St. Edward's University

By: Rose V. Batson and William H. Dunn, C.S.C.

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: June 13, 2020

St. Edward's University in Austin is a Catholic institution whose antecedents go back to the 1870s. It was founded by the Rev. Edward Sorin of the Holy Cross Fathers and Brothers. The congregation, which had established the University of Notre Dame at South Bend, Indiana, in the 1840s, undertook the staffing of a school in Galveston in 1870. Sorin then learned that Mary Doyle of Austin, a widow, wanted a Catholic school established there and was willing to donate her 398-acre farm just south of the city for that purpose. Sorin came to Austin in 1872 and acquired the tract from Doyle and, from Col. Willis L. Robards, an adjacent tract of 123 acres. Two Holy Cross brothers arrived in 1874 to begin working the farm, but it was 1878 before the first class was taught in the Doyle farmhouse. By the fall of 1881 two modest frame schoolhouses had been built on the site. One of them provided dormitory space for boarding students. That year the school was given the name St. Edward's Academy in honor of Sorin's patron, St. Edward, King of England. In 1885 the school was chartered by the state of Texas as Saint Edward's College. In 1889 the campus was moved to its present site, on the Robards tract, where an "Old Main" style of building, designed by Galveston architect Nicholas J. Clayton, had been built. The Rev. Peter J. Hurth, president from 1886 to 1894, supervised these developments and promoted the growth of the school during his administration. By the early 1900s it had an enrollment of nearly 200 students, most of them boarders from Texas and Mexico.

In 1903 the main building was destroyed by fire and was replaced by the present one, also designed by Clayton. During the generation that followed, the growth of the school was limited by competition from the rising public school system, by some years of poor crops and economic recession in the United States and Mexico, and by the impact of the Mexican Revolution and World War I. Commercial studies continued to hold a central place in the academic program. Other studies included the basics for younger students and the classics, modern languages, writing, literature, and some science for the older ones. The students, most of them between ten and twenty years of age, were classified, as they had been in the past century, as minimi ("minims"), juniors, or seniors, according to age and advancement. In 1921 a clear line was drawn for the first time between the college and the high school departments. The minim department became the subacademy or elementary school. A second major disaster occurred when the Austin tornado of 1922 destroyed a dormitory, did other damage to the school, and killed one student. In 1925 the college was rechartered as St. Edward's University. Faculty and staff in these years consisted mostly of fathers and brothers of the congregation, appointed by the provincial administration at Notre Dame. Administration, teaching, and supervising dormitories and extracurricular activities were their major duties. Sisters of the Presentation, exiled from France by anticlerical legislation, were in charge of the kitchen, laundry, and infirmary of the residential department. They served at the school from 1903 to 1938. The most notable of the few lay persons on the faculty was William J. Disch, coach and physical education instructor from 1901 to 1911. His success led to his being hired by the University of Texas, where he won fame in a long career as baseball coach.

The Great Depression and World War II dominated the 1930s and 1940s, threatening the existence of St. Edward's. Help from provincial headquarters at Notre Dame enabled the school to get through the depression. During the war the university was unable to get a service-related program, and its enrollment dwindled to a handful. But the high school, converted to a military academy, did quite well. At the close of the war the Congregation of Holy Cross reorganized administratively, and St. Edward's was assigned to the South-West province. The new administration set to work to provide for an influx of war veterans studying under the GI Bill. The availability of war surplus buildings facilitated the expansion of the physical plant. Also significant was the establishment on campus during these years of a house of studies for religious brothers, more than 100 of them in some years.

The long administrations of two presidents, Raymond Fleck and Steven Walsh, spanning most of the period 1957–84, brought change, innovation, and growth. Construction of ten new buildings, including five student residences, one faculty residence, a science hall, a dining hall, a central heating and cooling plant, and a classroom building with facilities including a computer center, television center, and language laboratory, was completed during the 1960s. In 1967 St. Edward's High School was closed. By 1969 the university enrollment of 884 represented approximately thirty-five states and twenty foreign countries. The faculty had expanded to approximately eighty members (composed of brothers and priests of the Congregation of Holy Cross, sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, priests of the Dominican order, and lay teachers), 50 percent of whom held doctoral or terminal degrees. Courses were being offered in twenty-six major fields of study, including six preprofessional programs. Library holdings were 60,000 volumes. In addition to physical expansion and growth, St. Edward's was changing internally. Women were admitted to the university generally in 1966. Previously, they had been admitted for basic courses that were credited by the Seton program in nursing. At first women enrolled in a coordinate system: Maryhill College for women, administered by the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary from Monroe, Michigan, and Holy Cross College for men. Both were components of the university. In 1970 the coordinate system was discontinued, and all students were enrolled at St. Edward's. In the 1970s the university continued to develop new programs and to strengthen its existing departments. With little tradition of graduate work, the university launched an M.B.A. program in 1970. The Mary Moody Northen Theater for the Performing Arts was completed in 1972, and the first production was presented in March of that year. In 1974 St. Edward's established New College, a program for older students.

In the spring of 1969 legal control of the university passed officially from the Brothers of Holy Cross to St. Edward's University Foundation. The foundation then issued a sponsoring charter to St. Edward's University, Incorporated, a nonprofit corporation organized expressly to operate the university. A twenty-two-person ecumenical board of trustees was appointed to represent the corporation and to govern the school. Four trustees were religious members; the remainder were laymen-community leaders in business, the professions, and civic organizations. George Van Houten was elected chairman. Shortly afterward, laymen were named to fill key positions in the administration. Edgar L. Roy, Jr., was president in 1969, the first lay president in the history of the institution. Upon Roy's resignation, Brother Stephen Walsh was appointed president in 1972. In 1984 the board of trustees chose as president Patricia A. Hayes, the first woman and the second lay person to be named to the office. The following year St. Edward's marked its hundredth anniversary as a chartered institution. At that time it had an enrollment of 2,502 students, a full-time student equivalency of 2,113, and a faculty of 127. In the fall of 2000 it had 337 faculty members and 3,824 students, of whom 2,124 were undergraduates and 981 were adults enrolled in New College. George E. Martin became the twenty-third president of the university in 1999. In that year St. Edward's opened the Ragsdale Center, which houses dining facilities, offices, conference rooms, an auditorium, and a computer laboratory. The university is accredited by the Association of Texas Colleges and Universities, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and the Association of American Colleges. Its endowment had grown to $33.5 million by 2001.

Congregation of Holy Cross, Indiana Province Archives, Notre Dame, Indiana. Congregation of Holy Cross, South-West Province Archives, Austin. William H. Dunn, C.S.C., St. Edward's University: A Centennial History (Austin: St. Edward's University Press, 1986). St. Edward's University Archives, Austin.

  • Education
  • Private Four-Year Colleges and Universities
  • Religion
  • Catholic

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Rose V. Batson and William H. Dunn, C.S.C., “St. Edward's University,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 05, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 13, 2020