Creighton University is one of 28 colleges and universities in the United States operated by or with the special assistance and supervision of the Society of Jesus, a men's religious order in the Catholic Church. Mary Lucretia Creighton, who died in 1876, directed the executors of her will to establish and maintain a tuition-free Creighton College for young men as a memorial to her late husband, Edward. After the original college was built, near 24th and California Streets in Omaha, it was turned over to Bishop James O'Connor, along with the remainder of Creighton's bequest. Invited by Bishop O'Connor to conduct the college, the Jesuits began classes on September 2, 1878.
To ensure its continuity, the institution was incorporated under Nebraska law as The Creighton University on August 14, 1879, and assets of the Creighton trust were conveyed to the new corporation. Gifts from John A. Creighton, honored as a Papal Count in recognition of his benefactions and civic leadership, and from his wife, Sara Emily Creighton, sustained the University's early growth and enlarged its endowment.
With his brother Edward, John Creighton had been a leader in completing North America's first transcontinental telegraph line. The Creightons found the Great Plains well-suited to cattle raising. As pioneer Nebraska cattlemen, bankers, and merchants, they built the fortune that made their later gifts possible.
Because of rising costs and dwindling trust funds, the University was forced to begin charging its students tuition in the early 1900ís. In the 1920ís, the University began admitting women to its college divisions. Women were enrolled as early as the 1890ís in the professional schools that Creighton acquired.
In the 1960ís, in recognition of the major gifts which she made to the University, Mrs. Mabel L. Criss, the late widow of Dr. C.C. Criss, a Creighton alumnus and founder of Mutual of Omaha, was named a founder of the University along with the Creightons. During its centennial year in 1978, Mr. Peter Kiewit was named a founder of Creighton University in recognition of outstanding concern and support of the University.
In 1968, the University's all-Jesuit Board of Directors was expanded to a board of 25 members, ten of whom had to be members of the Society of Jesus. The revised Articles of Incorporation specifically provided, however, that the University President be a member of the Society of Jesus. The Board was expanded to 29 members in 1983.
In 1988, the by-laws were amended to state that at least seven members of the University Board of Directors should be members of the Society of Jesus, one of whom shall be the President of the University as an ex-officio voting member. The President of the Creighton National Alumni Board was also added to the University Board as an ex-officio voting member. Today, the Board is composed of 36 members, including eight Jesuits.
The Jesuit community at Creighton subsequently was incorporated separately.
Its members continue to sustain the institution through an annual gift, which is an important source of University income.