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On the Homefront

To see the WWII photo galleries, click here.


Canisius College Service Flag. The number 1420 represents the number of men from Canisius College serving in the Armed Forces. The smaller number, 19, represents the number of men who died in service as of 22 February 1944.

The cast of the Canisius College Bards and Boards' theater production "The Game of Chess" heard the news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor just minutes before curtain time. Fr. James M. Demske, S.J., a student and cast member who later became Canisius' 22nd president, reported in his "Grief-N-Fun" column:

"....true to the theatrical tradition, the actors betrayed none of the perplexed emotions confusing their thoughts, and the unsuspecting audience knew nothing of the world-shaking diasaster until they left the theatre after the performance and saw the extras which had already hit the streets."

As a result of intensified draft calls and military enlistments after December 7, 1941, changes in the fabric of the Canisius community were inexorable.  The best measure we have today of the impact of the war on daily life at Canisius are the administrative records and the student publications including the student newspaper, The Griffin, and the college yearbook, AZUWUR.  These sources illustrate the pervasive effect of war on the college community.


Enrollment and the Draft | Education | Religion

Extracurricular Activities | World War II Photo Galleries


Enrollment and the Draft

At the 1942 commencement, Canisius president, Rev. Timothy Coughlin, S.J., gave a speech reflecting the impact of the draft on Canisius students:

"The armed forces of our country are daily calling to the colors more and more young men of college age.  In this regard, Canisius is proud to say that so far some two hundred and fifty of her Alumni and undergraduates have left to serve within the Army, the Navy, and the Marines.  That, we know, is but the beginning.  Many more sacrifices will have to be made before this war is finished.  Included among these, are college careers that may have to be interrupted or delayed; dreams for a professional future that may have to be set aside.  The war has yet to be won.  Until that time, the personal interests of all must be held in abeyance."

Just two years before, on October 16, 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt had signed the Selective Training and Service Act (PDF) which authorized the registration of men between the ages of 21-35 for one year of military service.  In August of 1941, one year's service was extended to eighteen months for men between 18-45 years old while all men aged 18-65 had to register.  After Pearl Harbor in December 1941, a wartime draft was instituted extending the period of enlistment to the duration of the war plus six months.


Draft card from 1941 belonging to a Canisius student.


Realizing the value of college educated enlistees, the military allowed men turning 18 a deferred status on their draft cards, permitting them to complete their education prior to entering the military. This was especially true for those studying science and engineering. 

In 1942, at the time of Rev. Coughlin's speech, however, the need for more draftees led the government to rescind student deferments and all men over the age of 18 became draft eligible.  Several Canisius students in their Junior year, often the only sons of widowed mothers, wrote letters (PDF) of appeal to the Selective Service office.  While understanding the difficulties the draft presented to many, the escalation of the war forced the Selective Service Department to stand by the new deferment policy.

As a result of these draft call-ups, only a mere 23 men received diplomas at the November 1943 Commencement -- a significant drop from the 125 graduates of Canisius' 1942 Commencement ceremony. This dramatic drop in enrollment had far reaching effects on the campus community.


Canisius made several changes to its educational system in response to the demands of war.  In January 1942, the College added new courses to the curriculum that would meet the students' need for greater math and science courses as well as mechanical skills. The emphasis on the sciences is reflected in a list of  new books (???) (.pdf) added to the library in 1942.

In September 1942, Canisius implemented a three year degree program. The school year went to a trimester system, running September through June, that minimized the number of holidays and also shortened Christmas and Easter vacations.  In 1943 there were two commencement ceremonies, one in March and the other in November.

Another excerpt from  Rev. Coughlin's remarks at the June 1942 commencement indicate a college community dedicated to the war effort:

"Canisius College looks back on the last scholastic year with some degree of pride.  Her students have increased, her courses have expanded,  Since that lamentable day of December 7th last, she has placed her entire educational facilities at the disposal of our government and our city.  The war, then, in which we are now engaged, has not slowed her progress.  Rather it has quickened her sense of service and responsibility to the common cause of American survival and our own future safety, once the war is won."


Article from the Feb. 6,1942 edition of The Griffin, p.1


Article from the Feb. 6, 1942 edition of The Griffin, p.1, 5.


The sudden change in scheduling caused some confusion and worry for the remaining students at Canisius.  In the October 9, 1942 issue of The Griffin, a satirical article (???) (.pdf) was written which reflected many of these concerns.


While the war demanded physical sacrifices of Canisius, the Jesuits also emphasized the importance of making spiritual sacrifices for their boys in arms.  A practice soon developed in which a Mass was offered every Tuesday and Thursday for the men in the armed service.  Those who attended would sign a small Mass book showing their support and prayers.  The Griffin includes one article (PDF) urging the Canisians to attend these Masses. 

Canisius's correspondent, Fr. J. Clayton Murray, also made sure to send confessional cards and other religious articles to his boys overseas. 

Extracurricular Activities

A look at some of the news articles, advertisements and the content of extracurricular activities from some issues of The Griffin and Azuwur reveal the pervasive effect of the war on everyday campus life from 1941 through 1945.  These excerpts illustrate a college and country that rapidly adjusted to the demands of war; preparing students to be soldiers, sacrificing goods and materials at home, and filling jobs vacated by the hundreds of thousands of men and women in military service. 

Photo Galleries of WWII Material

The photo galleries found below are works in progress. They contain representative samples of articles, letters, news items, cartoons, advertising and editorials from the student newspaper, The Griffin and the yearbook, titled AZUWUR.

Presently, there are scans of photos and material for January through December 1942. As more materials from subsequent years are added to the gallery, the increasing effect of the war on all facets of campus life will be evident. 


August 2006