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Rev. Edmund J. Dobbin, 79, led Villanova University

He loved teaching and was happy to return to the classroom.

Edmund J. Dobbin
Edmund J. DobbinRead more

THE REV. EDMUND Dobbin always said his first love was teaching.

So it had to have been something of a relief when Dobbin left the presidency of Villanova University at the end of the 2005-06 academic year after 18 years.

Sure, he said, he loved it, but being an administrator is a far cry from the hands-on experience of the classroom, the shaping of young minds, the interaction with students hanging on your every word - at least in theory.

"Teaching was always my first love," he said on leaving the presidency and stepping into a classroom at the Main Line university he served for so long.

"There is nothing more gratifying than being in a classroom and connecting with a student," he said.

Dobbin, who died Sunday at the age of 79, was credited with numerous improvements and innovations at the university during his presidency.

"Father Dobbin has guided the Villanova community into the 21st century with an enhanced sense of identity and a reaffirmed commitment to the university's Catholic, Augustinian mission," the university said in a statement when he left the presidency.

"Through a comprehensive strategic-planning process and the careful management of endowment resources, Villanova has implemented innovative curricula, increased scholarship funding, expanded faculty endowments and improved its physical plant during Father Dobbin's tenure."

And don't forget basketball.

It was during Dobbin's tenure that Villanova basketball went national. He often said he envisioned Villanova as a national university and basketball as a means to achieve that.

"He believed that the exposure the school could achieve through nationally televised games could enhance that vision," Dave Miller, a 1970 graduate, told Inquirer writer Frank Fitzpatrick in 2009.

Over the years, the university produced such stars as Paul Arizin, Howard Porter and Wally Jones, whose retired numbers hang from the school Pavilion's rafters.

As a teacher after he left the presidency, his first courses were "Understanding Jesus" and "Spirit: God's Presence In the World."

Dobbin told the Villanovan, the student newspaper, in 2009 that teaching is "a learning thing. Learning for me and learning for them."

"While he is willing to work with the department and teach wherever there is a need, he is excited to be concentrating on spirituality this semester," the newspaper wrote.

After all, Dobbin was basically an Augustinian friar.

Dobbin, who died of cancer, had to leave the classroom several months ago - "which he did with great reluctance," the university said - and take up residence in the Villanova Monastery.

He didn't hesitate to shake up the university on occasion, like the time he invited "Big Bird" to address the 2004 commencement.

His reasoning was that Carroll Spinney, who played the tall, goofy bird on "Sesame Street" for more than 30 years, was basically an educator, and would have stimulating things to say about how his character furthered the TV show's educational mission.

Dobbin was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., one of the five children of Edmund H. Dobbin and the former Anne V. Kelly. After the family moved to Staten Island, he graduated from Augustine Academy in 1953. He was then received into the Augustinian Order as a novice.

He received his bachelor's degree in philosophy from the Augustinian Collegiate Seminary at St. Mary's Hall, Villanova University, in 1958.

He went on to the Augustinian College in Washington, D.C., where he earned a master's degree in theology. He was ordained on Feb. 10, 1962, at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., by Bishop Phillip Hannan.

Dobbin first was assigned to Malvern Preparatory School as a teacher, disciplinarian and chairman of the mathematics department. During that time, he completed master's degrees in physics and mathematics at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.

He took further degrees from Catholic University and from the Université catholique de Louvain, in Belgium.

Dobbin taught systematic theology at the Augustinian College in Washington before becoming vice president of academic affairs at Villanova and associate professor of religious studies. In 1988, he was elected the 31st president of Villanova University, which was founded as Villanova College in 1842 and became a university in 1953.

Dobbin is survived by two brothers, Raymond and Donald Dobbin, and a sister, Claire M. Reilly.

Services: Funeral Mass 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Church of St. Thomas of Villanova on the university campus. Wakes will be held at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Friday in the St. Thomas of Villanova Monastery Chapel, and at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Church of St. Thomas. Burial will be in the Augustinian Cemetery on the campus.

Contributions may be made to the Augustinian Fund: Care of the Sick and Elderly, c/o Provincial Offices, P.O. Box 340, Villanova, PA, 19085-0340.