Our Campus History

The Dominican Sisters of San Rafael founded Dominican University of California in 1890. As one of California’s oldest universities, our history and traditions have helped build Dominican’s reputation for excellence in scholarship, research and service.

Our Beginning

The history of Dominican University of California dates back to 1850, when Joseph Alemany, a Spanish Roman Catholic archbishop and missionary, was appointed as the first archbishop of Monterey, California. In 1853 he became the first archbishop of San Francisco. 

As Bishop Alemany traveled to his new post in California, he stopped in Paris and asked to have a few Dominican sisters join him to teach the children of the California gold miners. Sister Mary Goemaere volunteered to accompany the new bishop and to begin a school in his new diocese.

After months of traveling, Sister Mary and two priests arrived in Monterey, where they converted a house into a convent and school. Within three years, nine women — including three Americans, one Mexican and five Spaniards — joined Sister Mary to form the Congregation of the Most Holy Name. 

In 1889, following the leadership of Mother Mary Goemaere, Mother Louis O'Donnell moved the congregation’s central administration, a school, and novitiate from Benicia to San Rafael, California.

The Congregation of the Most Holy Name, more commonly known as the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, filed Articles of Incorporation with the California Secretary of State in 1890. They opened a junior college in 1915 and two years later, Dominican College — a four-year institution named for St. Dominic de Guzman — became a reality.

Our Past

During World War I and the Great Depression, Dominican continued to thrive.
In 1917, Dominican became the first Catholic college in California to grant B.A. degrees to women. The following year, Dominican purchased Meadowlands, converting the first floor into classrooms and the two upper stories into student living quarters. 

During the next 15 years, Dominican built the Angelico Hall music conservatory, added a large wing to Meadowlands, purchased the Forest Meadows field for athletics, erected the Fanjeaux student residence and dining facility, built Guzman Hall for academic and administrative purposes, and purchased the property now known as Benicasa.

Campus expansion and renovation continued through the 1950s, necessitated by new curriculum and fields of study, and an increase in faculty members and students.

In 1965, Dominican acquired Bertrand Hall after erecting the Pennafort residence hall (1958), the Caleruega dining hall and kitchen (1959), and the Archbishop Alemany Library (1963).

Dominican became fully co-educational in 1971.

In 1924, the State Board of Education empowered Dominican to recommend candidates for public school teaching credentials, enabling graduates to teach in California public schools.

In 1931, the American Association of University Women recognized Dominican College. In 1932, Dominican became a member of the Northwestern Association of Colleges.

In 1990, Dominican’s nursing program received accreditation from the National League for Nursing. Today, the university is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, as well as the State of California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

Dominican College of San Rafael became Dominican University of California at the beginning of the 2000-2001 academic year. The new designation recognized Dominican's status as a university with graduate degree programs, a diverse student body, and a global perspective.

  • Mary B. Marcy, DPhil (2011-2021)
  • Joseph R. Fink, PhD (1988-2011)
  • Neil Webb, PhD (1987)
  • Barbara Bundy, PhD (1980-1987)
  • Sister Samuel Conlan (1968-1980)
  • Sister Patrick Harney (1945-1968)
  • Sister Thomas Vaughan (1935-1945)
  • Mother Raymond O’Connor (1929-1935)
  • Mother Louis O’Donnell (1890-1929)