History of Mercyhurst University

In 1926, the Sisters of Mercy in the Diocese of Erie founded Mercyhurst College on a hill overlooking Lake Erie. Leading the effort was Mother M. Borgia Egan, whose determination and supervision made the venture a success. The Sisters of Mercy believed strongly in the education and empowerment of women, and accordingly, Mercyhurst College was a women-only institution for its first several decades.

Since its founding nearly a century ago, Mercyhurst has undergone significant changes. From welcoming its first male students in 1969 to offering its first graduate program in 1978 to gaining university status in 2012, the institution has proven time and time again its ability not only to adapt to changing times but to put change in motion. Today, Mercyhurst enrolls approximately 3,000 undergraduate and graduate students, a far cry from its humble beginnings. Even so, Mercyhurst remains loyal to its roots in the Mercy tradition, keeping the Mercy Core Values at the heart of its mission.  

This webpage will continue to be updated as a more comprehensive account of the institutional history is developed.

History of The University Archives

The Mercyhurst University History Department established the Archival Center in the 1971. The archives were originally housed in the Learning Resources Center. In its beginnings, the Archival Center collected and preserved material related to university, local, and regional history. In September 1995, the Archives Center was named for Sister Mary Lawrence Franklin R.S.M, Mercyhurst Archivist from 1980-1994, and the Archives’ focus has since shifted towards preserving primarily Mercyhurst institutional history. The archives is now held on the 3rd floor of Hammermill Library. 

Sister Mary Lawrence Franklin

Sister Lawrence was born in Erie and was a graduate of Mercyhurst University. She taught at several elementary and secondary schools and served as the archivist for the Sisters of Mercy from 1986-1995. As a Sister of Mercy, she was active in the Mercy community and with several local volunteer organizations. A poet, Sister Lawrence had published five booklets of her work and authored From Eire to Erie, a history of the Erie Sisters of Mercy

History of The Thomas J. and Michele Ridge Collection

The Thomas J. and Michele Ridge Collection at Mercyhurst University covers the timeline of their years in public service. Consisting primarily of documents, audiovisual material, photographs, and artifacts, the Ridge Collection includes Thomas Ridge’s services as the U.S. Congressman from Pennsylvania’s 21st district (1983-1995), and, more extensively, his two terms as the 43rd Governor of Pennsylvania (1995-2001). The Collection also includes Michele Ridge’s papers from her time as First Lady of Pennsylvania (1995-2001).

Governor and Mrs. Ridge’s papers incorporate subjects of research interest regarding Erie, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and national and international topics. These subjects range from welfare reform, education, the environment, Americans with Disabilities Act, and budget balancing. Of note, the Collection includes both Governor and Mrs. Ridge’s daily schedule and every speech given from 1995-2001, the September 11th terrorist attack, and the subsequent forming of the Office of Homeland Security, the predecessor to the Department of Homeland Security.

For decades, Mercyhurst has recognized the diverse educational needs of its student population, developing programs to support those with learning differences. Since its creation in the late 1980s, Mercyhurst’s Learning Differences Program has ensured that Mercyhurst is a welcoming, uplifting academic environment for all students. In 2008, to better meet the needs of students on the autism spectrum, the AIM program was established as a component of the Learning Differences Program. AIM stands for Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst, and this program was created with the recognition that students diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders require individualized academic and social support so they can thrive in a college setting. 

The AIM program had a humble start, accepting just four students in its first two years. But it grew rapidly, thanks in part to a federal grant of $100,000. At this time, Mercyhurst also began to offer a program held in the summer to help prepare high school students with autism for college life; this program is still held annually and is now called the CREATE program. Since its inception in 2008, the AIM program has grown in size and renown. Students benefit from opportunities like social gatherings, group outings, and career training. Furthermore, the program provides comprehensive academic and social support in the form of individualized learning assessments, skill development plans, access to advanced academic counseling, and the option of specialized housing. Today, the program is now housed within Student Life rather than the Learning Differences Program.

The exponential growth of the AIM program since its creation fourteen years ago is a testament to both the program’s quality and its graduates’ success. Currently, approximately seventy students are enrolled in the AIM program to pursue bachelor’s degrees. Both the AIM and CREATE programs have both received national recognition, and Mercyhurst University has been ranked as one of the top schools for students with learning differences. Just last year, Mercyhurst announced a partnership with PricewaterhouseCoopers to establish a Cyber-Autism Pilot Program that will prepare students on the autism spectrum for careers in cybersecurity. This milestone is proof that Mercyhurst is fully committed to the success of all its students. Accordingly, the AIM program looks forward to continued success as it helps students to learn, grow, and thrive at Mercyhurst. 

Contact Us

Bryan Colvin
University Archivist
Phone: 814-824-2295
Hours: Mon-Fri 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.