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Saint Leo University 125th!: Highlights in History Pt. 2

Part 2

As Saint Leo marks its quasquicentennial, online students take pride in the university's time-honored reputation and traditions.

Saint-Leo-UniversityIn 1889, the Eiffel Tower, the world’s tallest man-made structure, opened to the public.

The Oklahoma land rush started.

Bayer introduced powdered aspirin, and the first jukebox debuted.

The Wall Street Journal began publication.

Four states joined the United States of America, bringing the total number of states to 42.

And what is now Saint Leo University – Saint Leo College, the first Catholic college in Florida – was founded.

One-hundred and twenty-five years later, the Saint Leo University community includes more than 74,000 alumni in 72 countries, 50 states, 3 territories, and Washington D.C. The university’s 16,000 students study at University Campus and more than 40 teaching locations in seven states.

Around the world, online students are enrolled in more than 50 online degree programs and graduate certificate programs.

An early start in online learning

Saint Leo University’s Center for Online Learning got its start in 1998 – one of the first schools in the nation to offer online learning. The new program echoed the university’s long-standing commitment to make a college education a reality for growing numbers of students.

Today, Saint Leo offers associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs online, as well as graduate certificates. The vast majority of online students are busy, working adults – some focusing on degrees to help advance their current careers, others looking to start new career paths. Many are active duty military servicemembers or veterans.

Seeking tradition and community online

It’s something that Saint Leo enrollment counselors hear time and again from prospective students looking for an online degree program that is right for them.

Adult learners need the flexibility to study and complete coursework when it best suits their busy schedules. They are looking for a program that is technologically innovative so they can learn effectively and be successful. They want to gain skills and knowledge that are relevant in the real-world and will benefit their careers.

And they want the prestige and time-honored tradition of a reputable brick and mortar school.

“Students want to know that even though they are taking classes online, anywhere in the world that they are part of a traditional university,” says the Center for Online Learning’s Director of Undergraduate Admissions Tonya Chestnut. “It gives them both confidence in the institution and a sense of community.”

“So the fact Saint Leo University has been in existence for 125 years and is continuing to evolve and grow is very important to online students.”

Speaking of history

Much has happened and much has changed since Saint Leo University’s founding in 1889.

Whether you’re an online student, traditional campus student, education center student or visitor to the Saint Leo Blog, you might enjoy looking back on some university highlights, stories, profiles and anecdotes compiled by Kim Payne in University Communications to help mark the institution’s 125th anniversary.

Below is Kim’s first article, which details how the Benedictine monks got to Florida with their arrival in 1886. Look for more of his retrospectives in the weeks and months to come.


How Did the Benedictine Monks Arrive in Florida?

By Kim Payne, University Communications

The Florida Mission That Became Saint Leo College and Abbey

The year 1886 was a critical one in the history of Saint Leo University, as the origins of the university were formed during this time by the Order of Saint Benedict (O.S.B.) monks of Florida:

February 1, 1886

Since half of San Antonio’s 400 colonists are German, they want a German-speaking priest to conduct their religious services. Bishop John Moore of Saint Augustine writes to Benedictine Archabbot Boniface Wimmer of Saint Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, PA, to request one. The Benedictines’ coming to San Antonio is the direct result of his letter.

May 12, 1886

Prior of Newark Abbey, NJ, Father Gerard Pilz, O.S.B, a member of the Archabbey, a bi-lingual priest, and one of their most respected monks, arrives in San Antonio—the first Benedictine in the state of Florida. He assumes jurisdiction over all the Catholic missions in all of Hernando County (now Citrus, Hernando and Pasco counties). “Florida is a wonderful country!” he writes to Wimmer.

June 9, 1886

“There is a great field open to us here,” writes Father Pilz to Archabbot Wimmer. From the beginning, Father Pilz advocates for a Benedictine college in San Antonio. “All Florida is clamoring for a Catholic high school (or college),” he tells Archabbot Wimmer. The concept of a high school was soon superseded. The promotion of a college was Gerard Pilz’ most lasting achievement.

October 20, 1886

In a letter to Archabbot Wimmer on this date, Father Pilz urges an establishment of a Benedictine college in San Antonio. “We will be offered 40 acres on Clear Lake (now Lake Jovita) for free, but the condition is that we must build the college on it. A nicer, better, and more beautiful location we can never get. If we keep San Antonio or stay in Florida, we must in time have a college,” states Father Pilz.

And thus, the seeds for chartering Saint Leo College were planted.

Kim-Payne-Saint-Leo-UniversityA Saint Leo online student himself, Kim Payne joined the University Communications office in 2013 as staff writer and media coordinator. A 30-year professional communicator, he has worked in environments ranging from corporate to health care to advertising agencies and non-profits. Outside the office, he and his wife, Sue, enjoy playing golf and are huge hockey fans.  Reach Kim at 352-588-7233 or