Founded in 1868

Over 150 years in Oakland

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Holy Names University

A Legacy of Learning

Founded in 1868 by the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, HNU was a beacon of education, empowerment, and service for over a century and a half in Oakland.

Rooted in the Catholic tradition and guided by the values of social justice and human dignity, HNU was committed to providing a transformative educational experience. The university offered a wide range of undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs, fostering intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, and a lifelong love of learning.

HNU's legacy is not only defined by its academic achievements but also by its commitment to social justice and community engagement. The university consistently emphasized the importance of serving others and making a positive impact on the world. Through various community outreach programs, service-learning opportunities, and partnerships with local organizations.

As we celebrate the history of Holy Names University, we honor the vision and dedication of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, whose unwavering commitment to education and social justice laid the foundation for this remarkable institution. HNU's legacy lives on through its alumni, who have gone on to make significant contributions in various fields, as well as through the enduring impact it has had on countless lives.


Holy Names University was founded in 1868 when six Sisters of the Holy Names arrived in California from Montreal, Canada. The teaching order, founded to provide education to those living in poverty, had been invited to Oakland by Father Michael King to establish a school for girls and to train future teachers.

The six sisters who made the trek from Montreal to San Francisco by trains and ships, including traversing the rugged Isthmus of Panama on shaky rails, were Sisters Salome, Celestine, Marceline, Seraphine, Cyrille, and Anthony, the oldest at age 31. Sister Salome had made her final vows on the day of departure from Canada. They arrived in San Francisco on the morning of May 10, acknowledged as Founders’ Day by the University and celebrated annually with the Sisters of today serving strawberries and shortcake on campus. The Sisters of Mercy and Father King served the Sisters fresh strawberries and cream upon their arrival in San Francisco.

When the school was founded on the shores of Lake Merritt, Oakland was an outpost of 8,000 people. Lake Merritt was at that time considered to be “far in the country, wild and brush-covered, a thicket for rabbits and quail.”

With the establishment of its graduate division in 1955, the college formally admitted male students for the first time. This was the forerunner of the entire college becoming co-ed in 1971. The Sisters sold the Lake Merritt property to Kaiser Co., and in 1956 purchased a 60-acre property on Mountain Boulevard in the Oakland Hills. The first classes on the hill took place on February 7, 1957.

Since that historic beginning over 150 years ago, HNU has served the Oakland community and the East Bay in many ways. The University has contributed significantly to the professional workforce of the area—graduating thousands of teachers, nurses, and science majors; counseling psychology majors who have gone on to practice as marriage and family therapists; and business majors who have been an important part of the city’s thriving business community.


September 18, 1868
Foundation of Convent of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart at Lake Merritt Campus, Oakland, California
1868 HNU Campus
September 18, 1868
An album containing portraits of the first boarders of the Convent of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, including Miss Maria Byrne, left, the first student named on a list of enrollees
1868 Album page
September 19, 1876
The Convent school census: 21 Sisters, 2 novices, 2 postulants, 80 boarders (becoming 100 boarders by 1878)
September 18, 1880
Empowered by the State of California to grant higher degrees
September 19, 1886
While rowing in August with the Sisters, student Edith Clark dives into Lake Chabot to rescue a drowning classmate who had fallen overboard. Clark’s heroism earns her the U.S. Treasury Department Silver Life-saving Medal
September 19, 1890
The Convent school “fleet” consists of three rowboats: Marie Rose, Dove, and Aloysius
September 19, 1901
Sister Mary Seraphine, known for her beautiful voice, trains students to sing “America” and “Three Cheers for the Red, White, and Blue” for the expected passage of President William McKinley down Webster Street just outside the school grounds
September 19, 1906
The “great” San Francisco earthquake throws statues and windows to the floor, opens a hole in the roof, and damages rooms. The chapel “suffered severely”
September 18, 1908
Name of the institution changes to Convent and College of the Holy Names
March 16, 1910
Secular students admitted to college-level classes for the first time, and the Alumnae Office opens with its new constitution decreeing that the annual meeting should coincide with Founders’ Day (May 10)
September 19, 1913
A visiting Jesuit lectures on the “new” discipline of psychology
March 16, 1917
Holy Names Junior College formally inaugurated; first secular students admitted
September 18, 1918
Students cheer the end of World War I
Students celebrate the end of WWI
September 20, 1921
The College adds a third year to the curriculum (for nursing students)
March 16, 1925
The senior college opens
HNU Sr College opens
September 20, 1926
First four-year bachelor of arts degree awarded to Mildred Agnes Smith of Portland, Oregon; HNU’s education program is founded
September 21, 1929
First baccalaureate degrees awarded
September 21, 1929
Associated Students publish the first yearbook; classes in the late 1940s will dub it Excalibur
March 16, 1930
The first College of the Holy Names’ teacher candidates are credentialed by the state of California
September 20, 1932
First issue of College of the Holy Names Bulletin, predecessor to HNU Today, is published by students to keep Alumnae Association members “alumnae-minded.” The editors wrote: “It is to be hoped that interesting items will be contributed occasionally by those of the long ago, as well as by students of
September 21, 1935
The seal of the college — with its motto virtus, honor, nobilitas — is in use
HNU College Seal
September 21, 1941
A class off 66 individuals graduates, including 34 lay and 32 religious
September 21, 1941
During World War II, Homecoming raffle prize winners often receive a war bond
September 21, 1943
Graduate study begins at the College of the Holy Names when courses are offered for the credential in secondary education
March 16, 1949
College of the Holy Names becomes one of the charter members of the the Western Association of Schools and Colleges
March 16, 1956
The co-educational graduate division formally established
March 16, 1956
Groundbreaking is held Feb. 7 for a new campus in the Oakland hills. Sister Imelda Marie, president for the College, turned the first shovel of soil
HNU Groundbreaking 1956
September 5, 1957
By April, artist Louisa Jenkins of Big Sur, solicited by Sister Mary Luke and assisted by art students, completes the Sophia mural on the southeast wall of Brennan Hall
September 21, 1957
Bidding farewell to the original Lake Merritt site, campus moves to a new permanent home on Mountain Boulevard
September 21, 1958
Fall semester begins on the new campus
September 21, 1958
Under the headline “Campus Living in Modern Style,” a local newspaper trumpets the opening of Durocher Hall in September, noting that it will accommodate 159 students
Campus Living article
September 21, 1958
“Energy, zest, and brilliance” is how SF Chronicle’s art critic referred to California mission paintings by Sr. Mary Luke that now line the Founders’ Hall corridor
September 21, 1959
The Associated Collegiate Press award “First Honors” to the 1959 Excalibur yearbook. The cover design by Editor Carol Hubert ’59 earns honors as a Cover of the Month
September 21, 1960
Raskob Learning Institute opens
Raskob Institute opens 1960
September 21, 1961
Peter Grothe, special consultant to the Peace Corps credited with drafting the original name and legislation for its creation, presents “a first-hand report on this new aspect of American foreign policy” to the campus
September 21, 1961
Actor Raymond Burr serves as host for an annual scholarship fundraising barbecue held on campus
1961 Raymond Burr hosts fundraiser
September 5, 1963
Margaret Mealey ’33, executive director of the National Council of Catholic Women, receives one of 18 pens President John F. Kennedy uses to sign The Equal Pay Act that made it illegal to pay men and women working in the same place different salaries for similar work
September 21, 1965
Organizers of the annual CoHoNa — short for College of the Holy Names — Ball choose the theme “Royalty and Red Velvet” and extend an invitation to Princess Margaret of England and her husband, Lord Snowden, who “regretfully declined”
September 21, 1968
Campus activists establish THRUST to bring college resources, including literacy expertise, to the community
THRUST Campus activists
September 21, 1968
Singer Jack Jones and Count Basie and His Orchestra headline a March 24 Benefit Performance organized by the college and held at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum
September 21, 1969
The Kodály music education program opens
March 6, 1971
The College name changes to Holy Names College and becomes fully co-educational
Holy Names College name change
September 21, 1972
Painted scenes from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales—then valued at over $25,000—that once graced the lobby of San Francisco’s Canterbury Hotel are donated to the University and displayed in Brennan Hall (today they hang in the Valley Center for the Performing Arts)
Cantebury Tales
March 16, 1975
As part of a popular HNU speakers series, pioneering hospice psychiatrist Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, author of On Death and Dying, speaks on campus (Photo: Ken Ross)
Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
March 6, 1977
An interdisciplinary, team-taught program in Humanistic Studies becomes the cornerstone of the undergraduate curriculum
September 16, 1981
The Weekend College (WECO) opens, offering working adults classes on Friday nights and Saturdays – the first such program west of the Rockies for working adults
September 22, 1982
Carol Corrigan ’70 appointed to President Ronald Reagan’s Commission on Organized Crime (she was then deputy DA for Alameda County)
September 22, 1987
The writing across the curriculum program is adopted to ensure that development in writing is a component of all undergraduate programs
September 22, 1987
Then-San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein speaks on campus for HNU’s Eighth Annual Symposium for Business Leaders
Dianne Feinstein
September 21, 1989
The writing across the curriculum program is adopted to ensure that development in writing is a component of all undergraduate programs
September 21, 1989
College faculty ranked No. 1 in the West by U.S. News and World Report
March 16, 1994
Valley Center for the Performing Arts opens, providing the campus and community with a state-of-the-art facility
Valley Center for the Performing Arts opens
March 16, 1994
HNU joins the National College Athletic Association and is a founding member of what is now the California Pacific Conference (CAL PAC)
September 21, 1994
HNU students make first annual visits to: Tutwiler, Mississippi, to build homes with Habitat for Humanity; and to Fort Benning, Georgia, joining protesters who demand the closing of the School of Americas, where Latin American government soldiers train
September 21, 1996
A 12-by-12 portion of the AIDS Memorial Quilt goes on display in the VCPA for World AIDS Day
March 16, 1997
The Sophia Center graduate program in Culture and Creation Spirituality begins
1997 Sophia Center
March 16, 1997
Master of Science in Nursing program begins
September 21, 2000
Accelerated business degree program, Excel, is introduced
March 16, 2004
The name of the institution is changed to Holy Names University
September 21, 2005
Following Hurricane Katrina in August, HNU welcomes 25 students displaced from their home institutions in New Orleans; eight choose to remain at HNU
March 16, 2007
HNU celebrates its 50th anniversary in the Oakland Hills
March 16, 2008
HNU celebrates its 140th anniversary in Oakland
September 21, 2009
Brennan Hall transformed into a 15,800 square f00t, full-service Student Center
March 16, 2012
HNU’s application to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, Division II is accepted
May 13, 2012
Newscaster Gwen Ifill, of Washington Week and PBS News Hour and the first African-American woman to host a prominent political talk show, delivers the Commencement address
November 6, 2012
HNU introduces the Early Admit Program guaranteeing admission to 9th graders from Oakland and West Contra Costa school districts
December 6, 2012
By the University’s final year as a California Pacific Conference member, 54 HNU Athletics teams had claimed championships and seven had earned Conference All-Sports Awards
November 6, 2013
U.S. News and World Report recognizes HNU as the most diverse university in the nation for 2012-13
November 6, 2014
Author and Olympic sprinter John Carlos, renowned for raising a fist on the medal stand in 1968 in Mexico City, spoke on campus about his book The Sports Moment that Changed the World
November 6, 2016
Holy Names University Athletics is accepted for full membership in the NCAA Division II
November 6, 2018
Holy Names University celebrates its 150th anniversary in Oakland
November 6, 2018
Prompted by a growing teacher shortage, HNU offers 50 percent tuition reductions to new students planning to teach in public schools, thanks to generous funding from the estate of R. H. “Rock” and Jane Gilmore Logan
December 12, 2018
Pitcher Aiden McIntyre ‘18 makes Hawks history as the first HNU student-athlete drafted by Major League Baseball
May 9, 2023
Holy Names University held its final Commencement for the Class of 2023.