John Nobili

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John Nobili S.J.
1st President of
Santa Clara University
In office
Succeeded by Nicholas Congiato, S.J.
Personal details
Born April 28, 1812
Died March 1, 1856 (1856-04) (aged 43)
Santa Clara, California
Alma mater Roman College
Profession Jesuit priest
Religion Roman Catholic

John Nobili, born Giovanni Pietro Antonio Nobili, (S.J.) (April 28, 1812 – March 1, 1856) was an Italian priest of the Society of Jesus. He was a missionary in the Oregon Territory and later founded Santa Clara College in California, United States.

Born in Rome in 1812, and educated at the Roman College. Nobili entered the Society of Jesus in 1828 and taught humanities in Jesuit colleges in Italy, notably the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He was ordained a priest in 1843. Nobili was later assigned to do missionary work in North America and was assigned to accompany Father Pierre DeSmet, S.J. in his missionary work in the Oregon Territory. Nobili's missionary work took him amongst the many Native American tribes in the territory, where he learned the tribes' languages and customs.

Nobili stayed in the Oregon Territory until 1849, when he was ordered to go to California. Joined by Father Michael Accolti, S.J., Nobili first traveled to San Francisco, then onto San Jose. Upon his arrival in San Jose, Archbishop Joseph Alemany appointed him the pastor of Mission Santa Clara, then recently acquired from the Franciscans. He continued his missionary work in part, ministering to the sick and dying during a cholera epidemic in 1850.

As part of his pastoral work, Nobili established a preparatory school in 1851 on the mission's premises. In 1853 the school began offering advanced courses, and its name was changed to Santa Clara College. During Nobili's tenure as president, a new academic building and dormitory (1854), a gymnasium (1855), and a small gothic chapel (1856) were constructed. According to the 1854-55 Catalogue, he also directed the purchase of a "new and complete philosophical and chemical apparatus, comprising all the recent improvements" previously unavailable in California.[1] The College would later grow into present-day Santa Clara University.

While overseeing the construction of the chapel in January 1856, Nobili stepped on a nail. He died of Tetanus shortly thereafter in Santa Clara on the first day of March. Archbishop Alemany presided over his funeral Mass and laid his body to rest near the altar of the unfinished chapel.

Nobili Avenue in Santa Clara and the Nobili Residence Hall at Santa Clara University are named in his honor.


  1. ^ Quoted in University of Santa Clara: A History. Santa Clara, CA: University Press, 1912.

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