The University of Great Falls was founded in 1932 by the Most Reverend Edwin V. O'Hara, Catholic Bishop of Great Falls, in collaboration with the Sisters of Charity of Providence and the Ursuline Sisters. Named Great Falls Junior College for Women, the two-year college was originally located in the Ursuline Academy on Central Avenue. The faculty consisted of several sisters, a few priests, and one laywoman. A year later, Great Falls Normal School was established by Sister Lucia Sullivan, S.P., and combined with the Junior College to address the need for prospective teachers in the area. In its first year, 14 women enrolled. In 1935, the registration for both the Junior College and the Normal School totaled 105 women. In 1937, the first male student enrolled, and the year following there were 19 men in attendance. There were really two schools, each operating under a different Catholic religious community. The union of the two schools was one of convenience and legality. In 1942, Great Falls Junior College for Women was discontinued because of declining enrollment. Great Falls Normal College was renamed the Great Falls College of Education. By the early 1950s it became simply the College of Great Falls under the direction of the Sisters of Providence. Classes were held in the old Columbus Hospital. In September of 1995, the College was renamed the University of Great Falls.
In 1944, the Sisters of Providence purchased land south of the city and in the 1950s plans were made to move the College of Great Falls to the new campus. The new campus opened in 1960. At that time there were eleven buildings. Faculty offices were in the north end of the Classroom Building. Administration offices were in the Library. Emilie Hall was a women’s residence hall. Priests lived in what is now the business office and a convent was housed where Providence Hall and the Galerie Trinitas now reside. A ballroom was located on the lower floor of the Student Center, where the Office of Admissions and Records and Financial Aid Office are today. After construction of the McLaughlin Center in 1966, intercollegiate athletics was established at the college and until 1984 the ‘Argos’ participated in both men’s and women’s basketball. In 2001, the University re-instituted men’s and women’s basketball, introduced women’s volleyball and converted Emilie Hall back into a residence hall. Since then, more athletic teams, more programs, and more on-campus housing have been added as the University has grown.
In 1995, the institution became the University of Great Falls. Having celebrated its 75th anniversary, it is today a Catholic Providence-sponsored university that changes students’ lives. A place of “uncommon courage” within the Providence Health & Services (PH&S) ministries, it continues to grow from its pioneer and missionary roots. The University offers to full and part-time students associate, bachelors and masters degrees through onsite courses and distance learning, inviting every student to search for truth within a community of respect, service, and courage.