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Saint Leo University 125th!: Highlights in History Pt 3

Part 3

The institution has changed its name frequently over the years.

Saint-Leo-UniversityThis is the third in a series of feature stories, profiles, and anecdotes recounting the significance of important events in the history of Saint Leo University, which is currently commemorating the 125th anniversary of its founding in 1889.

By Kim Payne, University Communications


June 4 is the official founding date of Saint Leo College and Saint Leo Abbey. (Holy Name Academy is established on March 11.) Over the years, Saint Leo changes identities nearly a dozen times – from a college to a military college, to a preparatory academy, back to a college, and finally, a university.

Along the way, there have been numerous incarnations of these various institutions.

Sept. 14, 1890

“St. Leo’s College” – the official name of the institution – is formally dedicated, making it the first Catholic college in Florida. Later that year, the decision is made to change St. Leo’s to a military college.

January 1891

The uniforms arrive, and the school changes its name to St. Leo Military College. The institution has three phases as a military college: 1890-1903, 1908-1909, and 1918-1920.

June 20, 1893

The first graduation takes place at the college, and five students receive the Master of Accounts degree. In the years to come, the institution suffers an “identity crisis” and through 1999 is known by these names:

  • St. Leo College
  • St. Leo College Preparatory School
  • Saint Leo College
  • St. Leo College High-School
  • St. Leo Academy
  • Benedictine High School
  • Saint Leo College Preparatory School
  • Saint Leo College (again)


The first college colors of red, white, and blue are announced in the college catalog. The colors are changed to purple and gold in 1910.

Sept. 25, 1902

The Vatican confirms the elevation of Saint Leo Priory to Saint Leo Abbey and Fr. Charles H. Mohr, O.S.B., was elected as the first Abbot. (In 1890, he was appointed the new college’s first director.)


The last Master of Accounts degrees are conferred to three students. The 30-year-old college becomes Saint Leo College Preparatory School.


Holy Name Academy and Saint Leo Prep (SLP) begin joint classes in select subject areas at SLP.

Sept. 13, 1959

This marks the beginning of Saint Leo College as a two-year (junior college) institution. Saint Leo College Prep remains active and is regularly filled to capacity with 250 students throughout the postwar years.

Fall 1959

Green and gold are selected as colors for the college, principally the colors of the abbey orange groves. The nickname “Monarchs” is chosen for the collegiate athletic teams to distinguish those on the sports pages from the purple and gold Prep School “Lions.”

June 3, 1961

Twenty-three students are graduates of the first associate’s degree class of Saint Leo College.


Saint Leo Prep and Holy Name Academy are closed.

May 22, 1964

Final commencement of Saint Leo College Preparatory School takes place.


Saint Leo College transitions to a four-year institution.

April 23, 1967

The charter bachelor’s degree class graduates from Saint Leo College (51 men and 13 women).


Saint Leo College officially changes its name to Saint Leo University. The nickname “Lions” is readopted for Saint Leo’s collegiate athletic teams.


Kim-Payne-Saint-Leo-UniversityKim Payne joined Saint Leo’s University Communications office in 2013 as the 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.  You can reach Kim in UC at 352-588-7233 or

Sources: Information excerpted from Pioneer College: The Centennial History of Saint Leo College, Saint Leo Abbey, and Holy Name Priory by James J. Horgan (Saint Leo College Press,1989). Additional information provided by Sister Dorothy Neuhofer, O.S.B., Ph.D, formerly the university archivist and special collections librarian, Saint Leo University, 2014.

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