Our Heritage: Our History

The history of the University of Mary stretches back well beyond the moment of our founding.

Through our distinct heritage we hearken back:

  • to the Great Commission of Jesus: "Go, teach all nations" (Matthew 28:19),
  • to the ancient and venerable wisdom tradition of the Benedictine order,
  • and to the Catholic intellectual tradition which gave rise to the very first universities, nearly a thousand years ago.

We share our story with a brave band of Benedictine Sisters who, in 1878, arrived in Dakota Territory to bring ministries of healing and learning, founding hospitals and schools for the people they had come to serve.

And through these courageous women, the unique pioneer spirit of North Dakota is ours as well. President Theodore Roosevelt, speaking of the formative years he spent in the North Dakota Badlands, recalled that spirit: "Ours was the glory of work and the joy of living!"

Our History at a Glance

1959 - The Benedictine Sisters of the Annunciation open the doors to Mary College, offering 4-year undergraduate degrees in nursing and education. Mother Edane Volk serves as the college’s first president.

1963 - Sister Anne Burns becomes the second president of the college, articulating a vision for "education in the professions with a strong liberal-arts base."

1965 - Father Arno Gustin, who had served as president of Saint John's University in Minnesota, is selected as the third president.

1968 - The heart of north campus is completed, featuring four buildings designed by world-famous architect Marcel Breuer.

1969 - Mary College achieves full accreditation by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

1970 - Dr. Harold Miller becomes fourth president of Mary College. Under his leadership, the college becomes fully coeducational, inaugurates an athletics program, and achieves impressive financial health.

1978 - Sister Thomas Welder is inaugurated as the fifth president of the college and serves in this capacity for 31 years.

1983 - Mary College offers its first graduate program, in nursing.

1986 - Mary College achieves university status and is renamed the University of Mary.

The University experiences outstanding growth in enrollment, program offerings, and campus development through the 1980s & 1990s.

1999 - The university grants its first honorary degree.

2001 - Sister Thomas unveils a vision of the University of Mary as America's Leadership University.

2004 – University of Mary President, Sister Thomas Welder receives North Dakota’s highest honor, the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award.

2006 - University of Mary Athletics moves from NAIA to NCAA Division II.

2006 - A doctoral degree, in Physical Therapy, is awarded for the first time.

2009 - Monsignor James Shea is inaugurated as the sixth president of the University of Mary.

2010 - Enrollment at the university reaches 3,000.

2010 - The University of Mary opens its first international campus, in Rome, Italy.

2010 – University of Mary launches Bishop Paul A. Zipfel Catholic Studies Program and quickly becomes one of the largest and most respected in the United States

2012 – The University of Mary enters into first-of-its-kind collaborative agreement with Arizona State University — the largest public research university in the U.S. — to offer ASU students the unprecedented opportunity to take courses in theological studies and Catholic studies.

2013 – His Eminence, Cardinal Timothy Dolan visits the University of Mary and receives honorary doctorate degree.

2014 – The Higher Learning Commission awards the University of Mary its second doctoral degree — Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP).

2014 – In partnership with the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC), University of Mary becomes one of a select few Catholic universities in the U.S. to offer a master’s of science program in bioethics and the first in North Dakota.

2015 – The University of Mary opens its second international campus in Arequipa, Peru.

2015 – The Higher Learning Commission awards the University of Mary its third doctoral degree — Doctorate of Education (Ed.D.).      

2015 – University of Mary announces innovative Year-Round Campus — where students have the option to get their degree in 2.6 years and master’s in four years.