Campus News

SLU Beginnings: The Original Catholic Colony

Saint Leo University originated in 1882 when Judge Edmund F. Dunne founded the Catholic Colony of San Antonio, which he named after Saint Anthony of Padua.

He reserved parts of San Antonio specifically for preparation for schools, a monastery, and a convent, and the town, which became well established in 1883. Sent by Archabbot Boniface Wimmer, Father Gerard Pilz, O.S.B., arrived in 1886as the first Benedictine in Florida. He also was the promoter of the concept of Saint Leo College.

As the community continued to develop, the Order of St. Benedict began to settle. Father Gerald Pilz, O. S. B. became parish priest. “He was responsible for bringing the Benedictine Order to Florida for them to teach in the Catholic community,” said Sister Dorothy, University Archivist and Special Collections Librarian. This was what made it possible for both Holy Name Academy and Saint Leo College to be established.

In 1889, Judge Dunne ordered St. Benedict and a small group of monks led by Father Charles Mohr, O. S. B., to bring forth a monastery and a Catholic school in the town of Saint Leo. Abbot Leo Haid from Mary, Help of Christians Abbey located in Belmont, North Carolina made the arrangements to establish Saint Leo College. On June 4, 1889 both Saint Leo College and the Saint Leo Abbey were founded.

According to Pioneer College, Saint Leo was named after three different men with Leo as their name.  Firstly, it was named for Pope Saint Leo the Great. Secondly, it was named after Pope Leo XIII, who was Pope during the time the college was being established. The third Leo is Abbot Leo Haid. Leo Haid had taken responsibility for the Florida Benedictine mission, founded the college, and served as its first president. He is the principal Leo in which the school is named after.

Saint Leo started as a college that adapted military aspects and required students to wear uniforms and perform daily drills to promote more discipline. The college offered both high school and junior college level education as well as a degree called “Master of Accounts.” On June 20, 1893, Saint Leo awarded the Master of Accounts degree on its first graduating class of five students.

In 1920, the college transitioned into a college prep school, and it opened again as a college in 1959. “Before Saint Leo was called a college, no one was sure what to call it. When people asked what it was, no one knew what to say. Some people said it was a college, others said it was a prep school. There was a lot of confusion about Saint Leo really was,” said Siser. Dorothy. By 1965, the name Saint Leo Junior College was established. At first only being a two-year college, the college shortly evolved into a four-year program. The first bachelor’s degrees were awarded to 51 men and 13 women on April 1967.

In 1969, the college was reorganized when the Order of Saint Benedict of Florida passed on jurisdiction to an independent board of trustees. Shortly after this reorganization, Saint Leo continued to develop more on its military history. In 1973, the college offered degree programs on military bases. In 1994, the Saint Leo began to offer the Master of Business Administration and conferred its first MBA degrees in 1996. It wasn’t until the date of August 24, 1999, that Saint Leo officially became a university.

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