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Heritage and History of the University of Saint Francis

What is now the University of Saint Francis was the result of both the need for the Sisters of Saint Francis to leave Germany because of the Kulturkampf and the need for education for those of limited means in the United States.  Six Sisters of Saint Francis of Perpetual Adoration came to the United States in 1875.  They established a hospital in Lafayette, Indiana with very limited assets, and within two years they were also involved in teaching.  Professors from Purdue University and other educated persons assisted the sisters in learning English and training the sisters as teachers.  From this effort Saint Francis Normal School developed in 1890.  A curriculum was designed and approved by the State of Indiana in 1923.  The school adopted a four-year degree plan in 1937, accepted laywomen in 1939, and was chartered by the state as Saint Francis College in 1940.  As the initial programs met the needs of the immigrant sisters, so now the institution opened its doors to women of limited means, assuring a quality education to them in a liberal arts tradition.

In order to expand, the college moved to the Bass estate in Fort Wayne in 1944.  All campus operations were centered in the Bass Mansion, functioning with limits similar to those experienced by the original sisters in 1875.  By 1949 Trinity Hall was completed and provided additional space for growth.  North Central Association accreditation was achieved by the spring of 1957, assuring continued development.  Male students were admitted in 1959 and the graduate program began in 1960.  These two changes, as well as the development of new programs, met a demand for an excellent education close to home.  Saint Francis College emerged primarily as a commuter institution. 

The largest enrollment ever experienced was 2326 in 1969.  As the graduate program in education began to diminish, emphasis shifted to the growth of programs in business and art.  National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) accreditation was achieved in 1972, affirming the excellence of the long-standing programs in education. The 1970's saw the development of greater lay influence in the college with the College Senate, (an advisory body of the total college community) and the addition of lay members to the Board of Trustees.  New programs, such as Mental Health Counseling and the Bachelor of Science in Nursing, were added to meet community needs.  These programs increased enrollment of adult students,  always a major population served by the university. 

The college celebrated its centennial in 1990 and fifty years in Fort Wayne in 1994.  The 1990's saw an increase in interest in the Franciscan origins of the institution.  The campus ministry program was expanded.  The Weekend College format, the Master of Science in Nursing program, and the Master in Art were all additions which met the needs of working adults.  Increase in the number of athletics programs, primarily football, resulted in increased male and residential enrollment, yet the university has remained a predominantly commuter campus.  The acquisition of the Lutheran College of Health Professions produced a remarkable increase in the number of health sciences programs with consequent growth in enrollment. In 1998, reflecting the development of the institution, the name of the school was changed from Saint Francis College to the University of Saint Francis.  Changes in governance in the 1990's increased the greater involvement of the faculty in academic decision-making. 

The University of Saint Francis is now a university with six schools: creative arts, business, professional studies, liberal arts, science and mathematics and health sciences.  In addition the university has acquired new property.  In 2009 we purchased the former Abundant Life Tabernacle on the north side of campus, which is now called "North Campus."  This filled the need for more classroom space, offices, a small auditorium and recreational space.  In 2012 we purchased the former Scottish Rite Center which serves as the hub for the META program (Media Entrepreneurship Training in the Arts). The University of Saint Francis at Crown Point, which began with space in St. Anthony Hospital in Crown Point, opened a new facility exclusively for USF Crown Point in 2010. 

With all of these changes USF never lost sight of its mission to students of limited means and continues to admit and support a large number of first generation students.  The breadth of its programs, the strength of the general education curriculum and the movement into distance and distributed learning continue to strengthen the University in offering an education in the liberal arts tradition.