The University of Saint Francis was founded as Saint Francis College in 1890 in Lafayette, Indiana, by the Sisters of Saint Francis of Perpetual Adoration as a teacher-training school for the sisters. It was accredited in 1923 by the Indiana State Department of Public Instruction to offer a two-year normal course in education. In 1937 the curriculum was expanded to a four-year program, and in September 1939, the first laywomen were admitted. In 1940 a charter was obtained from the State of Indiana empowering St. Francis College to grant degrees in various fields.

In 1944 the college was relocated to Fort Wayne, Indiana, on the 65-acre former estate of Fort Wayne industrialist John Bass. Within a few years, the number of laywomen students exceeded the number of sister students, and in 1957 the first men were admitted.


Responding to a need in the Fort Wayne area, Saint Francis College initiated a master’s degree program in education in 1960. During the years that followed, the enrollment increased fourfold and reached a peak of 2,393 in 1969-70, a total which included 1,493 graduate students (largely teachers who needed to complete degrees to meet new state education standards) and 900 undergraduates. A graduate program in business administration was begun in 1969, and in 1970 the university initiated graduate programs in psychology. In 1985 a new graduate program in mental health counseling was inaugurated, in 1994 a Master of Science in Nursing program was implemented and in 1995 a Master of Arts in Fine Art program was approved.

Between 1944 and 1969, nine buildings were added to the campus: Trinity Hall, the administration building; Bonaventure Hall, a large, 3-story classroom building; three small classroom buildings; two residence buildings, Bonzel and Bosco Halls; and Achatz Hall of Science.

A two-acre plot of land with a residence at the corner of Spring Street and Lindenwood was purchased in 1965. A donation of land from the Standard Oil Company added approximately five acres at the southeast corner of the campus and increased the size of the college property to 70 acres. In 1983, housing for male students was expanded beyond Bosco Hall by the use of Padua Hall, and in 1988, a further expansion led to the housing of men on the first floor of the Campus Ministry Building, which was renamed Padua North.

In 1980, the University of Saint Francis became a member of the Associated Colleges of Indiana, now the Independent Colleges of Indiana. The membership plays a key role in advancing educational opportunities at private colleges and universities in Indiana.

During the 1990-91 academic year, the university celebrated its centennial year with a variety of events involving faculty, students, staff, and friends. In July 1993, Sister M. Elise Kriss became president following the 23-year tenure of Sister JoEllen Scheetz. A strategic planning process was completed, and the university undertook a capital campaign to position itself to meet the educational and economic challenges of the last 1990’s while looking forward to the 21st century.

In May 1998, the University of Saint Francis acquired the Lutheran College of Health Professions including academic programs in Allied Health, Nursing and Continuing Education.

On July 1, 1998, the name of Saint Francis College was changed to the University of Saint Francis. This change was deemed appropriate for several reasons: the growth in enrollment, the offering of a fairly large number of graduate programs, and a designation that would indicate to international students that Saint Francis was an institution offering postsecondary education.

The university implemented an intercollegiate football program which played its inaugural season during the 1998-99 academic year. Cougar Stadium was completed for the inaugural season. A new Campus Ministry Center was completed in May 1999.

In Fall 2004 the first students moved into the newly constructed, apartment-style Padua Hall, which includes 18 apartments housing six to nine students each.

During the 2004-05 academic year, the university divided into six schools: The Keith Busse School of Business and Entrepreneurial Leadership, School of Creative Arts, School of Health Sciences, School of Liberal Arts, School of Math and Science, and School of Professional Studies. During the 2007-2008 academic year, the university merged the School of Liberal Arts and the School of Math and Science into the School of Arts and Sciences.
The Crown Point satellite campus was established in 2005 inside of St. Anthony’s Medical Center. A new stand-alone facility was built and dedicated in January 2011 at nearby Franciscan Point, offering select undergraduate degrees and serving as a teaching site for multiple Fort Wayne-based graduate programs.

In August 2006 the university opened the new Pope John Paul II Center. The building houses three of our schools: the School of Arts and Sciences, School of Professional Studies, and the Keith Busse School of Business and Entrepreneurial Leadership. The facility also houses the Lee and Jim Vann Library, a variety of academic support services, registrar’s office, and campus technology.

In August 2007 a new innovative General Education Curriculum was developed by faculty working together across campus.

The university purchased land and facilities that now represent our North Campus, including the Lupke Gallery, in 2008, and followed that with the construction of Clare Hall for residential students in 2009.

In 2010, the university renovated Brookside, a large stone mansion built by the Bass family as a summer home at the turn of the century. Situated on Mirror Lake at the center of campus, it is toured by visitors during Christmas at the Castle in December, and all year by appointment.

In 2012, the university purchased the historic Scottish Rite Center as the first step in establishing a campus in downtown Fort Wayne. Now the USF Performing Arts Center, it has become a venue for lectures, plays and concerts, and will house the innovative Media Entrepreneurship Training in the Arts (META) program. The university purchased the adjacent Fort Wayne Chamber building and as it expands its vision for a downtown campus.