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 6,500 students with 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, catholic university with a richly diverse student body, including traditional-aged students and adults of all ages.
founded in 1932 (read an abbreviated timeline) under the direction of the chicago archdiocese and bishop bernard j. sheil, lewis began as the holy name technical school, a school for boys which opened with 15 students. the school was established on a campus of 170 acres of farmland that was donated to the archdiocese by michael and frances fitzpatrick of lockport, illinois. 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, ffsc 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 were chosen as the special emphasis of instruction, becoming the origin of today’s highly regarded college of aviation, science and technology. the school was incorporated in 1934 under the name lewis holy name technical school. in 1935, it became 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, 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, hundreds of pilots had received 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 were admitted as students and high school classes were discontinued. more appropriately named, 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 the most reverend martin d. mcnamara, bishop 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 and patron saint of educators. 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 a 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 a 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 by the north central association of graduate programs (master’s and first professional degree levels). during the 1980s, lewis university expanded its programs to off-campus sites, establishing sites at little company of mary hospital in evergreen park, a graduate center in oak brook and sites in schaumburg and lasalle/peru. coursework also became available at sites such as st. patrick’s high school in chicago. in the 1990s, the satellite campus at little company of mary hospital was moved to a new lewis education center at hickory hills, and off-campus sites expanded to meet student demand and enhance student access. today, the university has locations in oak brook, 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 completion program in business administration for working adults. The degree offerings have expanded rapidly and are now delivered through the School of graduate, Professional & Continuing Education (SGPCE). Programs are offered today in several areas of business, technology, and nursing in accelerated evening, weekend and online formats.
in 1999, the college of nursing began offering online a master’s degree in nursing case management, the first online msn case management option in the chicagoland area. today numerous undergraduate and graduate courses and programs are offered online.
in 2000, the school of education achieved ncate (national council for accreditation of teacher education) accreditation. also 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 respond to the rapidly growing needs of the healthcare profession. in fall 2019 it became the college of nursing and health sciences.
in 2003, the school of education became the college of education. fall of 2003 saw a record-breaking enrollment, with increases in freshmen, transfer and graduate students. the athletic training education program received accreditation from the commission on accreditation for allied health education programs, and later in 2006, became accredited by the commission on accreditation of athletic training education (caate). lewis university has voluntarily withdrawn from accreditation by the commission on accreditation of athletic training education (caate) effective august 31, 2021. new programs offered for the first time in 2003 included the master’s degree in elementary education and bachelor’s programs in forensic criminal investigation, nuclear medicine technology, radiation therapy, and business management for adult students. the college of nursing and health professions also launched a parish nursing program that year.
in 2005, the university began offering its first doctoral program. the college of education received approval from the higher learning commission to offer courses toward the completion of a doctorate of education (ed.d.) in educational leadership for teaching and learning. a second doctoral program was approved by the board of trustees in 2011, the doctor of nursing practice (dnp).
lewis was selected by the faa in the fall of 2007 to offer the only undergraduate program in the state of illinois for air traffic controllers. additionally that fall, a master’s for adult nurse practitioners began, with subsequent ongoing development of various nurse practitioner specializations.
in 2009, the social work program was awarded initial accreditation through 2017 by the council on social work education (cswe) commission on accreditation.
enhancing offerings in healthcare and stem disciplines, new programs were approved to be offered beginning in 2019 and 2020: master of science in speech-language pathology; bachelor of arts in computer science + x (x= theology; music; history; political science); bachelor of science in electrical engineering; bachelor of science in data science; and the psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner (pmhnp) concentration.
at the same time, the university reemphasized a commitment to the importance of the liberal arts as providing a solid foundation for all graduates. a new, more contemporary, general education core curriculum began in the fall of 2019.
lewis now offers undergraduate programs of study in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences, as well as in aviation, business, computer science, communications, criminal justice, education, fine arts, and nursing. numerous partnerships and dual admission agreements have been developed for pre-professional programs offered in fields such as pre-med, pre-law, and pre-engineering, among others. graduate programs are available in aviation and transportation, business administration (mba), business analytics, clinical mental health counseling, criminal justice, data science, numerous education specializations, information security, finance, nursing, organizational leadership, project management, public safety administration, school counseling, and occupational therapy. a dual degree (msn/mba) is available. doctoral programs are offered in educational leadership and nursing practice.
lewis’ strengths as an institution of higher learning have been evidenced through various sources. the university has been continually cited as one of the best colleges in the region by the princeton review and U.S. News & World Report. numerous national recognitions continue to be awarded each year from the colleges of distinction, great value colleges and military times best for vets.
in addition to a strong curriculum, lewis provides diverse learning opportunities for its students through its renowned athletics program. lewis sponsors 23 athletic teams including men’s and women’s cross country, tennis, golf, volleyball, basketball, soccer, indoor and outdoor track and field, swimming; softball, and baseball. women's bowling and lacrosse began in 2018 and men's lacrosse in 2019.
lewis university is a proud, highly successful member of ncaa division ii and the great lakes valley conference. flyer teams have captured 86 glvc championships and have made 163 ncaa postseason appearances. lewis has won the glvc all-sports trophy 13 times and finished 28th overall in the 2014 learfield sports directors’ cup, in a competition that recognizes the nation’s top division ii intercollegiate athletic programs.
a comprehensive campus renovation program was launched in 1988 by brother james gaffney, fsc, university 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 in the 1990s were the construction of the state-of-the-art harold e. white aviation center; renovation of benilde hall; 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.
in 2001, de la salle hall was purchased from the de la salle christian brothers to provide for additional academic space, and faculty and staff offices. that same year, lewis also acquired the fitzpatrick house, located directly across from the main campus on route 53. the building was part of the homestead that included the original 170 acres of campus, donated to the archdiocese of chicago in 1920 by michael and frances fitzpatrick.
to meet the needs of a growing student population, the university embarked on several construction projects, beginning in the summer of 2004. major improvements were completed in de la salle hall in 2004, including a new courtyard café, bookstore and mailroom, additional classrooms and faculty offices. in 2005, construction began in the same building on new facilities for the college of education and the andrew center for electronic media, which opened for the spring 2006 semester. in fall 2011, univision donated an entirely new broadcast tv studio with digital robotics to the center.
pope john paul ii hall opened in the fall of 2005, expanding the university’s residential student facilities and extending its campus further to the south. 39,000 square feet of space houses 95 students in three floors of apartment style living space. mother teresa hall, located immediately west, opened in the summer of 2006. a third residence hall, dorothy day hall, opened in the fall of 2009.
in 2009, a new addition and renovation to the college of nursing and health professions was completed to provide additional simulation labs and a hospital-like setting 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 for classes in january 2012. a second elevator was added to the learning resource center, and a new athletic field and complex was built.
a campus master plan was approved by the board of trustees in 2013 to guide the evolution of the university's physical setting. the plan includes the purchase of the adjacent st. charles borromeo center buildings and 40 acres of land in 2014 for the college of business and school of graduate, professional and continuing education, as well as a 25,000 sq. ft. expansion to south hall which opened for fall 2014 classes to meet the growth of the nursing programs.
groundbreaking for the brother james gaffney, fsc student center took place on april 25, 2017 and opened in fall 2018. this dynamic new facility in the heart of campus is a focal point for students, faculty and staff. the 26,000 sq. ft. student center includes: an expansive new dining hall with a wide variety of food options, a convenience store and café, offices for student government and campus organizations, a state-of-the-art gaming area and arcade, and open access space to relax, gather and build community.
the student center is named in honor of president emeritus brother james gaffney, fsc, the longest serving president in lewis history who retired in 2016 after 28 years of dedicated service.
the strategic plan for lewis university: 2017-2022, soaring to new heights, expands the vision of lewis university to be recognized as one of the region’s leading catholic universities through academic innovation, transformative student experiences, geographic reach, data-informed decision-making, and a focus on the lasallian mission.
in order to promote collaboration and interdisciplinary opportunities among similar programs and to better prepare students for careers in demand, the university has embarked on a plan to restructure the academic colleges effective fall 2019. new colleges will be aligned as follows: college of aviation, science and technology; college of education and social sciences; college of humanities, fine arts and communications; college of business; and the college of nursing and health sciences.
lewis seeks to continue 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 choices 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.