Marian University opened as Marian College on Sept. 8, 1936, with eight faculty and 17 full-time and 25 part-time

students. The Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes (CSA), founded as a teaching order by pioneer Father Caspar Rehrl, sponsored and staffed the fledgling institution. The Sisters previously had received their teacher education at either Marquette College (now University) or Oshkosh State Teachers College (now the University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh). When the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction barred the Sisters from student-teaching in public schools while wearing religious habits, Sisters Aloysia Leickem and Vera Naber petitioned to create their own college. Sister Aloysia became Marian’s first president and Sister Vera became Marian’s first academic dean.

Marian received accreditation in 1941 to grant a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education, with Marian’s first eight degrees awarded to CSA Sisters that August. The first lay graduates received their degrees in 1942. By 1950, Marian boasted 86 full-time and 145 part-time students attending day, evening, and summer classes in a convent next to St. Agnes Hospital. Although founded as a women’s college, Hal F. Hornby, superintendent of Fond du Lac rural schools, attended art and music classes with his wife in 1940, making him the first male student. The institution officially became coeducational in 1970.

When the St. Agnes School of Nursing program closed in 1967, Marian absorbed it into its Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) curriculum, which began in 1964.

In the mid-1960s, increasing numbers of students and faculty necessitated a move to the current 78-acre campus, bounded by South National Avenue and East Division Street. After more than 30 years of holding a single Commencement in the summer or spring, Marian began holding a fall Commencement ceremony in 1973. In spring 2011, the university returned to celebrating graduation with one joint Commencement service annually. After a gap of five years, the fall Commencement ceremony was reinstated in 2016.

Regional and national accreditation has expanded throughout the school’s history. In 1949, Marian began its affiliation with Catholic University of America and was also recognized by the National Catholic Educational Association. When the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools (now known as the Higher Learning Commission [30 N. LaSalle St. Suite 2400, Chicago, Ill. 60602-2504, 312.265.0456,]) accredited Marian for teacher education in 1960, they encouraged Marian’s administration to strengthen the liberal arts and add more academic majors. The University’s commitment to the liberal arts has continued since then.

In 1987, the Higher Learning Commission approved Marian’s Master of Arts degree in Education, and the first 12 master’s candidates received degrees at the May 1989 Commencement. The original Master of Science program in Quality, Values, and Leadership graduated its first class in 1994. The program was altered in 2008 to grant a Master of Science with concentrations in Administration of Justice Leadership; Grief and Bereavement Leadership; and Organizational Leadership. In 2015, this degree was enhanced again to offer a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership. The first Master of Science in Nursing degrees were awarded in 2004, two years after the program’s inception. Marian’s doctorate program in Educational Administration and Leadership began in 2004, with the first Ph.D. degrees awarded in 2008. In fall 2019, Marian launched its Flex Programs, allowing adult learners to utilize four-week online courses to earn a Master’s Degree in Management, Professional Practice in Public Safety, Industrial Organizational Psychology, and Education with focuses on either Special Education or Teacher Education.

Student activities have increased dramatically since the days of Marian’s first sport, women’s volleyball, played in the basement of the old convent. Marian sponsors NCAA Division III men’s basketball, baseball, bowling, cross country, golf, hockey, lacrosse, soccer, tennis, track and field, and volleyball; and women’s basketball, bowling, cross country, golf, hockey, lacrosse, soccer, softball, tennis, track and field, and volleyball. Marian teams have won 67 conference regular season titles, 29 conference tournament titles, and have gone to 15 NCAA Division III tournaments since joining the NCAA in 1999.

The Marian Courtyard, completed in 1993, and the Todd Wehr Alumni Center and coffeehouse, completed in 1999, reflect a campus-wide focus on student needs. The Stayer Center for Technology & Executive Learning was completed in 2001. It is home to the Sadoff Auditorium, and offers ample classroom and meeting space for Marian University and the Fond du Lac community. The Smith Fields athletic and intramural complex opened in 2002, and in 2019 the 106,000 square-foot natural turf surface was renovated and replaced with a new artificial turf field.

Marian purchased a former medical clinic located west of campus in 2006, which was renovated to serve as a nursing resource and practice facility and renamed the Agnes Center; this facility would later house the music department, beginning in fall 2017. The Samuel and Sarah Mackey Campus Ministry Center opened in 2007 and has become a resource and retreat space for all members of the campus community. In 2008, the first pitch was thrown at the Sabre’s baseball stadium, Herr–Baker Field. The stadium underwent an extensive renovation and expansion in 2017 when the Northwoods League’s Dock Spiders team made it their home. To accommodate growing housing needs, Marian purchased Cedar Creek Apartments in 2010.

In 2011, Marian athletics benefitted from the opening of both the Lenz Field House, a state-of-the-art indoor recreation facility, and the 2,000-square-foot women’s hockey locker room. To accommodate the growing needs of the nursing profession and graduate programs, Marian purchased and renovated the Center for Health Professions in downtown Fond du Lac, and officially began offering classes during the fall semester of 2016. In October 2017, Marian embarked on a total renovation and expansion of the science building. This transformative upgrade provides for state-of-the-art equipment and 21st century learning environments. The new building, the Dr. Richard and Leslie Ridenour Science Center, opened in August 2018.

On May 1, 2008, Marian College was officially recognized by the Higher Learning Commission as Marian University.

Today, Marian is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation, Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, Council on Social Work Education, and Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology. Marian’s curriculum has received approvals from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and the Wisconsin State Board of Nursing.

Marian currently offers more than 50 undergraduate majors and minors in traditional liberal arts and preprofessional programs for traditional and adult undergraduate students. The academic colleges — The College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters and The College of the Professions — offer programs of study designed to meet a full range of professional and pre-professional academic needs for its students. The faculty consists of exceptional professionals committed to the students and to the University. More than half have earned or are candidates for a doctoral degree, and most faculty members in professional programs hold certification and are members of their respective professional associations. The student-faculty ratio is among the lowest of Wisconsin’s private colleges, as is the net tuition.

At the start of the 2019–20 academic year, Marian University welcomed the second largest first-year class with 329 new students and 76 transfer students, bringing the total traditional undergraduate enrollment to more than 1,200, and the institutional enrollment to nearly 2,000 students. In addition to the Fond du Lac campus, Marian students also attend classes online.