Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

From the sixteenth century, the foundation of a Catholic university in Switzerland had often been canvassed among the Catholic cantons. The need of such an institution was with the passage of time ever more keenly felt, as the fact that higher educational institutions existed only in the Protestant cantons ensured for the Protestants a certain intellectual ascendancy. In spite of the pressing nature of the case, however, the want of the necessary means and the jealousy among the Catholic cantons combined to prevent any solution of the question being arrived at. From the very beginning, the inhabitants of Fribourg had laboured most zealously for the establishment of a university in their town. Out of their own resources, they founded in 1763 a school of law, which was continued till 1889 and then merged in the juristic faculty of the university. During the nineteenth century, the Catholic movement in Switzerland, making the Swiss "Pius-Verein" its rallying-centre, reinaugurated the agitation for a Catholic university. The Catholic Conservative Government of Fribourg finally took the matter in hand, and George Python, State Councillor for Fribourg and from 1886 Director of Public Education, who enjoyed the fullest confidence of the people, effected the foundation of the university. It was certainly a bold undertaking for a little state of only 119,000 (in 1909, 130,000) inhabitants, but the energy and political acumen of Python coupled with the unselfish liberality of the legislative council were a certain guarantee of success. The conversion of the public debt under favourable conditions in 1886 resulted in a saving of 2,500,000 francs (500,000 dollars), and on 24 December of the same year the supreme council resolved to set aside this sum as a foundation fund for the proposed university. On 4 October, 1889, a second resolution was passed, appropriating the interest on this capital to the foundation of the first faculties, which were opened in the following November, the juristic faculty (the extended school of law ) with nine professors and the philosophical (for philosophy, literature, and history) with eighteen.

The town of Fribourg, seat of the university, contributed half a million francs towards the funded capital of the university, and in the autumn of 1890 the theological faculty was instituted with seven professors, In accordance with an agreement between the Government of Fribourg and Father Larocca, General of the Dominicans, this faculty was with the sanction of Leo XIII entrusted to the Dominican Order, and placed directly under the care of the Holy See. Many secular priests, however, have held chairs in the theological faculty, which has received from Rome the privilege of granting academical degrees (baccalaureate, licentiate, doctorate) in theology. The other faculties confer only the degrees of licentiate and doctorate. By the appropriation to the university of the profit on the public supply of water and electricity, and of a fixed annual sum from the newly-founded state bank, the further development of these three faculties and the establishment of the faculty of mathematical physics were made possible. The new faculty was opened in 1895 with eleven professors, and, as the institution of infirmaries has already been some years in progress, the establishment of the medical faculty-the only story now needed to crown the academical edifice-may be expected at an early date. Meanwhile, chairs of physiology and bacteriology have been instituted in connexion with the faculty of mathematical physics.

Despite many difficulties, including the crisis caused by the wanton dismissal of eight German professors in 1898, the development of the University of Fribourg has been steadily maintained. As a cantonal public institution, it stands on the same legal footing as the other universities of Switzerland. The supreme authority is vested in the Cantonal Department of Public Education (i.e the State Council), practically all the expenses being borne by the canton. The general constitution of the university is regulated by the Charter of 1 December, 1899. Leo XIII viewed its foundation with a great satisfaction to which he gave personal expression in many letters to the authorities of the Canton, to the university itself, and to the Swiss episcopate. The main sources of revenue, according to the cantonal budget for 1909, are as follows: Interest on foundation fund, 125,000 francs; yearly contributions from state bank, 80,000 frs.; profits arising from the electric and water works, 150,000 frs.; lease, 2,580 frs. To this sum of 357,580 frs. must be added 7700 frs. for the legal chairs and other endowments (especially the "Grivel" and the "Westermaier"). Many funds have been established for the assistance of students, and the institution of prizes.

In accordance with the wishes of its founder, the university has always maintained an international character, which consists not alone in the appointment of native professors to teach the history and literature of their native lands, but also in the various nationalities of the students attracted to the university. The lectures are delivered in Latin, French, and German. In the winter term of 1908-9, the teaching staff consisted of 70 lecturers from ten different lands, but especially from Switzerland, Germany, France, and Austria. Their distribution among the faculties was as follows: Theology, 13 ordinary and 2 extraordinary professors; Law, 14 ordinary and 4 extraordinary professors; Philosophy, 19 ordinary and 3 extraordinary professors; Mathematical Physics 10 ordinary and 3 extraordinary professors with 2 I4ivatdozen~en. The increase in the attendance at the university may be judged from this table of matriculated students:

Winter Term.




Mathematical Physics








Of the 568 students in the winter term of 1908-9 181 were Swiss, 90 Germans, 86 Russians (Poles and Lithuanians), 32 Bulgarians, 31 Italians, 23 from the United States, 21 from Austria-Hungary, and the remainder from eleven other lands.

The university is governed by the rector, elected each year at the general meeting of the ordinary professors. He is assisted by the senate, which consists of the rector, pro-rector, and the deans and assistant deans of the separate faculties. At the head of each faculty stands the dean, who also holds office for a single year. The professors are appointed by the Council of State on the recommendation of the members of the faculty concerned, except that in the appointment of professors of theology due attention is always paid to the requirements of ecclesiastical law and the terms of the agreement with the Dominican Order. Candidates are recognized as matriculated students on the production of a certificate which can be procured by following a certain course of academical studies in their native towns. Since 1905, women are allowed to matriculate, and, in addition to the regular students, permission may be given by the rector to other persons to attend particular lectures. As such persons numbered 119 in the winter term 1908-9, the total number of students who attended lectures during this period was 687. All the matriculated students are enrolled in a general association, called the "Akademia", and also contribute to an academic sick-fund. Many societies have been founded by the students of various lands for the promotion of social and intellectual intercourse. Thus, the "Columbia" has been instituted by the students from the United States, and publishes its own bulletin "The Columbia". There are three colleges for theological students: the Albertinum, Salesianum, and Canisianum, A special university society has been inaugurated to further the interests of the university. The university library is associated with that of the canton (which contains 140,000 volumes, 16,000 brochures, 534 manuscripts, and 350 incunabula), a new building for the accommodation of both libraries having been opened in 1908. The library expends an annual sum of 16,500 frs. in the purchase of books and journals. There are separate libraries for the different academical courses and institutes, 7650 frs. being spent annually on those in connection with the theological, legal, and philosophical faculties, and 30,000 frs. for those of the faculty of mathematical physics. The university has its own scientific publication, the "Collectanea Friburgensia", for which only contributions from professors are accepted, and in which twenty-five works have already appeared in three series. The list of the publications of the university lecturers, which is appended to the rector's annual report, gives one a good idea of the activity of the professors in other directions.

More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed between 1907 and 1912 in fifteen hard copy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online


Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

the FEED
by Catholic Online

  • Nun fatally attacked in South Sudan
  • Daily Readings for Wednesday, May 25, 2016
  • St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi: Saint of the Day for Wednesday, May 25, 2016
  • Goodbye El Nino! Hello La Nina! What does this mean for the Atlantic ...
  • Daily Reading for Thursday, May 26th, 2016 HD Video
  • Benedict XVI to make public appearance?
  • Prayer to Holy Michael the Archangel HD Video

Daily Readings

Reading 1, First Peter 1:10-16
10 This salvation was the subject of the search and investigation of the ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 98:1, 2-3, 3-4
1 [Psalm] Sing a new song to Yahweh, for he has performed wonders, his ... Read More

Gospel, Mark 10:28-31
28 Peter took this up. 'Look,' he said to him, 'we have left everything ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for May 24th, 2016 Image

St. David I of Scotland
May 24: David, the youngest son of Scotland's virtuous ... Read More