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History of CSP

The History of Concordia University, St Paul

Concordia University, St. Paul was founded in 1893 to provide a Christian learning environment for young men preparing to enter the professional ministries of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

Today, Concordia University continues to grow to meet the needs of students, the church and the community, while at the same time holding steadfast its historical values and mission.

Historical Timeline

  • Concordia University, St. Paul was founded in 1893 to provide a Christian learning environment for young men preparing to enter the professional ministries of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

    Originally founded as Concordia High School, the first class takes up residence in temporary quarters on Agate St. (near the current State Capitol) on September 13, 1893. The following year, Concordia spends $22,000 to purchase land and buildings previously owned by the state training school for boys in a then remote location on St. Anthony Ave., midway between downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul.

    Concordia adds a fourth year of high school, then freshman and sophomore college years.

    Enrollment growth leads to new construction, including the Gymnasium (1911; converted in 1955 to Graebner Memorial Chapel) and Recitation Hall (1918; later Classroom Building, now Meyer Hall).

    Campus as seen circa 1912, looking northeast at Old West (left), Old Main (rear), Old South, (center), and the gymnasium (right)

  • Concordia earns accreditation as a two-year college in 1921. Students complete their first two years at Concordia College then transfer to a Concordia senior college or seminary to finish their education or divinity degree.

    Concordia’s iconic Luther State is dedicated in October 1921. With a growing student population, the East Dormitory (1925; later renamed Luther Hall) and Dining Hall (1930; now the Winget Student Life Center) are constructed to meet the needs of the community.

    Concordia feels the effects of the financial panic of 1929 and the Great Depression and by 1931, enrollment has dropped by more than 50 percent. The Synod considers closing the college for a few years to wait out the financial slump. Budgets are slashed, three residence halls stand empty, students work around campus without pay, and food donations from congregations help supplement the school’s food service. It is one of the most difficult eras in the young school’s history, but Concordia survives.

    The Luther Statue originally stood along Syndicate St. between Recitation Hall and Luther Hall. It was later moved for the construction of the Poehler Administration Building in the late 1960s and then relocated to the Hamline Ave. side of campus in 2012.

  • As the United States enters World War II, Concordia’s fortunes shift in a more positive direction. Concordia’s pre-ministerial program is reformatted into a trimester system to eliminate the summer break, which would have made students eligible for the military draft. Enrollment increases and Concordia is poised to respond to a shortage of pastors in The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. Concordia celebrates its 50 year anniversary in 1943 and makes plans for a bright future.

    The Classroom Building (now Meyer Hall) as it appeared in the 1940s

  • The planning and fundraising for growth in post-war years quickly comes to fruition. Concordia welcomes its first class of female students in fall 1950, and the college begins granting Associate in Arts degrees in 1951. The college earns North Central Association accreditation in 1959.

    Concordia enters a period of robust campus expansion to meet the needs of a growing student population. With the need for more library space than the rooms in the basement of Luther Hall allowed, the Buenger Memorial Library (1951) is built and dedicated in memory of Concordia’s first president. The Lutheran Memorial Center (1953), a gymnasium/auditorium and memorial to the service and sacrifice of war veterans, is built. The original 1911 gymnasium is converted to Graebner Memorial Chapel in 1955. To house the expanding student population, Centennial Hall (1957), Minnesota Hall (1958) and Walther Hall (1959) are added to the campus footprint.

    The Lutheran Memorial Center is under construction in 1950

  • Concordia expands its curriculum in 1962 to include a four-year college degree and awards its first Bachelor of Arts degrees two years later. By 1967, Concordia earns accreditation for its four-year liberal arts program and joins the Minnesota Private College Council.

    In 1968, Concordia High School officially separates from the college, merges with St. Paul Lutheran High School, and moves to its suburban location under its new name, Concordia Academy.

    Rapid enrollment growth leads to another two and a half decades of expansion and new construction including the student residence, Wollaeger Hall (1963), Arndt Science Hall (1964), Poehler Administration Building (1969), Buetow Music Center (1972), the Student Union (1972; now Concordia Art Center), and the Hyatt Village residence hall (1984).

    Concordia responds to a growing need for minority teachers in the public schools by forming the Metropolitan Teacher Education Program Selection (M-TEPS) in 1968, which enrolls African-American and other under-represented groups in a program designed to supplement the curriculum with personal coaching, tutoring as needed and academic planning. The program was reformed in 1983 as the Southeast Asian Teacher (SEAT) Licensure Program, which serves Hmong and other minority students in a similar fashion.

    Students enjoy beautiful weather on the Knoll in front of the Student Union

  • Concordia becomes the first private college in Minnesota to offer an accelerated degree completion program for adult students in 1985. The cohort-based model is wildly popular with adult students who want to earn their undergraduate degree and keep their full-time jobs. Enrollment tops 1,000 students for the first time in 1987. A master’s degree option is added in 1990. Students in these cohort-based programs now represent more than half of the institution’s overall enrollment.

    Concordia adopts its current mission statement in 1992. The institution is renamed Concordia University, St. Paul in 1997 to better represent the curricular and organizational changes implemented over the previous decades, and adopts a semester system.

    Also in 1997, Concordia University becomes the first private, four-year institution in Minnesota to become a laptop campus, providing a laptop computer to all full-time traditional students. Soon wireless internet becomes available throughout campus.

    Concordia becomes the first private university in Minnesota to compete in the NCAA Division II in 1999. They bid farewell to the Concordia Comets nickname and introduced a new athletics identity, the Golden Bears. Critics feared Concordia would fare poorly against the larger schools in the highly competitive Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC), but the Golden Bears made a respectable showing and were soon bringing home conference and national championship honors.

    New construction on campus includes the Gangelhoff Center (1993) and E.M. Pearson Theatre (1994).

    The Gangelhoff Center sits at the corner of Hamline and Marshall on the southwest side of campus

  • The student population tops the 2,000 mark in 2003 as Concordia adds new programs and grows in the adult undergraduate and graduate spaces. Concordia dedicates a long-awaited and much needed Library Technology Center (2003), which includes seven classrooms and a popular adjacent commons space and café.

    In 2004, Concordia becomes the home to the world’s first Center for Hmong Studies. The Center exists to promote the scholarly interest, the rich legacy and the complex heritage of the Hmong people. In 2006, the Center moves into the former president’s residence on Carroll Ave.

    Concordia wins its first NCAA Division II National Championship in 2007 as the women’s volleyball team begins of seven consecutive national titles. CSP played host to the 2008 and 2009 national volleyball tournament as well, clinching a three-peat on its own court.

    Construction finishes on the Cross of Christ Fellowship Center (2007) addition to Graebner Memorial Chapel and the apartment-style Residence Life Center (2008), which is rededicated as Holst Hall in 2011. Holst Hall sits where Walther, Minnesota, and Centennial Halls stood along Concordia Ave.

    In 2009, Concordia plays its first football and soccer games at the brand-new Sea Foam Stadium. The lead gift to the project comes from alumnus Phil Fandrei of the Sea Foam Sales Company. The facility provides a football/soccer field with artificial turf, running track and field event space, outdoor plaza, seating for 3,500 spectators and an inflatable dome for winter months.

    The courtyard of Holst Hall provides an additional open space for students to relax and recreate

  • In September 2012, Concordia announces a bold tuition reset that reduces traditional undergraduate tuition by $10,000 starting in fall 2013. Following the reset, Concordia surpasses the 3,000 student mark in 2013 and the 4,000 student mark in 2014. Also in 2014, Concordia launches its first doctoral program, the doctorate of physical therapy (DPT) Program, which is first housed in the former Moenkemoeller Hall, which is renamed Thompson Hall after the benefactors who helped fund the renovation and refurbishment.

    Another space that sees a new use is the former Student Union, which in 2013 becomes the Concordia Art Center to house Concordia’s visual arts programs. The Buetow Music Auditorium also undergoes a renovation in 2016.

    In 2016 and 2017, the Golden Bears women’s volleyball team wins its 8th and 9th national titles. Additionally, the Golden Bears add three new athletic programs during the decade: women’s lacrosse (2017), co-ed eSports (2019), and women’s swimming & diving (2020).

    In 2018, enrollment reaches the 5,000 student mark for the first time as Concordia adds new programs and remains one of the most affordable private universities in Minnesota.

    After leasing space in the Central Midway Building across the freeway from the main campus to accommodate growth, Concordia purchases the building in 2019, renaming it Ries Tower after retiring president Rev. Dr. Thomas Ries. Ries Tower houses Concordia’s health sciences programs, including DPT, nursing, and diagnostic medical sonography.

    With the announced closure of sister school Concordia University Portland in early 2020, Concordia steps in to integrate that university’s nursing program into its own, and expands its physical footprint into a new city.

    Because of Concordia’s investment in online learning capabilities, the closure of campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 results in only one lost day of learning. Concordia reopens in the fall of 2020 with a record enrollment of more than 5,500 students, and comes through the disruption and challenges of the pandemic stronger and more resilient.

    Concordia begins the 2020s as the second largest private university in Minnesota, continuing to grow and remain affordable while providing a high-quality and career-relevant education for 21st century learners.


    Ries Tower shines the Concordia name and monogram nine stories above Interstate 94 and the Midway District of St. Paul

Presidential History

Rev. Dr. Brian Friedrich (2020- )
Rev. Dr. Tom Ries (2011 – 2019)
Rev. Dr. Robert Holst (1991 – 2011)
Rev. Dr. John Johnson (1989 – 1990)
Rev. Dr. Alan Harre (1984 – 1988)
Rev. Dr. Gerhardt Hyatt (1976 – 1984)
Rev. Dr. Harvey Stoegemoeller (1971 – 1976)
Rev. Dr. William Poehler (1946 – 1970)
Rev. Dr. Martin Graebner (1927 – 1946)
Rev. Dr. Theodore Buenger (1893 – 1927)