Jesuits were among the earliest settlers in New Orleans, and with them came their traditional focus on education. A Jesuit chaplain accompanied French explorer Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville on his second expedition. Among other achievements, the fathers are credited with introducing sugarcane to Louisiana.
Sugarcane paved the way for one of the state’s most important industries. Jesuits likely brought the crucial crop from their West Indies farms and planted it on the plantation they bought from former Governor Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville in 1725. Used by the fathers as a staging area or supply base for their activities in ministering to settlers and Native Americans in the up-country, this tract was located “across the common” (now Canal Street), running along the Mississippi River to what is now Jackson Avenue. When the Jesuit order was banned from the French colonies in 1763, the land was sold at public auction.
The city’s leaders, including Governor Bienville, had long hoped for a Jesuit college. After the Jesuit order was restored, the Bishop of New Orleans implored the Jesuits in France to come to the city. In 1837, seven Jesuit priests arrived. After weighing several sites, the priests decided that Grand Coteau (in St. Landry Parish) was a better site for their boarding college than the fever-ridden city.
Establishment of New Orleans’s First Jesuit College
Meanwhile, despite the ravages of yellow fever, New Orleans continued its dramatic growth. In 1847, the priests bought a small piece of the same land they had owned nearly a century before, and in 1849, the College of the Immaculate Conception opened its doors at the corner of Baronne and Common streets.
The College of the Immaculate Conception grew to become a beloved institution. As the city expanded, however, Rev. John O’Shanahan, S.J., superior general of the province, realized that the downtown area would become too congested for a college. He began looking for a suburban site.
The Cotton Centennial Exposition in 1884 gave impetus to the development of the uptown section of the city, especially around Audubon Park. This area was reached by the New Orleans and Carrollton Railroad which ran from Lee Circle to the City of Carrollton on the present roadbed of the St. Charles streetcar line. Father O’Shanahan learned that a large site directly across from the park was available, the site of the Foucher Plantation. The plantation owned by Paul Foucher, son of a New Orleans mayor and son-in-law of Étienne de Boré, famed as the first granulator of sugar from cane syrup in the region.
The entire Foucher site was offered to Father O’Shanahan for the sum of $75,500. The site included the land now occupied by Loyola and Tulane universities, and Audubon Place. The priest’s advisers dissuaded him from purchasing this, lest the acquisition of such a large tract brings on the charge of commercialism. He acceded, but said later he wished he had not since he could have within 10 days sold enough of the property “to pay for the entire tract I bought and to put aside a sinking fund for the education of our young men.”
The section of the Foucher estate Father O’Shanahan bought in 1886 fronted on St. Charles and ran approximately to the Claiborne canal. The property was purchased with the assistance of Chief Justice Edward Douglass White, a Jesuit alumnus, and the Brousseau family. The price was $22,500, paid in three installments at six percent interest. On the day the act was signed, the fathers were offered $7,500 more for the property.
In May 1890, the parish of Most Holy Name of Jesus was established for the area. Rev. John Downey, S.J., was the first pastor. A frame church, known affectionately among New Orleanians as “Little Jesuits,” was built, and Mass was celebrated in it in May 1892.
Loyola College Opens
In 1904, the long-planned Loyola College, together with a preparatory academy, opened its doors. The college conducted its first classes in a residence located to the rear of the church on what is now Marquette Place. The young college’s first president was the Rev. Albert Biever, S.J., who was appointed by the provincial, Rev. William Power, S.J.
Loyola College grew steadily. Father Biever promised to hold a holiday when the student body reached 50, which he did. In 1907, Father Biever called a meeting of prominent Catholic laymen to plan for a new building. The acting chairman was W.E. Claiborne, and out of his group grew the Marquette Association for Higher Education with B.A. Oxnard as chairman. In 1910, this group, with the assistance of its ladies auxiliary, oversaw the construction of Marquette Hall, queen of Loyola’s buildings and centerpiece of its campus horseshoe. Strongly encouraged by Archbishop Blenk and prominent New Orleanians, the Jesuits and the Marquette Association for several years made plans to expand to a university.
In 1911, the Jesuit schools in New Orleans reorganized. Immaculate Conception College became a college preparatory school exclusively and was given the preparatory students of Loyola College. The downtown institution relinquished its higher departments—what are now known as college programs—to Loyola, which was in the process of becoming a university.
Becoming a University
On May 28, 1912, a bill was introduced in the Louisiana Senate by Senator William H. Byrnes, Jr., of Orleans Parish which proposed to grant a university charter to Loyola. It was passed unanimously and sent to the State House of Representatives. There was some backstage opposition, and Father Biever, fearing a fatal snag, made an impassioned speech to the house. The bill passed, and on July 10, 1912, the governor signed the act authorizing Loyola to grant university degrees.
Under the direction of the dynamic Father Biever and with the advice and financial support of New Orleans citizens, the new university grew dramatically. Thomas Hall, residence for the fathers, was dedicated in 1912. With its soaring tower, the new church — known as the McDermott Memorial — arose in 1913.
In that year also the New Orleans College of Pharmacy, incorporated in 1900 by its founder, Dr. Philip Asher, chose to affiliate with Loyola. In 1919, the college merged completely with the university. The college was discontinued in 1965.
The School of Dentistry organized in 1914. Dr. C. Victor Vignes was the school’s first dean and its first classes were held in Marquette Hall. The school relocated to Bobet Hall when the hall was completed in 1924. The college was phased out between 1968 and 1971.
The School of Law was also established in 1914 with Judge John St. Paul as founding dean. The school’s first classes were held at night in Alumni Hall near the College of Immaculate Conception. However, after the first year, courses were held in the new university.
Dr. Ernest Schuyten founded the New Orleans Conservatory of Music and Dramatic Art in 1919. Originally located at Felicity and Coliseum streets, the conservatory later moved to Jackson Avenue and Carondelet Street. It was incorporated into Loyola University in 1932 as the College of Music. The next year the conservatory moved to the Loyola University campus with Dr. Schuyten as dean.
Loyola University’s history of educating adult students reaches back to 1919, when the school began offering evening courses to students unable to pursue full-time degree programs. By 1949, the demand for evening courses had grown to such an extent that the university decided to establish an Evening Division to serve the educational needs of working adults. In 1970, the Evening Division, with an enrollment of 1,200 students, was chartered as City College, with its own full-time faculty. In 2006, the university made each college responsible for educating undergraduate adult students. City College was discontinued as an administrative unit and its faculty became department members in the other colleges.
From 1926 to 1947, the College of Arts and Sciences offered a four-year degree program leading to a bachelor of science degree in economics. In 1947, the Department of Commerce of the College of Arts and Sciences expanded into the full-fledged College of Business Administration, granting a bachelor of business administration degree. The college moved into Stallings Hall shortly thereafter. Dr. John V. Conner was the college’s first dean. In 1950, the college was admitted to associate membership in the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, before achieving full membership in 1957. In 1983, the college was renamed the Joseph A. Butt, S.J., College of Business Administration in honor of the Jesuit priest who taught generations of Loyola University business students. The college moved to Miller Hall, its present home, in 1986.
Educating the Whole Person
Marked by the zeal and scholarship of the Jesuit fathers and the valued advice and support of leading citizens of New Orleans, Loyola University’s history is uniquely colorful and distinguished. Hundreds of the city’s top leaders received their education from the Jesuits at Loyola University, or its predecessor, the College of the Immaculate Conception. Many teachers, scientists, attorneys, pharmacists, musicians, and business executives proudly list Loyola University as their alma mater.
Loyola University also boasts a celebrated sports history. A double-decker stadium on Freret Street hosted many exciting football games, including the first collegiate night game in the South. Olympic and national champions have donned Loyola University’s maroon and gold, and in 1945 the basketball team won the National Intercollegiate Basketball Championship Tournament. The intercollegiate athletics program was discontinued in 1972 but reinstated in 1991, following a student referendum in which students voted for its return. The 11 teams that make up Loyola University’s Wolf Pack currently compete in the N.A.I.A. (National Association of Intercollegiate Conference) for both men and women.
One of 28 Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States, Loyola University New Orleans welcomes students of all faiths.