The "Universitas Benedictina Lucernensis"
Catholic religious orders began to set up their own private schools as a counterweight to the perceived liberal outlook of the new cantonal secondary schools. The canton of Fribourg even started its own Catholic university in 1889, the first in Switzerland.
In addition, the city of Lucerne played an important role in setting up a network of Catholic social and political organisations. This network included the first Swiss Catholic conference, held in Lucerne, and a number of Catholic associations and the Swiss Catholic party (Schweizerische Katholische Volkspartei) that were established in Lucerne.
However, there was still no university in Lucerne. In 1919, a project commenced to form a university with four faculties and 44 teaching chairs. The plan anticipated using the Hotel Montana as the site for the university. However, the project foundered on competition from Fribourg.
You can find out more about this in the audio contribution or in the complete text "The "Universitas Benedictina Lucernensis"".
The culture wars in Switzerland drove the Catholic-conservatives into the defensive and at the same time brought about an energetic building of alliances. The education system was considered particularly sensitive. To shield their own sons and daughters from the liberal worldviews of the then new cantonal grammar schools, monasteries founded own boarding institutions. This included Ingenbohl, Menzingen, Einsiedeln, Engelberg, Disentis, Sarnen and Stans. The crowning glory was a Catholic university in 1889 in the French-speaking rural town of Fribourg. This university functioned as the spiritual centre that forged a cadre of Swiss Catholics. This university also made it possible to provide higher education in the spirit of Catholic social ideals.
After the culture war had been settled externally, the Catholics in Switzerland undertook various efforts to overcome their marginalized position in society. This included the establishment of a network of Catholic institutions. Lucerne played an important role in this process: the first Swiss Catholic Day was held here in 1903, and it was here that the Swiss Catholic People's Association was founded in 1904, the Swiss Catholic Women's Federation in 1912, and the Swiss Catholic People's Party in the same year. However, the Catholics of Lucerne were still without their own university.
In the fall of 1919, the Lucerne lawyer Franz Bühler and the Head of the Chur Seminary and later auxiliary bishop, Anton Gisler, established a university committee. Its ambitious goal was to create a second university for Catholic Switzerland with the four classic faculties of theology, philosophy, law and medicine. This new university was intended to have 44 chairs. The professors of the first three faculties were to receive 10,000 Swiss francs per year, the medical professors twice as much. In terms of funding, the idea was to have a private church foundation rather than rely on public authorities. Professors were to be appointed by the board of trustees, and confirmed by the Pope. The necessary funds were to be generated from revenue from the foundation endowment, which would be provided by private donors, Swiss bishops, several monasteries, the government of Lucerne and even the Pope. As the seat of the university, the initiators envisaged one of the large hotels that was languishing in the post-war period, preferably Hotel Montana.
The Bishop of Chur, Georg Schmid von Grüneck, took on the task of informing Pope Benedict XV in Rome about the project. In order to win his favour, the newly created institution was given the name ‘Universitas Benedictina Lucernensis’. In May 1920, the German aristocrat Theodor von Cramer-Klett, a friend of Schmid's, presented the Pope with a detailed plan. By chance, the Bishop of Fribourg, Marius Besson, was at the Curia at the same time and learned of the initiative. Fribourg was alarmed. A special envoy, consisting of State Councillor Ernest Perrier and Ulrich Lampert, the dean of Fribourg’s law faculty, travelled to Rome. In a private audience with Benedict XV they described the project in the darkest of colours. They spoke of the notorious jealousy with which the people of Lucerne regarded the people of Fribourg. There was a real attitude of obstruction, they said, and it seemed that the people of Lucerne were more likely to send their sons to liberal universities than to let them study in Fribourg. The Pope's initial benevolence towards the Lucerne project was thus reversed, and a cleverly organized press campaign from St. Gallen to Geneva did the rest. The suspicion that a university in Lucerne was a plan conceived in Germany, remotely controlled by industrialists and even by the Reich government itself, served as an argument.
To mediate, Gonzague de Reynold, a literary scholar from Fribourg and a lecturer at the University of Berne, proposed the creation of a single, nationwide Catholic university with two locations and a division of the faculties: medicine in Lucerne, the rest in Fribourg. But the matter could not be resolved in this way. The Bishop of Basel opposed the planned financing from church funds, and at the beginning of 1922 a papal statement reached Lucerne: Benedict XV sent out the message that the young Fribourg University should first be consolidated before any new work was started in Lucerne. This sealed the fate of the project.