Hallow Reveals Oldest Catholic Colleges Across America 

Still image of interactive Map that shows oldest Catholic college in every state

Catholic education in America predates America itself.

Ursuline Academy, a high school, first opened its doors in New Orleans in 1727, but it would be another 50+ years until America had its first Catholic college.

Georgetown University traces its roots back to 1789, and in the nearly 250 years since then, many other Catholic colleges and universities have contributed to the mission of Catholic education in America.

Today, Hallow celebrates the impact—spanning centuries—that these institutions have made by recognizing the oldest Catholic college or university that is still operational in every state:

Midwest Home to Several ‘Bi-Centennial’ Schools

Some of the oldest Catholic colleges in the U.S. are found in the Midwest.

Louisville’s Spalding University (1814) and Missouri’s Saint Louis University (1818) have been providing Catholic education in their respective communities for more than 200 years each.

Loras College, in Dubuque, Iowa, has been around since 1839. The Hawkeye State is also home to other acclaimed, long-standing Catholic colleges, including Clarke University (1843), St. Ambrose University (1882), and Mercy College of Health Sciences (1899).

St. Xavier University in Chicago is the oldest operational Catholic college in Illinois, having opened in 1846–just 14 years before Quincy University opened 300 miles away in Quincy, Ill.

In Indiana, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College has operated since Saint Mother Theodore Guerin founded it in 1840. Notre Dame (1842), St. Mary’s College (1844), and Marian University (1851) are among other stalwarts of Catholic education in the Hoosier State.

Oldest and Only

In some states with a smaller footprint of Catholic post-secondary education, the oldest Catholic college is also the only Catholic college.

Maine’s St. Joseph’s College has been around since 1912 and is the only Catholic college in the Pine Tree State.

Similarly, Chaminade University, founded in 1955, represents Hawaii’s only Catholic college. The Dakotas have one Catholic College each: the University of Mary (1959) in North Dakota and Mount Mary University (1951) in South Dakota.

Belmont Abbey College, which first opened in 1876, is North Carolina’s lone Catholic college. Since 2007, Wyoming been home to a Catholic institution of higher learning: Wyoming Catholic College.

Mount St. Mary’s Still Going Strong

Mount St. Mary’s University is the second oldest Catholic college still in operation. Founded in 1808 in Emmitsburg, Md., it has educated future congress members, Supreme Court justices, professional athletes and coaches, not to mention bishops, archbishops, priests, and martyrs.

It shows no signs of slowing down. In May 2023, it graduated 616 students and featured alum Todd Bowles, the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as a commencement speaker.

Some States Lack a Catholic College

Ten states currently lack any Catholic college or university: Delaware, South Carolina, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Utah, Idaho, Nevada, and Alaska.

This hasn’t always been the case. Oklahoma lost St. Gregory’s University in 2017. In Arkansas, Little Rock College, a Catholic institution, closed in 1930. New Mexico’s only Catholic college shut its doors in 2009.

Delaware has been without a Catholic college since 1867, when St. Mary’s College closed after 20 years.

In other places, however, Catholic education is taking root.

In Arizona, through a partnership with Arizona State University, the University of Mary now offers Catholic post-secondary education in Tempe.

Benedictine University is also a relatively new Catholic college in Arizona, which has a large (and growing) Catholic population. Catholic University of America now has a presence in Arizona (Tucson) as well.

In Wyoming, Wyoming Catholic College became the state’s first ever Catholic college in 2007.

Browse the map above and explore some of the oldest Catholic colleges across the country.

Learn more about how you can support Catholic education by visiting the NCEA website.

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