About Us
A Brief History
2022 - 2027 Strategic Plan
A painting of St. JeromeA Brief History

Members of a new religious Order, the Congregation of the Resurrection, arrived in the town of St. Agatha in Wilmot Township in 1857 to serve the largely German-speaking Catholic population living on the Haldimand Tract in Canada West (modern-day southwestern Ontario), land granted to the Six Nations and the traditional territories of the Anishnaabeg and Haudenosaunee Indigenous peoples. 


It was here that Fr. Louis Funcken, focused on the mission of his Order to bring about the resurrection of society, founded St. Jerome’s College in 1865. Quickly outgrowing its first log cabin school, the next year, Funcken relocated St. Jerome’s two miles east to a building on Duke Street in the nearby Village of Berlin and secured its first Act of Incorporation, which prescribed its role in “the education of youth in the usual branches of a Collegiate Education”. 

During these early years, St. Jerome’s attracted a diverse student body, including German and Irish Catholics as well as those from other Christian denominations. Inspired by his students’ “enthusiasm for the truth”, Funcken further clarified St. Jerome’s mission to “educate young men in the spirit of Christianity; to prepare them for higher professional studies in Seminaries and Universities, and to qualify them for commercial life”. With the creation of separate high school and college divisions, Funcken laid the foundation for the future work of a Catholic university with his development of a four-year classical program in the liberal arts (leading to university studies or preparation for the priesthood), and a two-year commercial studies program. With time, both the high school and the college established St. Jerome’s as an educational bastion, shaping the lives of countless civic, social, industrial and religious leaders who would go on to transform the region during the first half of the next century.

The next significant turning point in St. Jerome’s history occurred in the aftermath of the Second World War. Returning veterans served as a catalyst to the expansion of postsecondary education in Ontario, inspiring a 
St. Jerome’s graduate, Joseph Ryan, the Bishop of Hamilton, to pursue the idea of an independent Catholic liberal arts university for his diocese. This led the Resurrectionists to sign an affiliation agreement in 1947 with the University of Ottawa, administered by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), permitting St. Jerome’s College to offer its first university degree programs. The arrangement was the most recent example of what has become the distinctive feature of Canadian Catholic higher education: universities and colleges federated or affiliated with public universities.  These include: the University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto (1910), Assumption College and the University of Western Ontario (1919), Brescia (formerly Ursuline College) and the University of Western Ontario (1919), St. Peter’s Seminary and the University of Western Ontario (1923), St. Joseph’s College and the University of Alberta (1926), St. Peter’s College and the University of Saskatchewan (1926), St. Paul’s College and the University of Manitoba (1931), St. Thomas More College in the University of Saskatchewan (1936), King’s University College and the University of Western Ontario (1954), St. Mark’s College and the University of British Columbia (1956), the University of St. Jerome’s College in the University of Waterloo (1960), Assumption University in the University of Windsor (1962), St. Augustine’s Seminary and the University of Ottawa (1962), Université St. Paul in the University of Ottawa (1965) and the University of St. Michael’s College, Regis College and St. Augustine’s Seminary and the University of Toronto (graduate theological), 1970.

With this new agreement, steps were taken to separate the high school, which remained at the Duke Street location, and the college, which opened a new campus in 1953 at Kingsdale, a site purchased by the Resurrectionists on the eastern boundary of Kitchener. This new St. Jerome’s College included academic and residence buildings to serve degree students, those in the pre-seminary program, and for the first time, women. With the continued expansion of Ontario’s higher education sector during the 1950s, St. Jerome’s also became a founding partner in a new venture: the University of Waterloo. In 1956 Fr. Cornelius Siegfried, CR, Rector of St. Jerome’s College, joined a group from nearby Waterloo College, the Waterloo Associated Faculties and a consortium of business and industrial leaders to propose a new provincial university that would serve as a centre for learning, innovation and entrepreneurship in the applied sciences. Following the formal creation of the University of Waterloo the next year, St. Jerome’s received a new Act of Incorporation from the province in 1959, recognizing it as the University of St. Jerome’s College. On July 1, 1960, St. Jerome’s formally ended its affiliation with the University of Ottawa when it signed Articles of Federation as the founding university partner of the University of Waterloo. 

University federation changed St. Jerome’s arc in higher education in important ways. Firstly, it was now able to receive funding to offer a variety of general arts and mathematics courses at the University. Secondly, St. Jerome’s agreed to hold its degree-granting authority in abeyance, to allow its graduates to receive University of Waterloo degrees. Thirdly, St. Jerome’s, as well as three newly affiliated denominational university colleges, Renison (Anglican), St. Paul’s (United Church) and Conrad Grebel (Mennonite), were given properties on the campus of the new University. It was here that the new St. Jerome’s College, including administrative, academic and residence buildings, opened on its current site ‘across the creek’ from the University in 1962. That year the Resurrectionists were also joined by the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) who, led by Sister Leon White, the first Director of Notre Dame College women’s residence, Dean of Women and Associate Professor of English, pioneered the education of women at the University of Waterloo. 

From the outset of its relationship with Waterloo the Resurrectionists and School Sisters, joined by increasing numbers of lay faculty and staff, embraced St. Jerome’s mission to educate and form students for service to the Church and the world. Together they offered students a unique community experience at the University of Waterloo, characterized by smaller classes, accessible, teaching-focused faculty, as well as programs in campus ministry, residence life, service-learning and leadership development. Over time, St. Jerome’s also became home to other important programs, including the Lectures in Catholic Experience, featuring scholars, activists and social leaders addressing the critical issues of the age. Entrenching its place as the Catholic centre of the University, the Resurrectionists also encouraged the development of a robust Campus Worship Community, which served the broader Catholic community of the Waterloo and its hinterland and made St. Jerome’s the spiritual and Sacramental home for generations of Kitchener-Waterloo families.  

2014 the St. Jerome’s Board turned its attention to the renewal of the University’s fifty-year-old buildings and infrastructure, approving a $47 Million campus redevelopment project. This included the renovation of Notre Dame College, renamed Sweeney Hall, to provide 23,000-square-feet of office, research, and meeting spaces to support our full-time and contract academic staff. Changes to Siegfried Hall at the southeast entrance to the campus included the Fr. Bob Liddy, CR Spirituality Centre, a Multi-Faith Centre adjacent to the new Notre Dame Chapel, which honours the many contributions of the SSND to St. Jerome’s, as well as modernized classrooms and a new library. New construction included a 28,000-square-foot Academic Centre and the Siegfried Hall and Ryan Hall residence buildings which, along with renovations to the J.R. Finn Building, allow St. Jerome’s to offer accommodations to nearly four hundred students per semester. In December 2022, the Congregation of the Resurrection, who continue to be represented on the SJU Board of Governors by their Provincial Superior, gifted their last building on the SJU campus, Louis Hall, to the University.
The period of the 1980s marked yet another period of changes at St. Jerome’s, aligning it with important developments in both the Church and the world.  The election of J. Frank Clifford as the first layperson to serve as Chair of the Board in 1984, anticipated new amendments to St. Jerome’s Act of Incorporation in 1988, including that (i) the Bishop of the Diocese of Hamilton was no longer the presumed Chancellor of the College and (ii) the President was no longer required to be a member of the Congregation of the Resurrection. With the retirement of the last Resurrectionist president, Rev. Norman Choate CR, in 1989, Dr. Douglas Letson became St. Jerome’s first lay President, followed in 1991 by the appointment of John R. Sweeney as the College’s first lay Chancellor.  In 2000 the passage of a Consolidated Act of Incorporation established the current structure of its Board of Governors and formally changed the institution’s name to St. Jerome’s University, clarifying its status as a founding university partner in the creation of the University of Waterloo. 

Today, grounded in our nearly 160-year history and animated by the charisms of our founders, St. Jerome’s is a vibrant, mission-driven, federated Catholic university community at the University of Waterloo.  We are a full member of Universities Canada (UC), “the voice of Canadian universities, at home and abroad”, the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU), the International Federation of Catholic Universities (IFCU) and a founding member of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities of Canada (ACCUC). With this new Strategic plan, we look forward to an exciting future in which we will continue to encourage an “enthusiasm for the truth” in our students, and to realizing St. Jerome’s goal to become Canada’s premier Catholic undergraduate university.

(*Credit Kenneth McLaughlin, Gerald Stortz and James Wahl, CR, Enthusiasm for the Truth – An Illustrated History  of St. Jerome’s University, 2002)