By the time the Reverend Alexander Christie was appointed Archbishop of Portland in 1898, the city had already emerged as a major metropolitan center in the Pacific Northwest. What was needed, Christie said soon after his arrival on the scene, was a school that would furnish a "superior education unequaled by any institution on the Pacific Coast."
Tradition has it that while traveling aboard ship along the Willamette River one day, Christie noticed a large building atop Waud's Bluff. When he learned that it was West Hall (renamed Waldschmidt Hall in 1992, in honor of the late Most Rev. Paul E. Waldschmidt, C.S.C., president of the University from 1962-1978), the site of the defunct Portland University founded by the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1891, Christie decided to purchase it (with financial assistance from the Congregation of Holy Cross) for the school of his vision. He named it "Columbia University" after the mighty river that flowed nearby, and when it opened its doors on September 5, 1901, it was staffed with priests from the archdiocese.
Christie was practical enough to know that his school needed more than he was able to provide through the archdiocese, and he approached the Congregation of Holy Cross's Indiana Province with a challenge: "Take over Columbia and make it the Notre Dame of the Pacific Northwest!" The challenge was accepted, and the following September the C.S.C.s, as they were called, assumed ownership. Christie's challenge had special meaning to the C.S.C.s, for in 1841 several members of their order had traveled from France and founded the University of Notre Dame in the woods of Indiana. The success of Notre Dame in the years that followed, and the deep commitment of the Congregation of Holy Cross to education, assured Christie that his own vision would one day be realized.
Columbia University achieved junior college status in 1922, and the first junior college class graduated the following year. In 1925, the College of Arts and Sciences was founded; four years later the first bachelor's degrees were awarded to a class of seven men.
In the 1930s, the University's name was changed to the University of Portland, the St. Vincent Hospital School of Nursing became part of the University as the College of Nursing, and the School of Business was created.
In 1948, the School of Engineering was created. The University established its Graduate School in 1950 and the School of Education in 1962. In 1967 the Holy Cross order transferred ownership of the University to a lay Board of Regents.
Today some 4,200 students and approximately 300 faculty are engaged in teaching and research on the campus once on the edge of the American wilderness. The University has garnered national honors from U.S. News and World Report magazine and Barron's Best Buys as one of the best teaching universities in the West, and was honored by the Templeton Foundation as one of 100 colleges in America especially adept at education of character. In many ways the University has not swerved an inch from Archbishop Christie's dream in 1901--to provide a "superior education unequaled by any institution on the Pacific Coast."
If you would like to explore the history of the University, the Congregation of the Holy Cross, or other important events that helped forge the shape of the University today, please take a look at the University of Portland Almanac.