7 historical facts about Ohio’s largest private university

St. Mary’s School for Boys, the foundation of the University of Dayton, opened July 1, 1850. 

Since the school opened 168 years ago with just 14 boys, it has grown into the largest private university in Ohio. 

Here are 7 notable facts from the Catholic university’s history: 

This photograph of St. Mary's Institute taken in 1879 is the oldest dated picture on record. The first president, Rev. Leo Meyer, purchased 120 acres of farmland and founded St. Mary's School for Boys. University of Dayton Archives Collection
Photo: Unknown

1. An important promise. Father Leo Meyer purchased the 125-acre Dewberry Farm, the future site of the school,  from John Stuart in 1850. He paid for it with medal of St. Joseph and a promise of $12,000. 

2. Name transformation. Over the years, the institution has been known as St. Mary’s School, St. Mary’s Institute and St. Mary’s College. Its name became the University of Dayton in 1920. 

3. A safe place. St. Mary’s College was a refuge during the Great Flood of 1913. The hilltop institute provided shelter to 800 as the flood overtook homes in lower-lying Dayton. Students had not returned to the campus from Easter break, so the college was fully stocked with provisions. 

In 1961 the stadium was named for Coach Harry Baujan. Today the stadium is called Baujan Recreational Sports Field and is the home to the Flyer soccer teams. Photo: Archives of the University of Dayton

4. The first bowl game (well, in the bowl). Coach Harry Baujan called the plays in front of 10,000 fans at the first football game held in the new “football bowl” on campus in 1925. Today the stadium is called Baujan Recreational Sports Field and is the home to the Flyer soccer teams (Read more on the stadium’s history). 

5. A meaningful centerpiece. The iconic dome and cross on the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception is the centerpiece of UD’s campus. The top of the cross is 95 feet above the ground. The cross is 7 feet, 4 inches tall from the ball to the top of the cross. The “arms” of the cross extend 4 feet, 6 inches. 

University of Dayton students sing carols with school children during UD's Christmas on Campus in 1976. DAYTON DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE

6. Joy to the world.  Christmas on Campus, an annual holiday event that hosts more than 1,000 children, is believed to be one of the nation’s largest single-day on campus community services event (Read more about this unique event). 

7. A new era of presidents. Dr. Daniel Curran became the university’s first lay president in 2002. Dr. Eric Spina, who became president in 2016, is the university’s second lay president.

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