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The History of Briar Cliff


In 1929, only briar patches covered a 175-foot hill on the western outskirts of Sioux City, Iowa. But two people — Mother Mary Dominica Wieneke, Major Superior of the Sisters of Saint Francis, and the Most Rev. Edmond Heelan, Bishop of the Sioux City Diocese — had a vision. They saw that hill crowned with a Catholic college for women. 

Mother Dominica and Bishop Heelan met on March 9, 1929 with members of the Sioux City community. Businessmen attending that meeting committed themselves to raising $25,000 to support the establishment of the college in Sioux City.

After this showing of community support, significant events followed in rapid succession. On Sept. 18, 1930, the college, named Briar Cliff after the hill on which it is located, was dedicated. Four days later, 25 women started classes in Heelan Hall, the only building on campus. 

In 1937, the University's two-year program was extended to four years. Fifty-five men were admitted to Briar Cliff in 1965 and co-education was formalized in 1966 with the admission of 150 full-time male students. The innovative Weekend College program started in the fall of 1979. The spring of 1980 saw the addition of a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. A Master of Arts in Education was implemented in the summer of 2001. The college officially became a University on June 1, 2001. 

Over the years, Briar Cliff adjusted to many student changes and needs by adding a fourth story to Heelan Hall in 1948, and the Bishop Mueller Library and Chapel of Our Lady of Grace in 1959. The sixties brought even more change, especially in the residential living area, when Alverno, Toller and Noonan halls were added.

A new gymnasium, the Newman Flanagan Center, was constructed in 1982. In 1988, the Baxter-DiGiovanni Living & Learning Center became the first apartment-style living quarters built on campus.

The 43,350-square-foot Stark Student Center opened in the fall of 2000 and the construction of the McCoy Arnold Center, completed in 2004, further enhanced facilities for student athletes. In 2012, the first phase was completed of Heelan Hall renovation, which included the addition of an 8,340-foot atrium and state-of-the-art nursing and chemistry laboratories. 

Watch the video of Briar Cliff's history