A History of Transformation

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 the poor, 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 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 the graduate division in 1955, the college formally admitted male students for the first time. This was the forerunner of the entire college becoming coed in 1971. The Sisters sold the Lake Merritt property to Kaiser Co. and, in 1956 purchased the 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 nearly 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, 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.

Today we are a comprehensive institution of higher learning—a leader in providing progressive academic programs such as an innovative ADN to MSN nursing program and adult degree completion programs for working adults.