Moments, Milestones, Momentum

Moments. Milestones. Momentum.

By Cindy Murphy McMahon, BA’74

Over its 140 years, countless innovations and successes have been achieved by Creighton’s students, faculty and alumni. On these pages we pay tribute to historical milestones, moments in time and little-known facts that have brought Creighton University to where it is today. And, as we celebrate the past that propels us into the future, we set our sights on Creighton 150.

A Brief History

Edward and Mary Lucretia Creighton, along with Edward’s brother John, settled in Omaha in the mid-1850s. John married Mary Lucretia’s sister Sarah Emily Wareham in 1868 and the four are considered the founders of Creighton University. Edward’s work with the transcontinental telegraph and freighting, ranching, railroading and banking became a major force in the city’s economic development. The two brothers were widely known for their business enterprises, and the two couples were also widely regarded for their philanthropy.

Edward died in 1874 and his widow included $100,000 in her will to establish Creighton College in memory of her husband. Mary Lucretia died in 1876 and her executors, who included her brother-in-law John, purchased 6.2 acres of land at the northwest corner of what is currently 24th and California streets. They began to build a school and transferred the land, building and additional securities to Bishop James O’Connor of Omaha. The bishop then asked the Jesuits to operate the school, which opened on Sept. 2, 1878.

Spelling it Out

The University opened on Sept. 2, 1878, with five Jesuits, two laypeople, one college and a student body numbering 120. Today, the University has nine colleges and schools and educates more than 8,600 students. More than 70,000 alumni are currently living, working and serving across the world.

The School that I Love Best

“The School that I Love Best” was penned in 1920 by student Stephen Spitznagle, BA’24, who later become editor of the Creightonian.

Oh, good old hills of Omaha,
On thy high summits rise
The proudest dwelling of the West
To meet the stranger’s eyes.
But of all the hills of Omaha,
One’s higher than the rest,
And on its grass-grown summit is
The school that I love best.

O Creighton! Dear old Creighton!
It fills us with delight,
To know that you’ll be watching
Through each long day and night.

She views the close Missouri’s shore
And guards the city’s marts,
Where soon her youthful sons will go
To play their various parts.
And as with loving tenderness
She gazes from her height,
The work of each is watched with care,
Through each long day and night.

Spiritual Cornerstone

On June 26, 1887, the cornerstone was laid for St. John’s Church, and 4,000 spectators gathered. The bishop mistakenly dedicated the church to the wrong St. John — St. John-Before-the-Latin-Gate instead of St. John the Baptist, the patron saint of John Creighton. It wasn’t until 1977 that St. John’s, the spiritual center of Creighton University, got its steeple.

Surprise Party

Did you know a presidential candidate launched her national campaign at Creighton? On May 17, 1940, comedian Gracie Allen, accompanied by her equally famous husband, George Burns, announced her run for the U.S. presidency before thousands of cheering Creighton fans. During an earlier speech at the Washington Press Club, she had said she would accept her party’s nomination — she was representing the Surprise Party — at a convention in Omaha May 15-18, following a whistle-stop train tour that began in Hollywood. At Creighton, she told the crowd that she would nominate no vice president, since she would tolerate no vice in her administration, and she urged all Americans to be proud of the national debt because it was the biggest in the world. President Franklin Roosevelt was safely re-elected. 

The Bluejays, and Billy, Over Time

At the start, Creighton teams had no official name. They were the “White and Blue” or, because of Creighton’s location atop a bluff, the “Hilltoppers.”

In late 1923, at the request of the University’s Athletics Board and Alumni Association, the Omaha Bee newspaper held a naming contest and, after reviewing 200 entries, the Athletics Board picked “Bluejays” because the bird matched the school colors.

Joe Murphy, BSC’31, a Creighton journalism professor and head of public relations, in 1941 decided the mascot looked too much like a blue jay in a bird guide. He wanted something feistier and commissioned an artist. Murphy’s son, retired Col. John Murphy, BS’58, later recalled his father saying he “wanted Billy to look as if he had just eaten something sour.”

Murphy’s design remained largely intact for 72 years with only minor revisions. In 2013, with the move to the BIG EAST Conference, a new athletics brand and modernized Billy was unveiled.

Drawing a Crowd

The first official men’s basketball game, a 30-17 win over Peru State in 1917, was played in front of 200 fans in the newly constructed University Gym (now the Vinardi Center). Today, the men’s team averages 17,000 fans per home game at the CenturyLink Center Omaha (soon to be CHI Health Center Omaha) — the fifth highest attendance in the country.


Titles and More

Creighton’s eight women’s and six men’s teams have won 58 regular-season conference titles and 51 league tournament titles, and competed in 86 NCAA tournaments. Creighton student-athletes also have excelled in the classroom. Since the NCAA began the Academic Progress Report in 2004, each of Creighton’s teams has been honored at least once.

Football Real and Imagined

Once upon a time, there was a Creighton football team, and that team played its last game Nov. 21, 1942, a 33-19 loss to Tulsa University. The season ended before a final game could be played, due to World War II, and Creighton never again picked up the pigskin.

However, that was not the end of Creighton football, as a mythical team in the 1980s gained national attention. The charade began in 1983 when journalism student and Creightonian writer Bob McDonald, BA’84, decided to entertain the campus with the exploits of the imaginary team, which always won and went on to a national title. The campus newspaper series caught the attention of local and national media outlets, culminating in a visit by CBS News in 1983 to film a game hastily pulled together by McDonald. Creighton President the Rev. Michael G. Morrison, SJ, who was also the coach, ran for a touchdown and McDonald said later, “Of course no one was going to tackle Fr. Morrison.”

First Dormies

Creighton students got their first opportunity to live on campus in 1906 when St. John’s Hall was built at 25th and California streets. It consisted of 66 single rooms and five double rooms. Today, Creighton has nine residence halls, including Davis Square and Opus Hall, which feature apartment-style living for upper-class students.

Name that College

In 2013, the Heider College of Business became the first named school at the University — recognizing the ethical business leadership of the Heider family and the generosity of Charles “Charlie” Heider, BSC’49, HON’10, and his wife, Mary, HON’10.

Education in the First Degree

The School of Pharmacy and Health Professions likes to be first. It offered the nation’s first entry-level clinical doctorates in physical therapy (1992) and occupational therapy (1999); the first online-based Doctor of Pharmacy degree (2001); and the first online-based Doctor of Occupational Therapy program (2008).

A University “Foundress”

In 1961, a transformational memorial gift from Mable L. Criss, honoring her late husband, Dr. C.C. Criss, MD’12, took health sciences education and research programs at Creighton to a national level. To honor the contribution, the Jesuits named Criss a “foundress” of the University.

Mastering Spirituality

In 1975, Creighton offered its first courses in the Master of Arts in Christian Spirituality program, which is the longest continual such program open to laity and clergy at a Catholic university in the U.S.

Sandbags to the Rescue

When the Missouri River flooded its banks in 1952, Creighton students rushed to the rescue. Even though they were on Easter break, when the superintendent of buildings and grounds issued a radio appeal, hundreds of students joined the sandbag brigades.

At the Forefront

Creighton Jesuit the Rev. John Markoe, SJ, dedicated his life to fighting racial injustice and, up until his death in 1967, advised friends, colleagues and students to “never give an inch” in the struggle against racism. He helped galvanize the De Porres Club of Omaha, which, four years before the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott, launched a similar campaign against the Omaha and Council Bluffs Street Railway Company.

Experts on Cuba

The School of Law secured a grant in 2005 from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to study the resolution of property claims of Cubans whose assets were nationalized after the 1959 revolution. Creighton law professors and political science professors teamed up, and their resulting 280-page book in 2007 was well-received, including at conferences and in testimony before Congress; their work was consulted again in 2014 when the U.S. and Cuba took steps to normalize relations.

The Momentum Continues

The Creighton story is rife with innovators, pioneers, great thinkers — those who dared to make a difference in this world. As we look to the next decade and the University’s 150th anniversary, that creative, can-do spirit prevails. Momentum, optimism and an abiding commitment to excellence — rooted in our Jesuit, Catholic mission — light our path. The future is now — moments and milestones are in the making.

Evolving Health Care Education

Creighton is at the forefront of interprofessional, collaborative health care and is expanding its impact on health through its academic medical centers and clinical partnerships. In 2018, the College of Nursing joined the School of Medicine in providing education and care at Creighton’s Phoenix campus.

A Campus for the Future

The new School of Dentistry building is the latest of many campus improvements and innovations that have seen the University expand significantly. Creighton also is committed to caring for the environment and strengthening and developing partnerships with our North and South Omaha neighbors.

Going Global

The Global Engagement Office is the hub of global education and service programs, with partnerships and programs throughout the world. The first Creighton students traveled to the Dominican Republic in 1972. Today, promising new efforts include the Creighton Global Initiative and Global Scholars Program.

Diversity Goals

Creighton’s Jesuit mission is lived out in offices, classrooms, clinics, chapels, residence halls and more. Most recently, Creighton furthered that mission by hiring its first vice provost for Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, Christopher Whitt, PhD.

Reimagining the Liberal Arts

Creighton was founded on the bedrock of the liberal arts. The Kingfisher Institute for Liberal Arts and Professions will be a place of synergy for faculty and researchers, with a goal of discovering ways in which liberal arts and professional education can mutually reinforce and strengthen each other.