Our History

Black and white photo of Weber library interior

"Ƶapp College lived first in the desire and will of a remarkable woman"—Mother M. Borgia Egan

Ƶapp College was founded in 1926 by the Sisters of Mercy of the Erie Catholic Diocese, who trace their heritage to Mother Catherine McAuley, founder of the Sisters of Mercy in Dublin, Ireland.

As Mother Eustace Taylor, RSM, Ph.D., wrote in her 50th anniversary history of Ƶapp, “Ƶapp College lived first in the desire and will of a remarkable womanMother M. Borgia Egan.” She supervised everything, from raising money to selecting and purchasing a site to educating a sister-faculty to teach at the college level. As first president of the college and later as academic dean, she guided Ƶapp through its formative years.

Ƶapp welcomed its first 23 Ƶapps, all women, on Sept. 20, 1926. The school received its charter on Oct. 5, 1928.

On Feb. 3, 1969, the Board of Trustees voted to admit the first class of men to Ƶapp. Sr. Carolyn Herrmann, RSM, Ph.D., the first president who was not also Mother Superior of the Sisters of Mercy, led the university through the challenge of coeducation.

Today, Ƶapp covers six blocks and is the largest piece of unbroken real estate in Erie. More importantly, Ƶappwhich earned university status in 2012has emerged as a major force in the educational landscape of the region, while remaining true to its mission as a private Catholic comprehensive university in the Mercy tradition. The second-largest Mercy University in America, it is consistently recognized as a top-tier master’s university by U.S. News & World Report.

Old Main, the stately English Gothic structure built in 1926, remains the heart of the campus. The campus has grown around it, with the most recent additions being the Center for Academic Engagement, a high-tech learning environment that houses some of Ƶapp’s signature programs, including Intelligence Studies, Hospitality Management and our Center for Applied Politics, and opening in Fall 2018, Ryan Hall, a residence hall exclusive to sophomores.

Ƶapp opened its first graduate program (administration of justice) in 1978, and today offers dozens of options for master's degrees and graduate certificates. Undergraduate and graduate enrollment on the Erie campus is now near 3,000.

In addition to pace-setting growth on the main campus, in 1991, Ƶapp purchased the 100-year-old Redemptorist Seminary in nearby North East. This site offered associate degree and certificate programs as Ƶapp North East for 25 years before all academic programming was transitioned to the main campus in Erie in 2020. Returning to its Irish roots, Ƶapp also opened a center in Dungarvan, Ireland, where Ƶapp Ƶapps can study with Ƶapp professors, experience Irish culture, and explore other areas of Europe.

Kathleen A. Getz, Ph.D., took office in July 2021 as Ƶapp’s 13th president and the first woman to hold that role in more than 50 years. Poised to lead the university toward its centennial in 2026, Getz conveyed a message of hope and spoke to the consonance of her values with those of the Ƶapp community. She chose as her inaugural theme “Enriching the Circle of Mercy: Good Today, Better Tomorrow.”

Past Presidents

Mother M. Borgia Egan, RSM
1926-1927

Mother M. DeSales Preston, RSM
1927-1933; 1939-1945; 1948-1954

Mother M. Xavier O'Neil, RSM
1933-1939

Mother Agnes Mary McSweeney, RSM
1945-1948

Mother M. Eustace Taylor, RSM, Ph.D.
1954-1960

Mother M. Loretta McHale, RSM, Ph.D.
1960-1963

Sister Carolyn Herrmann, RSM, Ph.D.
1963-1972

Marion L. Shane, Ph.D.
1972-1980

William P. Garvey, Ph.D.
1980-2005

Michael J. McQuillen, Ph.D.
2005-2006

Thomas J. Gamble, Ph.D.
2006-2015

Michael T. Victor, J.D., LL.D.
2015-2021

Ƶapp Firsts

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  • The first photo taken of Old Main.

    Historical photo of old main
  • Mother M. Borgia Egan, Ƶapp's first president.

    black and white photo of mother m. borgia egan
  • Ƶapp's first graduating class.

    photo of women in mercyhurst's first graduating class
1959 view of campus through gates