Justice and Loyola's Founding Story

Who We Were

What was Loyola's founding story? Why was the university started in the first place? Where did the original vision come from? The fact is that few of us stop very often to reflect upon our founding narrative. But recalling 'where we come from' can help bring into focus 'where we are headed'. Such an exercise has little to do with nostalgia.

Loyola's story begins with Arnold Damen, S.J. who arrived to Chicago in 1856. Although the bishop at that time wanted him to take charge of the thriving downtown cathedral parish, Damen insisted on working with the poor, mostly immigrants, who lived on the southern outskirts of the city. These immigrants were largely Irish and German, although later, other groups would arrive from Italy, Poland and Russia. By and large, the immigrants had little or not formal education and their skills as former farmers were not easily translatable into an urban environment. Consequently, most immigrants took up day labor in railroad yards or along the river, loading and unloading trains and boats. They lived in crowded squatters' shacks with no running water or sewage disposal and, for all practical purposes, were cut off from the privileges or the modernizing city.

Surrounded by so many needs and such scarce financial resources, the obvious question Damen faced was: where to begin? Believing that it was only from a community that the energy could come to create multiple solutions and alternatives, Damen started forming a small community of faith, the nucleus of what was to become Holy Family Parish. Not wanting the poor to become a pious generalization nor a mere sociological category, Damen remained attentive to the multi-layered needs of the community, even though he chose to focus primarily on the spiritual and educational requirements of these immigrant families. This was his motivation for founding Holy Family Church (1860), for starting several free grammar schools (1860-1870), and for opening Saint Ignatius College (1870). It should be noted that he also opened a sizable shelter for orphans, a small school for the deaf, and even an insurance company to assist low-income families whose major bread-winner had suffered a costly accident at the workplace. All of this "imagineering" took place during times that were, to say the least, financially stressful.

Although Arnold Damen died in 1890, his spirit of service to the poor lived on. The Chicago Jesuits began to look around for a new site in which to continue the social and educational work Damen had begun. Although many people at the time were pressuring the Society of Jesus to open a center of higher education in the promising Hyde Park area, on March 9, 1906, Henry Dumach, S.J., then rector of the St. Ignatius College, purchased from the city of Chicago twenty-five acres of land situated at Devon Avenue and Sheridan Road. This purchase marked the first step in the development of the Lake Shore Campus.

Modeled on the European Jesuit schools (i.e., collegia), St. Ignatius College on Roosevelt Road (at least by the turn of the century) consisted of three years of "academic" (secondary) schooling, plus four years of "collegiate" studies. On November 21, 1909, this "College of Arts and Sciences" of St. Ignatius College was granted a new charter in which it became the College of Arts and Sciences of Loyola University to be situated on the recently purchased property. Part of the strategy for developing the northside campus included the creation of another high school to serve the northern part of the growing city: Loyola Academy. Loyola Academy opened for class in 1909 and would occupy Dumbach Hall until 1957.

Launching each of the new departments or programs of the university involved considerable effort, largely because material resources were very scarce. The challenge was to remain faithful to the founding spirit (i.e., serving the poor and the first-generation college bound) while responding creatively within the limits and possibilities of the moment. An example of this creative fidelity was the founding of Loyola's School of Social Work in 1914 by Frederic Siedenburg, S.J., a noted sociologist with deep interests in poverty issues, race relations and fair labor practices. Siedenburg wanted Loyola's School to be outstanding for the way in which it would train the hearts and minds of the students for a life of service towards the poor. Even more innovative, this School opened educational opportunities to working persons and to women at a time when higher education was often considered the province only of affluent males. Likewise, the School of Law made it possible for members of the Jewish and Catholic communities to be trained in a profession from which they had been virtually excluded. In similar ways, each new academic unit creatively expanded the mission of the University. The point being made here is not that Loyola's history has been flawless, perfect or unbroken but only to suggest many of our founding options were options for those segments of the population who otherwise would not have had the benefit of a first-rate education.


Related links:

  • Commitment to Justice
  • Who We Are: A Multi-Storied Institution
  • Who We Are to Become: Creating Our Future Together