By Addriena Bradley
This year, 2022, we are celebrating 75 years of excellence at Daemen University. Our university has a fascinating past that we are diving into as we celebrate our 75th anniversary.
Rosary Hill 1947-1977
Our history begins in 1947 when Rosary Hill College was established by the Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Christian Charity.
The Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Christian Charity was founded in 1835 by Magdalen Daemen in the Netherlands. The first sisters arrived in Buffalo in 1874.
Magdalen Daemen was devoted to education and working with the poor. Besides Rosary Hill, the ministry founded Buffalo Academy of the Sacred Heart and Stella Niagara Education Park.
In 1947, the Sisters of St. Francis purchased the Waite House, later named Rosary Hall in 1998. That same year, on July 31 the Sisters were granted a provisional charter and would be opening their doors in 1948.
Rosary Hill began as a sectarian, liberal arts school for women. The college had 44 students enrolled and 13 faculty.
In the late 1940s, two prominent buildings opened on campus, Rosary Hall and Daemen Hall (MusicalFare Theatre). Enrollment in 1949 was 79 students.
The college continued to grow throughout the 1950s, reaching an enrollment of 457 students.
With the increase in enrollment, the college also continued to expand. Several new academic buildings were constructed in this decade. The Marian Library (Center for Visual & Performing Arts), Alverno Hall (Patricia E. Curtis Hall) and the first half of Duns Scotus Hall.
To get a firsthand account of what Rosary Hill was like, we have access to The Ascent, the student newspaper. The first record of the newspaper comes from November 1949.
The May 9, 1958, article of The Ascent was titled “Ground Breaking Set for Monday,” and tells us the plans for Duns Scotus Hall. According to The Ascent, “Construction of the unit, a four-story classroom-administration building, began April 28. Brother Cajetan, O.F.M., a distinguished architect, whose offices are in New York, designed the brick structure.”
In the original first half of Duns Scotus there was an array of facilities. The Ascent reported that the ground floor would include a bookstore, a student government office, a student cafeteria that seated 200, a ceramics room and lockers. The upper floors would include staff offices, labs, classrooms and student lounges.
The Oct. 20, 1958, volume of The Ascent tells us that the new building will be called Duns Scotus Hall and “will honor John Duns Scotus, an eminent Franciscan philosopher of the Thirteenth Century.” This title was chosen to represent the “synthesis of intellectualism and Catholicism.”
Through the 60s Rosary Hill continued to grow in the number of students enrolled as well as buildings on campus. In this decade, Lourdes Hall (Canavan Hall), the second half of Duns Scotus and the Charles J. Wick Campus Center open. Enrollment reaches nearly 750 students.
The October 17, 1961, edition of The Ascent gives us insight as to what the dorms first looked like at the college. Lourdes Hall would house 163 students, there were 83 rooms for residents and four proctor suites.
On the first floor was a student lounge, dining room, mailboxes for each resident, a snack bar and lobby. The second floor of Lourdes Hall was the infirmary and office of the Director of Health Services. The remaining floors were the rooms for residents, each floor having its own lounge with a kitchenette and utility room.
In 1971 the college became coeducational, opening all concentrations to men. Another change came in 1977 when the institution was renamed Daemen College and became non-sectarian.
Daemen College 1977-2000
Entering the 80s enrollment was nearing 1500 students as the college was now open to men and women.
In 1984 Lumsden Gymnasium opened and the February 1985 edition of The Ascent gives us an inside look at the “Gymnasium Rules,” and provides images of students using the new facilities.
Rules were given about the gymnasium, weight room, locker rooms, the sauna and equipment room. The last sentence of the article said, “…the gym is open and running smoothly, the only thing missing is YOU!!!!”
The next year, on Monday, Sept. 16, 1985, Lourdes Hall was rededicated and renamed Canavan Hall. The dorm was dedicated to Sister Mary Angela Canavan, former president of the college from 1953 to 1973.
The college underwent “phenomenal growth” from the 50s to 70s while Sister Angela was president. The WICK Center, Lourdes Hall, Marian Library and Duns Scotus were opened while she was president.
Sister Angela’s work also helped the college get accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. According to The Ascent, this was a major reason why enrollment was increasing at the time.
In October of 1985, The Ascent wrote, “Sister Angela has literally made this college what it is today, and it is proper that she is now being honored for her years of dedication and hard work.”
In the early 90s there were two more buildings opened on campus. Schenk Hall opened in 1993 and the Business Building opened in 1995.
The November 1995 edition of The Ascent reported that the dedication ceremony for the Business Building was held Nov. 2. The business and commerce building contains classrooms, a study lounge, a computer lab and faculty offices.
The Ascent reported, “The building marks a new direction for the Daemen business program, allowing controlled growth in the business division.” The college also hoped this would lead to an increase in the enrollment of business students.
In 1998, Rosary Hall was rededicated. Previously the university’s primary administrative and classrooms building now houses Admissions, Alumni and External Relations offices.
Also in the late 90s, enrollment was nearing 2,000 students and the college was preparing for new growth going into the 2000s.
Continued Growth: 2000-2020
In February of 2000 The Ascent reported a “Master plan proposed campus-wide improvements.” The master plan would focus on the growth of Daemen for the next five to ten years.
An area of focus in the master plan was the Marian Library. The report said, “The main committee is leaning towards a standalone signature building to house the library. The library itself will be a nontraditional setting focused on being an information center capable of meeting the demands of future technologies.”
In the early 2000s prior to 2010, three more areas on campus would be opened. The Campus Village Apartments in 2001, Thomas Reynolds Center for Special Education in 2005 and the Research and Information Commons in 2009.
The 2010s was a time of growth at Daemen, including several new buildings. The Haberman Gacioch Center for Visual and Performing Arts, Academic and Wellness Center, Alumni House and Honors House all opened before 2016.
In 2013, Dr. Gary A. Olson became the sixth president of the college and still holds that position today. Then in 2019, Daemen was promoted to the Carnegie Classification of professional/doctoral.
Past and present students at Daemen will vouch for the college’s excellence. Jennifer Pierpoint attended Daemen from 2002 until 2004.
During her time at Daemen she studied history and secondary education. Pierpoint said she enjoyed her time at Daemen, and that the school has “great education and professors.”
Pierpoint also said that she would recommend Daemen to all prospective students, not just those looking into the PT or PA programs that the college is known for.
In a recent letter from the college’s president, it was said that Daemen now offers 57 bachelor’s degrees, 31 masters and four doctoral programs. With these programs Daemen is a “world of opportunity” for students.
Current student Hayley Landahl, junior childhood special education major, feels just the same.
Landahl is actively involved on campus. She is the treasurer of the Education Club and does her federal work study in the Global Programs Office.
Daemen is a relatively small college compared to others such as the University at Buffalo, in 2021 enrollment was around 2,500 students.
Landahl said, “The size of Daemen has allowed me to really make connections with my professors and other teachers.”
Landahl also said that the small class sizes at Daemen “allow you to really get to know your professors and peers. This honestly makes learning easier.”
Landahl said she believes Daemen is excellent and that she is constantly recommending the school to young prospective students. She said, “I wouldn’t have chosen any other college. Choosing Daemen was one of the best decisions I’ve made!”
Looking Forward: A Strategic Plan
In 2020, Daemen published its strategic plan for the next five years. In the letter from the president, Olson said the plan “outlines the College’s systematic plan for continued growth, innovation and resiliency as we strengthen our reputation as a college of national distinction.”
There are major areas of focus in Daemen’s strategic plan. Those areas include: rigorous academics, campus life and climate, outreach and service, facilities and infrastructure and finally, fiscal stability.
Each focus area contains a narrative, several goals and strategies to achieve them. In the Rigorous Academics focus area, the strategic plan states, “Goal I: Daemen College will develop rigorous, dynamic academic programs that cultivate emerging markets, fulfill societal needs, and advance expanded opportunities for all students.”
The strategy that Daemen plans to use to achieve this goal is, “Promote development of new programs and curricular advancements that respond to emerging student interests and market demands.”
The overall vision of the 2020-2025 strategic plan is “Daemen’s Emerging National Distinction.”
On March 17, 2022, college president Dr. Gary Olson sent a letter to the entire Daemen community that the school has been designated as a university.