Création UCLy façade bellecour - Histoire UCLy

UCLy : 148 years in service of students

Founded in 1875, the Catholic University of Lyon is celebrating its 148th birthday in 2023 ! Open on the world and in tune with social evolutions, UCLy has kept growing, creating new programs and sponsoring research at the intersection between sciences and humanities.

How everything started in 1875

While contemplating the imposing facade and light-filled glass roof of the Saint-Paul campus, it can be hard to magine that the History of UCLy started a few streets away, 148 years ago. It's a 15 minutes walk to the Vollon square, to be precise. At the time, it was called the Saint-Michel square, and UCLy's first home was a humble building at 4 bis. On the 25th of november 1875, a handful of students and professors held the first class in the very first Faculty of Law in Lyon, which would one day become the Catholic University of Lyon (UCLy).

Studying law outside of Paris

The founding of UCLy, together with other catholic universities in Angers, Lille, Paris and Toulouse, was the result of the law of the 12th of July 1875, granting the freedom of higher education. Up to that point, universities had been under the strict control of the State and no Faculty of Law had been created in Lyon. The city was deemed too volatile for students, with fears of a social explosion between rich merchants and poor factory workers. Outside of Paris, universities were instead kept to cities such as Valence, Dijon and Grenoble, thought to be quieter.

As soon as the law was passed, a group of lawyers from Lyon commited to creating a catholic university, under the patronage of the bishops of 25 dioceses in the East of France. The school opened on the 8th of october 1875. It was the first university that allowed students from Lyon to study law without leaving the city. At the time, higher education was the prerogative of a small elite. Barely 1% of students obtained the prestigious baccalauréat which granted access to university studies. Today, that number is more than 80%.

A vision for education

At the head of the group of lawyers that created the Catholic University of Lyon was Lucien Brun (1822-1898), who became a Deputy of the National Assembly, and a Senator. Brun supported freedom of higher education, alongside baron Armand Chaurand, founder of the newspaper La Gazette de Lyon, Paul Brac de la Perrière, lawyer and president of the French Bar Association.

The Commitee of Organisation of the Catholic University was created on the 24th of August 1875, presided by Mgr Thibaudier, auxilliary bishop of Lyon. The first order of business was to raise the necessary funds for such a project. After a few weeks, they were able to put together 150 000 francs, a considerable sum at the time, for teacher salaries and rent for a building.

The founders hastily found and furnished a modest building on 4bis Saint-Michel square, a few minutes away from Bellecour square, in the heart of Old Lyon. The entire university was limited to a lecture hall, a reading room, a teachers' room and two classrooms. Just enough, just in time to welcome a few bacheliers (who at the time graduated in november).

How many students followed the classes of the university in that first year? Unfortunately it's impossible to give an accurate number, as our archives do not go this far. We do know, however, that 5 years later there were 161 students in UCLy, the same number as the newly founded State University on the other side of the Rhône river. Two years later, UCLy stopped being exclusively a law school with the creation of the Faculty of Sciences and Letters.

Cours en 1875 à l'UCLy

1875 - 2023 : 148 years of evolution

With close to 150 years of a rich, sometimes tumultuous past, UCLy has become a well-recognized institution in the academic landscape of Lyon and Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. A new page of History opened in 2020 with the opening of UCLy's third location, the first outside of Lyon, the Alpes-Europe campus in Annecy. The university is an involved actor in Lyon, fostering permanent dialog with the socio-economic world, public institutions and the world of higher education as a whole.

In 2023, freedom of higher education no longer is a fight or a competition, it is an established reality, being lived on a daily basis through many partnerships established through the years in Lyon, in France and across the world. UCLy has been certified by the French Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation as an EESPIG (private higher education institution of public interest), a strong symbol of recognition for 148 years of service for its students and the general public.

Rooted in the values of universality and oppenness of catholicism, the academic community of UCLy is composed of students and staff from a wide range of philosophical, religious and political backgrounds and motivations. At the heart of UCLy's approach is a simple objective: To help students find not only success, but also personal fulfillment and growth.

Hall intérieur du campus Saint-Paul de jour

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