The 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 to its nearly 6,600 students 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 university with a richly diverse student body, including traditional-aged students as well as 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 high school for boys which opened with 15 students. The school was established on a campus of 160 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 became the special emphasis of instruction and the origin of today’s highly regarded Department of Aviation. The school was incorporated in 1934 under the name Lewis Holy Name Technical School. In 1935, it became the 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, and 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, 1,200 men had received pilot 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 students were admitted and high school classes were discontinued. More appropriately named, the 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 Bishop Martin D. McNamara of Joliet. As members of a 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. 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 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 the 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 of graduate programs (master’s and first professional degree levels) by the North Central Association. The inaugural program was the Master of Science in Criminal/Social Justice which began offering classes in 1974. The Master of Science in Criminal/Social Justice now offers coursework in the fields of management, corrections, labor relations, homeland security and community policing. The program prepares students for positions in criminal justice administration, law enforcement, corrections, juvenile justice, and homeland security.

In the fall of 1975, the Master of Arts in Education was developed with the Specialization in Reading. Other specializations were added: School Administration (1990), Special Education (1993), Secondary Education (1994), and Elementary Education (2003). In 1995, the Certificate of Advanced Study in Education was introduced, and in 1997, the Master of Education degree was initiated. In 2011, a master’s in Early Childhood Education was approved with offerings beginning in 2012.

In the fall of 1976, the Graduate School of Management was proposed. Classes toward the Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree began in the Spring of 1977, with the first degrees conferred during 1979. The success and rapid growth of the MBA program resulted in the approval for additional program sites. The first off-campus site was in Oak Brook.

During the 1980s, Lewis University expanded its programs to off-campus locations, establishing sites at Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park, and sites in Schaumburg and LaSalle/Peru. In the 1990s, coursework at Little Company of Mary Hospital was moved to a new Lewis education center at Hickory Hills. 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 expanded rapidly and are now delivered through the School for Professional and Continuing Education (SPCE). Programs include bachelor’s degree completion in business administration, management, information technology management, paralegal studies, healthcare leadership, organizational leadership, and applied sociology and political science, as well as an RN/BSN completion program. A graduate program in organizational leadership is offered through the School.

The Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) offered graduate classes beginning in 1983 with a concentration in community health nursing. In 1999, the College of Nursing began offering an online master’s degree in nursing case management, the first online MSN case management option in the Chicagoland area. 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 work with other healthcare professions. In 2011 the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), Lewis University’s second doctoral program, was approved by the Lewis Board of Trustees and began in 2012 as the College celebrated its 40th anniversary.

In 1993, the Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology was developed. This program was originally designed for those individuals seeking to refine job-related psychological skills and knowledge. Additionally, Lewis developed a graduate program in School Counseling and Guidance within the Department of Psychology.

The Education Department evolved into the School of Education in 1999 and earned its first national accreditation, NCATE (National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education), in 2000. The School of Education became a College in 2003. The fourth college for Lewis, its addition underscores the University’s continued commitment to work collaboratively with federal and state agencies and accrediting bodies in preparing educators to meet the urgent need for quality teachers and administrators throughout the region. In 2005, an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership was approved, the first doctoral program to be offered by the University.

Today, the number of graduate programs has grown to 25. Recent graduate programs have been developed in Family Nurse Practitioner, Early Childhood Education and the Doctor of Nursing Practice.

With the increasing growth and complexity of graduate programs, new structures emerged to support graduate education at Lewis University. In 2009, the University Graduate Affairs Committee was recognized as an official faculty governance body within the University charged with responsibilities for graduate programming at a university level. In addition, the University Office of Graduate Studies was opened and the first Graduate Dean was appointed in August 2010 to provide an institution-wide perspective to oversight of graduate education.

A comprehensive campus renovation program was launched in 1988 by Brother James Gaffney, FSC, 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 have been the construction of the state-of-the-art Harold E. White Aviation Center; renovation of Benilde Hall to house the College of Business; 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.

To meet the needs of a growing student population, the University embarked on several construction projects over the summer of 2004. Major improvements were completed in De La Salle Hall, including a new Courtyard Cafe, bookstore and mailroom. Later significant De La Salle renovations included entirely new space for the College of Education, and the new Andrew Center for Electronic Media.

A new addition and renovation to the College of Nursing and Health Professions was completed and dedicated in the spring of 2009 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 in January 2012 for classes. Additionally a second elevator was added to the Learning Resource Center, and a new athletic field and complex was built.

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 tradition of higher education.