exam leading to his 1951 reception of the master of sacred theology (S.T.M.) degree, the highest academic degree of the Dominican Order.
Six institutions of higher education — the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, R.I., Rhode Island College of Pharmacy and Allied Sciences in Kingston, Bryant College in Providence, Rhode Island College of Education in Providence, St. John’s University in New York, and Brown University — awarded him honorary degrees. He was the recipient of numerous PC awards and posthumous tributes, including a Friars’ Club Honorary Membership (1949), Veritas student yearbook dedication (1952), Alumni Association Progress Fund Drive Award (1955), Robert J. Slavin Lecture Series (1963-64 – 1967–68), and the 1971 dedication of the college union, making him the first PC president to have a building named in his honor.
After finishing his doctorate in 1936, Father Slavin was assigned as a professor of philosophy at DePaul University in Chicago. Later that year his superiors called him back to Washington to teach at the Catholic University and lecture for the Catholic Thought Association. From 1938 to 1939, he traveled extensively as a personal representative of the University in a study of European teaching methods. He returned to teaching philosophy and education at Catholic University until his assignment to Providence College.
— Jane M. Jackson, 2003