The Rev. Edmund Joseph Dobbin, 79, a past president of Villanova University, died Sunday, March 8, of cancer at Villanova Monastery, where he had lived for 27 years.

Father Dobbin was elected the 31st president of Villanova in 1988 and held that position until 2006, becoming the longest-serving president in the school's history.

He heightened awareness of the Augustinian character of the university, increased the school's endowment, and embarked on an expansion of the campus, its facilities, and its programs, Villanova said in a statement.

During Father Dobbin's tenure, Villanova basketball went national. He envisioned basketball as a way to help Villanova appear on the national stage.

After stepping down as president, Father Dobbin returned to teaching, as a professor of theology. He stopped when his health began to fail.

"Teaching was always my first love," he said. "Nothing is more gratifying than being in a classroom and connecting with a student."

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Father Dobbin was one of five children of Edmund H. and Anne V. Kelly Dobbin. The family moved to Staten Island, where Father Dobbin graduated from Augustinian Academy in 1953.

Following high school, he became a novice in the Augustinian Order in 1953, and professed his first vows in 1954 and final ones in 1957.

He went to the Augustinian Collegiate Seminary at St. Mary's Hall, Villanova University, and received a bachelor's degree in philosophy in 1958.

From 1958 until 1962, he studied at Augustinian College in Washington, and completed a master's degree in theology. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1962, at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

Father Dobbin's first work assignment was at Malvern Preparatory School, where he was a teacher, disciplinarian, and chairman of the mathematics department. During the early 1960s, he completed a master's degree in math and physics at the Catholic University of America in Washington.

In 1967 he did advanced study in theology at Catholic University as preparation for the doctoral degree in sacred theology that he received from the University of Louvain, Belgium, in 1971.

He returned to the United States that year and was assigned to Augustinian College in Washington. He taught theology there until 1987. The following year, he was assigned to Villanova, where he was vice president for academic affairs and associate professor of religious studies before being elected president.

Father Dobbin served several terms as a member of the board of trustees at Villanova and at Merrimack College. He also was a member of the order's Provincial Council.

He is survived by two brothers and a sister.

A wake from 9 to 10:30 a.m. Saturday, March 14, will be followed by a 10:30 a.m. Funeral Mass in St. Thomas of Villanova Campus Church, 800 Lancaster Ave., Villanova. A wake will be also held from 2 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, March 13, at St. Thomas of Villanova Monastery Chapel, adjacent to the church.

Interment will be Saturday in the Augustinian cemetery on the Villanova campus.

Donations may made to the Augustinian Fund: Care of Sick and Elderly, c/o Provincial Offices, Box 340, Villanova, Pa. 19085, or via www1.augustinian.org/augustinian-fund.

bcook@phillynews.com

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