A formal theology department at Saint Louis University only goes back to 1929, when departments were just beginning at the University. Teaching of religion and spiritual formation of students, however, was central to the university from its founding in 1818 for "the moral and literary improvement of the pupils" and for instilling in them "a due sense of religion, the foundation of all morality."
The first chair of the 1929 department was Thomas J. Motherway, S.J. There was only one other Jesuit listed in the department that year. Other Jesuits also taught religion, though they were primarily members of different departments. The original Religion Department became the Theology Department in 1964 to highlight its more professional standing by that date. Early on, the department offered just three or four very basic courses, but with changing student and faculty needs and resources, theology offerings became much more diverse.
The university established a School of Theology in 1834 for the training of Jesuit seminarians. That school was transferred first to Boston and then to Woodstock near Washington, D.C., between 1860 and 1899, but it was reestablished in St. Louis in 1899. In 1931 it moved once again, this time to St. Mary's College in the middle of Kansas, where it was given the right to confer Roman Catholic ecclesiastical degrees in 1934.
In the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, the School of Theology moved back to St. Louis in 1967. It was reconstituted as a typical American divinity school, led by Jesuits, but supported by other Roman Catholic religious orders. The new Divinity School offered an array of degree and certificate programs, including Ph.D. degrees in Dogmatic and Systematic Theology, in Historical Theology, and in Biblical Languages and Literature. The undergraduate Department of Theology had also begun a M.A. summer program in Scripture in 1966, which four years later was changed to a more general M.A. in Religious Studies. The Divinity School brought its excellent theological library to St. Louis; with later additions it is one of the strongest theological libraries in the Midwest.
Financial exigencies forced the university to close the Divinity School in 1975 and meld it with the undergraduate Theology Department, renamed the Department of Theological Studies. Though all programs of the Divinity School initially continued, gradually they were reduced to the present Ph.D. in Historical Theology and the M.A. degrees in Theology and Religious Education.
The department faculty, originally all Jesuit, began in the 1960's to include other clerics and nuns, lay men and women, and both Catholics and Protestants. And, whereas the original faculty had only the standard Jesuit seminary training, by the 1970's all faculty had doctoral degrees from distinguished universities in Europe and North America. Before 1972 only Catholic undergraduates took theology courses, but since then all students do. Originally only Jesuit seminarians were enrolled in graduate theology programs; since the 1960's, graduate theology programs include clerics and laity, Catholics and Protestants, men and women.