Once Upon The Cliff

How did Briar Cliff University get here? A little dive into our University's history.

In 1929, the 175-foot hill located on the western outskirts of Sioux City, Iowa was covered in only briar patches. But two people, Mother Mary Bominical Wienke, Major Superior of the Sisters of Saint Francis, and the most Reverend Edmond Heelan, Bishop of the Sioux City Diocese, had a Dream. 

On March 9, 1929, Mother Dominica and Bishop Heelan met with members of the Sioux City community. Businessmen attending that meeting committed themselves to raising a total of $25,000 to support the establishment of the college in Sioux City.


After this showing of community support, significant events followed in rapid succession. On Sept. 18, 1930, the college, named Briar Cliff after the hill on which it is located, was dedicated. Four days later, 25 women started classes in Heelan Hall, the only building on campus.



In 1937, Briar Cliff’s two-year program was extended to four years. In 1965, 55 men were admitted to Briar Cliff and co-education was formalized in 1966 with the admission of 150 full-time male students. The innovative Weekend College program started in the fall of 1979. The spring of 1980 saw the addition of a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Master’s programs were implemented in the summer of 2001. The college officially became a University on June 1, 2001. The first doctoral degree, the Doctorate of Nurse Practitioner, was introduced in 2013.


Over the years, Briar Cliff adjusted to many student changes and needs by adding a fourth story to Heelan Hall in 1948 and the Bishop Mueller Library and the Chapel of Our Lady of Grace in 1959. The sixties brought even more change, especially in the residential living area, when Alverno, Toller and Noonan halls were added. A new gymnasium, the Newman Flanagan Center, was constructed in 1982. In 1988, the Baxter-DiGiovanni Living & Learning Center became the first apartment-style living quarters built on campus.


The 43,350 square-foot Stark Student Center opened in the fall of 2000. Facilities for student-athletes were further enhanced with the construction of the McCoy Arnold Center, completed in 2004, and the acquisition of the Charger Dome in South Sioux City, Neb., in 2012. Renovation of the main academic building, Heelan Hall, was completed in 2013. It included the addition of an 8,340-foot atrium, state-of-the-art nursing, chemistry and biology laboratories and an integrated digital media lab. In 2015, Briar Cliff opened a secondary Sioux City campus, “Briar Cliff University at Mayfair,” to support further graduate degree programming. The new campus contains-cutting edge health science laboratories and classroom space.


While the mission of the University has not changed in more than 80 years, Briar Cliff continues to grow and expand, always placing the needs of students first.



The Briar Cliff University campus continues to grow, expand, and improve. Over 90 years later, Heelan Hall still stands proudly in the center of campus as the primary building for the University's classes.


Take a virtual or in-person tour and learn more about our campus today!