Bishop Patrick R. Heffron, the second bishop of Winona, founded Saint Mary's College in 1912 to provide education for young men in the southeastern Minnesota Diocese of Winona and surrounding areas. In its early years, the college operated as an academy and junior college, and in 1925 it became a four-year liberal arts college. Bishop Heffron started “The Courier,” a Catholic newspaper that still exists today. Known for his strong and decisive leadership – as well as his dedication to education – Bishop Heffron also laid the cornerstone for Cotter High School in Winona and started Heffron High School in Rochester, Minn.
The Very Reverend William E. Griffin brought priests and laymen together to form the faculty at Saint Mary's in the areas of business, commerce, science, and mathematics while Rev. Griffin himself taught Latin, English and religion. While president, he also entered athletic teams into interscholastic sports. The Students' Army Training Corps was established during his tenure, as well as the definition of the college into three levels: academy department, junior college and commercial courses.
Known as the “friendly one” during his administration, the Right Reverend Monsignor John H. Peschges was a Latin scholar who taught English, Greek and German. During his presidency he ran a successful fund drive for new buildings and phased out the high school program. He was also successful in expanding the curriculum and boosting enrollment. In 1926, he awarded diplomas to the first 10 men who completed the four-year college sequence.
Brother Leopold Julian Dodd negotiated with Bishop Kelly for the 1933 transfer of Saint Mary's College from the Diocese of Winona to the Christian Brothers. During Brother Leopold's presidency, Saint Mary's received full four-year accreditation. He also guided the college to financial stability.
Brother Landrick Jerome Foy's most notable achievement was guiding the college through arduous times and declining enrollment during World War II. Because of this enrollment decline, he worked to acquire a Navy V-12 unit in 1943, which was an officer training program and offered accelerated instruction.
During Brother Joel Stanislaus Nelson's presidency, the first student union was built, an addition was built on the dining hall, and Saint Joseph's Hall was enlarged to house the Christian Brothers. Moreover, he guided the college through the war and the Navy V-12 era. In 1948, the Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary became a part of Saint Mary's, and in 1950 construction on Kelly Hall began. Brother Joel was an enthusiastic teacher and combined principles of love and hope, with creativity and human potential.
Many changes took place at Saint Mary's College during Brother Ambrose Groble's presidency. Aquinas (now Vlazny Hall) and the science hall were built, a graduate program was developed, enrollment grew slowly but consistently from 542 to 780, and government-funded programs and grants were introduced. Brother J. Ambrose laid the foundation for the growth of Saint Mary's by developing the faculty and a summer school session.
The most significant physical growth on campus took place during Brother I. Basil Rothweiler's administration. Construction included new dorms, a chapel, library, the Christian Brothers faculty residence, the novitiate, and a minor seminary. Brother I. Basil's presidency at Saint Mary's is still remembered as one that formed a solid alliance with the Winona community and Minnesota businesses.
Under the leadership of Brother J. Gregory Robertson, Saint Mary's College became co-ed and the Board of Trustees allowed laymen to be members for the first time. The expansion of the campus continued; the old gym was converted into what is now Skemp Hall, and a new gymnasium was built. Psychology was added to the curriculum as well as the introduction of independent studies and some multi-disciplinary courses.
On-campus housing improved during Brother George Pahl's tenure with the addition of the Ek Family Village and the New Village, and the Advanced Institutional Development Program federal grant was awarded to help improve the college. A committee was formed to find ways to improve the college and its growing enrollment. At the end of his tenure as president, Brother George received the Bishop Heffron Award, acknowledging his dedication to the development of Saint Mary's. Brother George was also well-known for his research of radiation and cancer.
Brother Peter Clifford brought fiscal security to the college. Despite inheriting a $250,000 deficit in the college's endowment and physical plant funds, he left his successor a $3 million balance in those same funds. Brother Peter also fostered close relationships between Saint Mary's College and the city of Winona by being an active member of the community. During his presidency, he served on the boards of both the Winona Chamber of Commerce and Norwest Bank.
Brother Louis DeThomasis guided Saint Mary's through an exciting period of change and growth in enrollment and programming. The college became a university, with successful new graduate and special programs at the Twin Cities and Winona campuses and Rochester Center, as well as classes in Apple Valley and more than 50 off-campus sites throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Nairobi, Kenya campus was founded during his presidency, and international programs were added for undergraduates. Extensive building and remodeling as well as a focus on the Lasallian mission of Saint Mary's University have been hallmarks of his presidency.
Brother Craig J. Franz, FSC, Ph.D., served as the 12th president of Saint Mary's University of Minnesota from June 1, 2005 to December 19, 2006. Under his leadership, the university accepted the challenge to become a nationally recognized teaching institution by its centenary year, 2012. Undergraduate and graduate enrollment increased during his tenure, and a new building was purchased for the Twin Cities campus. Brother Craig was also the founding president of the International Association of Lasallian Universities (IALU), a global consortium of Lasallian institutions promoting excellence in Catholic higher education among approximately 65 member universities.