The year was 1932. The United States was in its worst economic condition in history—the Great Depression. Yet, in Montana, a small university had come to life thanks to a shared vision and dedication from a bishop and several sisters. Great Falls’ Catholic Bishop, Reverend Edwin V. O’Hara, along with the Sisters of Charity of Providence and the Ursuline Sisters, worked together to create Great Falls Junior College.
Several sisters and priests along with one laywoman came together to teach the first class of students. At that time, the school was a two-year institute, located in a historic building off Central Avenue in Great Falls. In 1933, the university grew when Great Falls Normal School, established by Sister Lucia Sullivan, combined forces with the junior college. That same year, 14 women enrolled, and by 1935, those numbers grew dramatically with more than 100 women enrolled. Two years later, the school would make history when the first man enrolled.
By 1938, enrollment numbers grew with 19 men in attendance! However, by 1942, enrollment declined, and as a result, the Great Falls Junior College for Women was discontinued. The junior college was then renamed the Great Falls College of Education. It would undergo yet another name change in the early 1950s, when it became the College of Great Falls. At this point, classes were directed by the Sisters of Providence and held inside the old Columbus Hospital.
In 1995, the school was named the University of Great Falls or Great Falls University. Since then, it has continued to grow with numerous athletic programs and additional online and residential academic programs. Finally, the University of Great Falls was renamed in July 2017 the University of Providence, with the main campus renamed the University of Providence, Great Falls. The new name recognizes the rich roots of the institution and the strength of its partnership with Providence St. Joseph Health.
Though the school has changed throughout the decades, its mission is the same today as it was in 1932.