History of Lewis University

Inspired by its Catholic and Lasallian heritage, Lewis University offers a values-centered curriculum, rich in the Mission values of knowledge, fidelity, wisdom, and justice and guided by the spirit of association which fosters community in all teaching, learning and service. Lewis provides nearly 6,600 students with programs for a liberal and professional education based on the interaction of knowledge and fidelity in the search for truth.

Lewis is a dynamic, coeducational, comprehensive, Catholic university with a richly diverse student body, including traditional-aged students and adults of all ages.

Founded in 1932 under the direction of the Chicago Archdiocese and Bishop Bernard J. Sheil, Lewis began as the Holy Name Technical School, a school for boys which opened with 15 students. The school was established on a campus of 170 acres of farmland that was donated to the archdiocese by Michael and Frances Fitzpatrick of Lockport. From the beginning, Frank J. Lewis, the noted Chicago philanthropist and industrialist, took an active interest in the school. He assisted with the funding of various buildings that became the nucleus of the University. Brother Hildolph Caspar, FSC and the German Franciscan Brothers of the Holy Cross from Springfield, Illinois, served as teachers and administrators during the critical first years of the school’s operation.

During these early days, aviation technology courses were chosen as the special emphasis of instruction, becoming the origin of today’s highly regarded Department of Aviation and Transportation Studies. The school was incorporated in 1934 under the name Lewis Holy Name Technical School. In 1935, it became Lewis Holy Name School of Aeronautics, a name which is engraved in stone on the building now known as the Oremus Fine Arts Center.

By 1940, with World War II threatening, the newly titled Lewis School of Aeronautics began emphasizing programs of direct utility to the armed forces, such as flight training. The high school department was closed in 1942, and the campus given over to the U.S. Navy for its flight instructors program. By the end of the war, hundreds of pilots had received training at Lewis. The suspension of normal academic activities had given the Lewis administration and faculty an opportunity to rethink the school’s objectives. As a consequence, when regular classes resumed in the autumn of 1944, the reorganized school included a junior college. As returning servicemen increasingly sought further education, this new venture quickly evolved into a traditional arts and sciences curriculum. By 1949, women were admitted as students and high school classes were discontinued. More appropriately named, Lewis College of Science and Technology granted its first baccalaureate degrees in 1952. For the rest of the decade enrollment grew steadily. Perhaps as early as 1949, according to an unsigned manuscript in the Lewis archives, but certainly throughout the 1950s and long before Vatican II, while yet under the auspices of Bishop Sheil, Lewis College became, for at least a decade “the first Catholic coeducational college in the country to feature an administration and faculty consisting of lay people.”

A new phase in the history of Lewis began in 1960 when the Brothers of the Christian Schools assumed direction of the institution at the invitation of the Most Reverend Martin D. McNamara, Bishop of Joliet. As members of a 326-year-old religious congregation devoted exclusively to teaching, the De La Salle Christian Brothers brought to Lewis a new tradition of Lasallian values, based on the teachings of Saint John Baptist de La Salle, their founder and Patron Saint of Educators. The first group of Lasallian brothers on campus successfully combined their efforts with those of the dedicated lay faculty to inaugurate a program of major improvements. The institution became Lewis College in 1962 and achieved accreditation by the North Central Association in 1963.

The growth of higher education in the 1960s was reflected in the school’s rapidly increasing enrollment, which reached 2,000 students by 1970. To accommodate the larger student body, a major construction program added new classrooms and laboratories, two residence halls, the Learning Resource Center, a gymnasium, and a modern aviation technical center to the campus.

A dialogue concerning a possible merger with the College of St. Francis was initiated in 1968, resulting in a high degree of cooperation between the two colleges. Although the merger did not occur, this cooperation was reflected during the 1970-71 academic year by the use of the name Lewis-St. Francis of Illinois.

Two major organizational changes became effective in the fall of 1971. With the existing evening program as its core, the College of Continuing Education was established and a College of Nursing was proposed. The following fall, the Department of Business Administration was expanded and reorganized as the College of Business. These colleges, together with the College of Arts and Sciences, thus came to represent an organizational structure that no longer seemed appropriately designated by the term “college.” For that reason, among others, the decision was made in 1973 to become a university. The name was changed officially to Lewis University. As John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote, “To be perfect is to have changed often.”

In July 1975, a significant step in the development of Lewis University occurred with the accreditation by the North Central Association of graduate programs (master’s and first professional degree levels). During the 1980s, Lewis University expanded its programs to off-campus sites, establishing sites at Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park, a graduate center in Oak Brook and sites in Schaumburg and LaSalle/Peru. Coursework also became available at sites such as St. Patrick’s High School in Chicago. In the 1990s, the satellite campus at Little Company of Mary Hospital was moved to a new Lewis education center at Hickory Hills, and off-campus sites multiplied to meet student demand and enhance student access. Today, in addition to campuses in Oak Brook and Hickory Hills, the University has expanded its campus locations to Tinley Park, Shorewood, and Chicago in Illinois, as well as Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The Lewis University Career Education Program (LUCEP) was first established in the fall of 1990 to offer an accelerated undergraduate degree program in business administration for working adults. The degree offerings have expanded rapidly and are now delivered through the School for Professional and Continuing Education (SPCE), established in 2006. Programs include bachelor’s degree completion majors in business administration, information technology management, human resource management, management, organizational leadership, paralegal studies, professional studies, applied sociology and political science, healthcare leadership and an RN/BSN completion program. New undergraduate programs were approved for fall 2008 in construction administration and hospitality administration, the first two programs to be developed under the School. A graduate program in organizational leadership is also offered.

In addition to a strong curriculum, Lewis provides diverse learning opportunities for its students through its renowned athletics program. The Flyer teams have a history of excellence, first in the NAIA and for the past 32 years, in NCAA Division II. Lewis’ athletic teams have captured the Great Lakes Valley Conference All Sports trophy in 13 of the past 29 years. Lewis sponsors 18 athletic teams: nine for men and nine for women, including men’s and women’s cross country, tennis, golf, volleyball, basketball, soccer, track and field, swimming; women’s softball, and men’s baseball.

A comprehensive campus renovation program was launched in 1988 by Brother James Gaffney, FSC, University President, and the Board of Trustees, resulting in new construction, major renovations in current facilities, updating of equipment, and campus beautification. Among the major achievements in the 1990s were the construction of the state-of-the-art Harold E. White Aviation Center; renovation of Benilde Hall to house the College of Business and LUCEP; construction of the Student Recreation and Fitness Center with its swimming pool, indoor track, fitness center and fieldhouse featuring four full-sized courts; and the construction of North Hall, the first new residence hall on the Lewis campus in nearly three decades.

The formation of the Scholars Academy in the 1990s provided students with a structure to enhance their educational opportunities through intensive projects arranged through contracts with faculty members. Additionally, conferences, immersion seminars and travel are offered.

In 1999, the College of Nursing began offering online a master’s degree in nursing case management, the first online MSN case management option in the Chicagoland area.

In 2000, the School of Education achieved NCATE (National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education) accreditation. Also in 2000, the College of Nursing changed its name to the College of Nursing and Health Professions to reflect the College’s planning and program development efforts to increase interdisciplinary programs and respond to the rapidly growing needs of the healthcare professions.

In 2001, De La Salle Hall was purchased from the De La Salle Christian Brothers to provide for additional academic space, and faculty and staff offices. That same year, Lewis also acquired the Fitzpatrick House, located directly across from the main campus on Route 53. The building was part of the homestead that included the original 170 acres of campus, donated to the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1920 by Michael and Frances Fitzpatrick.

In 2003, the School of Education became the College of Education. Fall of 2003 saw a record-breaking enrollment at Lewis, with increases in freshmen, transfer and graduate students. The Athletic Training Education Program received accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Allied Health Education Programs, and later in 2006, became accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE). New programs offered for the first time in 2003 included the master of arts degree in elementary education and bachelor’s programs in forensic criminal investigation, nuclear medicine technology, radiation therapy, and business management for adult students. The College of Nursing and Health Professions also launched its program offering in parish nursing early that year. The 2003 Noel-Levitz Student Satisfaction Inventory rated Lewis above the national average in academic advising, instructional effectiveness, campus support services and concern for the individual.

In 2004 and 2005, Lewis continued to break enrollment records, reaching more than 5,000 total students. Lewis’ strengths as an institution of higher learning have been evidenced through various sources. The University has been cited as one of the best colleges in the region for the last eight consecutive years by The Princeton Review and U.S. News & World Report. Numerous national recognitions continue to be awarded each year.

To meet the needs of a growing student population, the University embarked on several construction projects, beginning in the summer of 2004. Major improvements were completed in De La Salle Hall in 2004, including a new Courtyard Café, bookstore and mailroom, additional classrooms and faculty offices. In 2005, construction began in the same building on new facilities for the College of Education and the Andrew Center for Electronic Media, which opened for the spring 2006 semester. In fall 2011, Univision donated an entirely new broadcast TV studio with digital robotics to the Center.

Pope John Paul II Hall opened in the fall of 2005, expanding the University’s residential student facilities and extending its campus further to the south. 39,000 square feet of space houses 95 students in three floors of apartment style living space. Mother Teresa Hall, located immediately west, opened in the summer of 2006. The third of the planned six residence hall village, Dorothy Day Hall, opened in the fall of 2009.

In 2005, the University also dedicated a Founder’s Garden, complete with a statue bearing the likeness of Saint John Baptist de La Salle. Additionally, a new campus was opened in Shorewood in time for the spring 2006 semester.

In 2009, a new addition and renovation to the College of Nursing and Health Professions was completed to provide additional simulation labs for students. Construction of a state-of-the-art 50,000 sq. ft. Science Center addition and renovation began in the fall of 2010 and opened for classes in January 2012. A second elevator was added to the Learning Resource Center, and a new athletic field and complex was built.

Lewis now offers more than 80 undergraduate programs of study in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences, as well as in aviation, business, computer science, communications, education, fine arts, and nursing. Pre-professional programs are also offered in fields such as pre-med, pre-law, and pre-engineering, among others. Graduate programs are available in aviation and transportation, business administration (MBA), counseling psychology, criminal/social justice, numerous education specializations, information security, finance, nursing, organizational leadership, project management, public safety administration, and school counseling. A dual degree (MSN/MBA) is available at the graduate level.

In 2005, the University began offering its first doctoral program. The College of Education received approval from The Higher Learning Commission to offer courses toward the completion of a Doctorate of Education (Ed.D.) in Educational Leadership for Teaching and Learning. A second doctoral program was approved by the Board of Trustees in 2011, the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

Lewis was selected by the FAA in the fall of 2007 to offer the only undergraduate program in the state of Illinois for air traffic controllers. Additionally that fall, a master’s for adult nurse practitioners began, and a newly renovated De La Salle Institute in Chicago was dedicated as a new Lewis campus for adult evening classes.

Looking forward to continued growth, Lewis University has strengthened its commitment to provide each student with more than a quality education. A Campus Master Plan was approved by the Board of Trustees in 2013 which will guide the evolution of the University's physical setting over the next few decades. The plan includes the purchase of the adjacent St. Charles Borromeo Pastoral Center buildings and 40 acres of land. The new Strategic Plan for Lewis University: 2012-2017 places student success at the center of all of the University's planning efforts. In the Lasallian tradition, the University will prepare graduates who are intellectually engaged, ethically grounded, socially responsible, and globally connected.

As its history continues to unfold, Lewis seeks to foster Catholic and Lasallian values in its educational programs and campus life. The University offers a unique blend of liberal learning and professional preparation, which promotes personal growth and competence. Lewis makes available the choice of an institution of higher education which unifies the pursuit of spiritual and moral values, intellectual skills, and career preparation in the context of a unique worldwide Lasallian tradtion of higher education.