The Faculty of Theology of Lucerne – a history of more than 400 years

The roots of the Faculty of Theology at the University of Lucerne stretch back as far as the 16th century, making it the oldest catholic theological teaching and research institution in Switzerland.

In 1567/68, some key figures from Lucerne tasked themselves with establishing a school and bringing Jesuits to the City of Lights. Cardinal Carlo Borromeo, the Archbishop of Milan at the time, gave the Lucerne initiative considerable backing. 

After Pope Gregory XIII had agreed to Lucerne’s petition in 1574, the first Jesuits immediately travelled to the city. They initially stayed in Hotel Schlüssel on Franziskanerplatz, where they began their educational activities on 17 August 1574. 

In the foundation charter dated 10 May 1577, the city of Lucerne committed itself to funding accommodation for 20 members of the order, to making Rittersche Palace (now the local government building) available as a collegiate building, and to constructing a respectable chapel. 

On 1 July 1600, the introduction of higher studies in philosophy and theology effectively laid the foundations of the university. Construction of the Jesuit chapel followed between 1666 und 1677. 

After Pope Clement XIV suppressed the Society of Jesus in 1773, the college was taken over by the canton of Lucerne, turning the church institution into a state one. However, lessons were still taught by members of the clergy. Vacant positions were increasingly taken by Franciscans, and then in the 19th century by secular priests. 

The grammar school was separated from the theological faculty at the end of the 19th century. In 1883, the department of theology relocated to the seminary that had recently been built by the Diocese of Basel not far from the Abbey Court Church (Hofkirche) in Lucerne. Institutional separation followed in 1910 when the department established its own rectorate. 

In April 1970, the Holy See bestowed the ecclesiastical right to award academic degrees (licentiate, doctorate, and post-doctoral) on the Faculty of Theology. On 6 May 1970, the Lucerne Council of Education confirmed the papal recognition and granted university status to the Faculty of Theology.

In 1993, the Institute of Philosophy and the departments of History and Religious Science were merged to form the Faculty of Humanities, creating a university college with two faculties. This structure remained in place until the successful referendum on the University Law on 21 March 2000. 

Since then, the Faculty of Theology has formed part of the youngest university in Switzerland alongside the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, and the School of Law.

(Source: Weitlauff, Manfred: Luzern, Theologische Fakultät, in: Theologische Realenzyklopädie; Sonderdruck; Band XXI; Berlin, New York 1991, pp. 630–634.)