Fontbonne University takes its name from Mother St. John Fontbonne, who, in 1808 after the French Revolution, refounded the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph (CSJ). More than a century and a half before, in 1650, the Sisters of St. Joseph had been founded in LePuy, France. During the French Revolution, the sisters were forced to return to their homes and the community was dispersed. Some 28 years after the refounding, six Sisters of St. Joseph came to the United States in 1836 and established American roots at Carondelet, a small community in south St. Louis, Missouri. Five years later, in 1841, they opened St. Joseph’s Academy for girls.
The Sisters would eventually establish a college to provide access to higher education for women — a need in the early decades of the 20th century. Fontbonne College’s first classes were held in 1923, at Carondelet in South St. Louis, and then two years later, the school moved to its current Clayton campus.
The CSJ heritage of strength and stability stems from values found in the order’s original documents and repeated in other records through the succeeding centuries. At least eight values can be identified throughout this long CSJ history: quality, respect, diversity, community, justice, service, faith, and Catholic presence.
It is on the tradition of service and based on the values of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, that Fontbonne University was founded. A devotion to the tradition continues to move Fontbonne forward into the future.
1923 — First classes begin at Carondelet following World War I
1925 — Fontbonne classes move to new location at Wydown and Big Bend Boulevards in Clayton, Missouri
1927 — Eight women receive first baccalaureate degrees from Fontbonne
1930 to 1950 — Comprehensive liberal arts curriculum is developed. There’s growth of the departments of education and home economics. A cafeteria, swimming pool, and gymnasium are added to the original buildings of Ryan Hall, Science Building, Fine Arts Building. A dedication of Medaille Hall, first residence hall occurs. The school receives North Central accreditation.
1950 to 1960 — Department of education is expanded to include special education, behavioral disorders, learning disabilities, and mental handicaps. A major in deaf education links Fontbonne with St. Joseph’s Institute for the Deaf. The department of communication disorders is established to prepare teachers for speech impaired children and adults
1960 to 1980 — Admission of male students marks a first. Service programs are expanded to areas such as dietetics, special education, communication disorders and deaf education. A predominately lay board of trustees is formed. The Fontbonne Library is dedicated, along with two more residence halls.
1980 to 2000— Significant growth is seen in the department of business and administration as well as graduate programs in art, business, communication disorders, computer science, education, and taxation. The department of home economics grows into the department of human environmental sciences. Two major fundraising campaigns are completed for a total of $12 million. The Heritage Club is formed to recognize donors to endowment. A growth in nontraditional students, weekend and evening programs is seen leading to OPTIONS, a nontraditional program geared for the working adult desiring undergraduate and graduate degrees in business. The athletic program advanced to NCAA Division III. The Dunham Student Activity Center was established. Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education finds Fontbonne’s department of education/special education to be one of the best in the state. Fontbonne community grows in diversity of cultures and faiths. Departments are restructured to meet the needs of two commencements annually (December and May). The first male president, Dr. Dennis C. Golden, is inaugurated in September 1995. Information technology capabilities are expanded throughout the campus. The school celebrates its 75th anniversary during the1998-99 academic year.
2000-present day — March 14, 2002, marks the change in status from college to university. Fontbonne completes renovations of the Fine Arts building in 2000, East building in 2004, the Dunham Student Activity Center in 2005, and Anheuser Busch Hall (formerly the Science Building) in 2009. Three distinct colleges are developed within the university. The Bosnia Memory Project, Fontbonne Community Connection and Mustard Seed Theatre are established. Fontbonne achieves unqualified full accreditation through 2020. The university’s international population grows significantly. Dr. Golden retires, and Dr. J. Michael Pressimone serves as Fontbonne’s 14th president from 2014–2020. Dr. Nancy Blattner becomes the university’s 15th president in 2020.
2023 – Fontbonne celebrated its Centennial Year with a nearly year-long celebration during the 2022-23 academic year. This celebration included a full schedule of religious, academic, athletic and social gatherings. Many of the planned activities centered around Fontbonne’s Catholic identity and the relationship Fontbonne shares with its founders, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet (CSJ).
Throughout the year, guest speakers from across the United States as well as current and emeriti faculty gave lectures on campus. Student organizations, clubs, and athletic teams were highlighted and honored. The year will concluded with a festive gala; a heritage trip to France, the home of Mother St. John Fontbonne, and a student service encounter in Peru where the CSJs live out their charism of serving the dear neighbor without distinction.