225 Years of Building Better Lives
header image
Share Your Story
Sharing Pitt Memories

A Family Link to Pitt That Spans Four Centuries

Among current Pitt alumni, Richard P. Sommerfeld Jr. (GSPIA ’77) may claim the oldest link to the University: His great-great-great-great-grandfather, the Rev. John Taylor (1754-1838), was principal of the Pittsburgh Academy—as Pitt originally was called—from 1801 to 1803.

My great-great-great-great-grandfather was born in County Armagh, Ireland, and educated at Dublin’s Trinity College, where he was ordained a Presbyterian minister. He immigrated to Philadelphia in 1789 to teach at an academy there, and in 1794 he became an Episcopal deacon. A noted astronomer and mathematician, he moved to Pittsburgh from Westmoreland County in 1799 to teach at the Pittsburgh Academy. He served as the Academy’s principal from 1801 to 1803. Two years after that, he was appointed as the First Rector of Trinity Cathedral in downtown Pittsburgh. While still serving as rector he resumed teaching mathematics and geometry at the Academy from 1807 to 1809.

The Rev. Taylor believed that the spirit and success of America’s westward expansion could be found at the juncture between the civilization of settlement and the frontier wilderness. If he could return to Pitt today, he would marvel at the diverse contributions that Pitt faculty and students have made not just to Pittsburgh, but globally. Pitt has played a major role in shaping the future of civilization through those contributions and will continue to do so in many as-yet-undefined ways.

What drew me to Pitt in 1975 was the opportunity to study at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA). Almost 210 years after my ancestor served as the fourth principal of Pitt, I gladly agreed when GSPIA Dean John Keeler asked me to serve on the school’s Board of Visitors. It enabled me to rekindle my family’s involvement with Pitt and support the excellent work Dean Keeler has done for GSPIA, which continues to challenge and expand the frontiers of thought and scholarship.

(Pictured: Page from the notebook of the Reverend John Taylor, principal of the Pittsburgh Academy, whose chief delight was in the making of almanacs.)