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Saint Catharine College Clock Tower photo

History of St. Catharine College

A Rich Past Ignites A Bright Future

St. Catharine College has come a long way since the Kentucky Sisters of St. Dominic established the first school in a converted still house in 1823. Some of the most exciting changes are unfolding on the campus right now. It’s a great time to be a part of St. Catharine!

Early Years

Following the school’s initial establishment, the sisters in 1839 obtained a charter to grant educational degrees. The school grew and became an important part of the region. Then, tragically, in 1904, a disastrous fire brought down the academy’s building. Far from discouraged, the sisters immediately decided to rebuild on a site adjacent to Bardstown Road, near what is now US Route 150. The motherhouse standing on the campus today is this structure, rebuilt to continue the work begun nearly a century before. A statue and plaque mark the location of the original building, a site resplendent with a field of daffodils each spring.

In 1920, the state amended the school’s charter to give it authority to found colleges and grant collegiate degrees. Over time, the academy became a normal school established to provide teacher education. This institution was the immediate forerunner of today’s St. Catharine College, which was formally founded in 1931.

Early on, the college was a women’s academy and junior college, but it became co-educational in 1951 and achieved regional accreditation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges in 1958.

The college was originally governed by the Officers of the Congregation of Dominican Sisters and the presiding Mother General served as the college president. In 1957, Sister Jean Marie Callahan, O.P., who was not an officer of the congregation, became the college president. Twelve years later, a board of directors was appointed, consisting of both members of the religious congregation and members of the local community. Though St. Catharine incorporated as a separate, independent entity in 1978, the Dominican Sisters continue to retain certain powers regarding presidential appointments and the college’s mission.

In addition to their lifelong devotion to education, the Dominican Sisters of St. Catharine are committed to many other causes throughout the United States and worldwide. On April 12, 2009, after extensive study, prayer and discernment, the Dominican Sisters of St. Catharine united with several other congregations of Dominican Sisters to form a new congregation, the Dominican Sisters of Peace.  St. Catharine College continues to be sponsored by the Dominican Sisters of Peace, promoting excellence in education and the Catholic Dominican values held dear by the founding Sisters.

Recent Years

President William D. Huston was the first man to serve as president of the college. Under his leadership, St. Catharine began offering four-year degrees and expanded its enrollment, facilities, and academic offerings. In addition, in 2010, the college announced the appointment of its first dean of the St. Catharine Graduate School.

One high point of his tenure was the completion of the Richard S. Hamilton Health and Sciences Building in 2006. This structure, complete with state-of-the-art classrooms, laboratories, and other facilities, is home to the college’s popular and highly successful health science program. Also a high point, the Emily W. Hundley Library was completed in 2013 and serves as a hub for students. 

President Cindy Meyers Gnadinger began her presidency in July of 2015. She previously served as the college's provost. Dr. Gnadinger also served many years in various roles at Bellarmine University and as the vice president for academic affairs at William Peace University in North Carolina. During her tenure, she has emphasized a student-centered campus with new additions including expanded meal plan offerings, extended library hours and more student recreation opportunities.