Canisius History

The college we know today has been shaped by a nearly 150-year history that started in 19th century Buffalo.  Canisius and the city have been synonomous ever since. 

Canisius College was founded by German Jesuits in 1870 at the invitation of the Most Rev. John Timon, C.M., the first bishop of Buffalo.  The population of the region was heavily immigrant German, but there were relatively few German-speaking secular priests.  Bishop Timon hoped Canisius College would become both a center of learning in itself and a school of origin for young men who later would seek the diocesan priesthood.  The original course of study was the Germanic Progymnasium, a six-year classical secondary school course that, upon completion, made students eligible for admission to professional schools of law, medicine, and divinity.  However, from the beginning a commercial course was also included and was the forerunner of today's Wehle School of Business.  Students began their studies at age 13 and graduated at 19 or 20 years.  No degree was awarded.  In the Progymnasium the language of instruction was supposed to be Latin, but most entering students had little background in Latin.  The faculty spoke German, and most of the students spoke English learned on the streets and in their Catholic elementary schools.  The student body was all male, a tradition that would continue in some form until the college became fully coeducational in 1965.

After two years of struggle, the college moved from a two-story brick building into a new and more spacious home adjoining St. Michael's parish church.  A visit from the New York State Board of Regents in 1881 led to the approval of a charter in 1883 authorizing the conferral of the AB degree.  The course of studies was extended to seven years and finally to eight years.  In 1897 the college was authorized to award the Regents Diploma for the first four years of study, and at this point it made sense to separate into two institutions, Canisius High School and Canisius College.  In 1890 the first master's degree was awarded.  In 1912-1913 the college moved to its present home at Main Street and Jefferson Avenue.  It is interesting to note that, in applying for its first charter, Canisius did not have the requisite $130,000 endowment, but it requested an exception on the grounds that the Jesuit priests gave their lives wholly and completely to the institution "without compensation or salary" and thus constituted a living endowment worth far more than the required amount.   The exception was granted.

The first fully separate college curriculum was established. The commercial course was dropped as not being consonant with the philosophy of education endorsed by the institution.  Over time the various requirements in the classical course―Latin, Greek, philosophy, mathematics, chemistry, physics, literature, history, modern languages, and theology―evolved into individual majors with specific requirements and electives.  The original AB requirements became by 1930 a core curriculum consisting of nearly half the credits for the full degree, with religion and philosophy having the largest shares, at 18 credit hours each.    In 1920, its jubilee year, the college introduced the BS degree, intended for students who wanted more experience in technological, premedical, and industrial areas.  For the BS degree, the Latin and Greek requirements were eliminated in favor of the sciences.    The number of master's degrees in arts and sciences began to multiply until, at the high point, the college offered degrees in English, history, chemistry, biology, and religious studies.  Eventually these degrees were phased out for reasons of low enrollment and inadequate library, laboratory, or research resources. 

Middle States accreditation was first awarded in 1921.  The 1920s and 1930s saw the growth of programs for religious women who needed to earn teaching certificates and degrees to staff the many growing Catholic grade schools in the area.  Canisius became the normal school for the Diocese of Buffalo, creating a School of Education that has existed either as a department or as a separate school until the present day, offering both bachelor's and master's degrees in elementary and secondary education and in other specialties.  Studies in commerce, suspended in the early 1900s, were reestablished after World War II, with students earning the bachelor of business administration degree.  The creation of the School of Business in 1958 led to the registration of the BS degree in business administration, which was first awarded in 1960.   In 1961 women were admitted to the day session in the business school only.  In 1965 the college went coeducational in all divisions.  The first MBAs were awarded in 1971. 

The city of Buffalo went through an enormous period of growth from the founding of the city up to the 1950s, when the heavy industry that had been the lifeblood of the region began to decline and populations began moving to the suburbs or out of the region entirely.  However, Canisius enrollments reflected regional growth rather than the decline of city population.  From its start with just 35 students in 1870, Canisius reached enrollments of 500 students in 1895; 1,000 students in 1940; 2,000 in 1946; 3,000 in 1947 (owing to the GI bill); 4,000 in 1971, and 5,000 in 2002. Recent trends in higher education have seen our enrollment in recent years to approximately 3,700 undergraduate and graduate students. 

As the economy of the region evolved from primarily industrial manufacturing to services, health/life sciences, education, banking, arts, and government, Canisius began to add majors in keeping with the needs of the region.  Beginning in 1960 with just accounting, management, and economics, the business school added bachelor's degrees in finance, marketing, information systems, accounting information systems, entrepreneurship, and international business, as well as the MBA and a master's degree in professional accounting.  During the same period several programs have come and gone, including hotel management, public administration, taxation, and telecommunications management (the latter three at the master's level).  The College of Arts and Sciences added psychology, political science, criminal justice, music, art history, journalism, creative writing, environmental science, animal behavior/ecology/conservation, bioinformatics, European studies (as a dual major only), digital media arts, computational science, operations research, and anthropology; and, at the master's level, anthrozoology and organizational communication and leadership.  The School of Education offered counselor education, sport administration, special education, college student personnel administration, literacy education, athletic training, health and human performance, and Montessori education, the last being phased out in 1998. 

In response to trends and advancements in higher education and student demand, the college offers a numbers of on-line master’s degrees programs.  Canisius College established an Office of Professional Studies, to help adult learners, non-traditional students and working professionals further their career opportunities. New academically innovative programs are being developed to respond to the needs of today’s professionals who work in various emerging and rapidly changing fields. These new areas of study will be co-developed by Canisius faculty and outside partners including industry experts, professional associations, consulting organizations and businesses.  Clearly, Canisius has become a comprehensive master's-level institution that seeks to offer relevant, quality programs that make sense for the needs of its region.  The undergraduate programs are still based on a core curriculum grounded in the liberal arts that shows an unbroken connection to its historical past.