The University of St. Thomas was founded in 1885 by Archbishop John Ireland, less than a year after he was installed as St. Paul’s third bishop. What began as the St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary – with 62 students and a faculty of five – has grown to be Minnesota’s largest independent university with four campuses and more than 11,000 students.
Built near a river bluff on farmland that was still considered “far removed from town” in the late 1800s, the university’s main campus is nestled today in a residential area midway between the downtowns of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
In its first decade, St. Thomas was a high school, college and seminary; students enrolled in either the preparatory, classical or theological departments. In 1894 the theological department moved to an adjacent campus where it became The Saint Paul Seminary. The preparatory and classical departments, meanwhile, remained on the original campus and became the College of St. Thomas.
The classical department gradually grew to a four-year college curriculum. The first baccalaureate degrees were conferred in 1910 and St. Thomas was officially accredited in 1916. The preparatory department became the St. Thomas Military Academy, a high school that moved to a suburban campus in 1965.
After 92 years of all-male enrollment, St. Thomas became coeducational in 1977. Today, 50 percent of the undergraduates and 52 percent of the graduate students are women.
Coeducation, coupled with new graduate programs as well as new campuses, contributed to St. Thomas’ growth over the past two decades. Enrollment increased from under 2,500 students in 1970 to 10,641 today. The undergraduate program currently enrolls approximately 5,600 students.
Long-standing graduate programs in business, education, professional psychology and social work offer degrees at the master’s, specialist, and doctoral levels.
St. Thomas’ original “classical” and “theological” departments came together once again in 1987 through an affiliation between the seminary and university. Together they created the School of Divinity which offers graduate degrees in pastoral studies, divinity and theology. St. Thomas is home to the undergraduate St. John Vianney Seminary.
In 1990, recognizing the many changes and the addition of graduate programs to the institution, the name of the College of St. Thomas was changed to the University of St. Thomas.