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 Dominica Wieneke, Major Superior of the Sisters of Saint Francis, and 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 raise 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 programs were 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. That year was also the first year that Briar Cliff Athletics began to compete as the Chargers. 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.

90+ Years of Traditions

175ft Clifftop Location

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, Nebraska, 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 satellite location in the Mayfair Campus 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 90 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.

Meet the Faces of BCU 

Briar Cliff University Foundresses

Sister Mary Irma De SotelSister Mary Irma De Sotel

Sister De Sotel was born on September 7, 1881 to Mr. and Mrs. Joseph M. De Sotel of Millville, IA. She was educated at Holy Cross and entered the Mount St. Francis Community on September 21, 1908. For many years, she was head of the sewing department at Immaculate Conception Academy, Dubuque. She also served at Briar Cliff College and St. Anthony's Home in Sioux City and at St. Francis in Dyersville, IA. Sister De Sotel died at Sacred Heart Hospital in Le Mars, IA, on July 2, 1948, and now rests in Calvary Cemetery. At the time of her death, she was survived by two sisters (Elizabeth Le Page of Peoria, IL, and Emma Nimmo of San Francisco, CA), one brother (Edward De Sotel of Postville, IA) and many nieces and nephews (including Leo Frommelt, Eldon De Sotel, Clarence De Stoal, John Pass, Harlen De Stoel, and Clarence Mcmillen).

Sister Leota (Rose Mary) DreckmanSister Leota (Rose Mary) Dreckman

Rose Mary Dreckman was born in Le Mars, IA, on May 14, 1899, the second oldest of 11 children. After attending St. Joseph School in Le Mars, she remained at home to help with the household duties for several years. On October 14, 1921, Rose Mary entered Mount St. Francis, taking the name Sister Mary Leota at Reception in 1922. Her first assignments were teaching sewing at Immaculate Conception Academy and at Dyersville. Later, she served at LaMotte, Briar Cliff College, Petersburg, and St. Mary's Orphan Home. As one of the 12 pioneer Sisters who opened Briar Cliff College in 1930, Sister Leota had the responsibility of the College Kitchen and overseeing the work of the students on contracts. Having great rapport with students, Sister Leota, smiling easily, gave corrections in a gentle, humorous way. 

Sister spent 1942-1957 at Loras College, believing like Saint Francis "that to serve a priest is to serve Christ Himself." Her last assignment was the Sewing Room at Mount St. Francis. During this time, Sister wrote in her biography: "I found my work a great source of happiness, although as head of the Sewing Department, I at times found some of the changes difficult. However, by doing what I was asking to do, all things worked out for the best." Again, she wrote: "I have always been particularly proud of having been a member of a family of 11 children and have the most wonderful parents in the world. I believe that I owe my vocation to the great faith of my parents, who after a hard day's work, prayed the rosary with us children during lent, advent, and my...and what a great joy it was for me to have three of my sisters join me in religious life!" 

Sister is survived by her sisters, Cecilia Mayrose, Sister Theona, and Sister Margaret Clare; and by one brother, Conrad Dreckman; several cousins and nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her parents, four brothers and two sisters, one of whom was Sister Angelora. 

Sister Mary Servatius GreenenSister Mary Servatius Greenen

Sister Greenen was born in Streator, IL, to John Baptist and Elizabeth Weber Greenen. She entered the congregation of the Sister of St. Francis from St. Joseph's Parish of Le Mars, IA, on February 5, 1900. She was on the faculty of the Immaculate Conception Academy in Dubuque for 21 years, serving as a principal for the last nine years. In 1930, she became the first President of Briar Cliff College, serving until 1943, then taught as a member of the faculty from 1948 to her death on April 28, 1958. At the time of her death, she was survived by two sisters (Lena and Rose Greenen).

Sister Mary Claire (Elizabeth) HoxmeierSister Mary Claire (Elizabeth) Hoxmeier

Sister Mary Claire Hoxmeier stayed at Briar Cliff, teaching biology in the Science Department for thirty-seven years. When it was time to retire, she was able to let go, writing to Mother Matilda Adams at that time that she would like "living at the Motherhouse and visiting the sick of our institutions, and the opportunities for prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, and the advantages of the library." In her retirement days, she was responsible for identification and labeling of more than one hundred varieties of trees and shrubs on the Mount St. Francis grounds, as directed by Sister Mary Claire. To this day, one can stroll about the lawn and read the aluminum tags on the tree trunks. 

Of her earlier life, she wrote: "I, Sister Mary Claire (Elizabeth Hoxmeier), am the 12th child of fifteen born to Mr. and Mrs. Theo Hoxmeier. My Mother was born at St. Donatus, IA, September 6, 1857. My father taught school for some years after his marriage and then moved to Alton, where I was born. I received my education from the Sisters of St. Francis at St. Mary's Academy in Alton. After graduation, in 1913, I taught with the Sisters at Alton until 1916. During the school year 1916-17, I taught at a country school five miles from home. In the fall of 1917, I entered the State University of Iowa, which I attended for two years. On September 10, 1919, I entered the convent. I was then 24 years old. My reception day was June 9, 1920, and my profession day was June 21, 1922. In just 1922, I received my bachelor’s degree from Columbia College. My first Mission was at La Motte, Where I taught in the high school four years. In summer of 1924, I went to Notre Dame University, where I received an M. Am. degree in 1927. In 1926, I was missioned to Immaculate Conception Academy where I taught science for four years. Since the opening of Briar Cliff College, I have been teaching in the Science Department. The year 1932-33 I studied at the State University of Iowa where I received a M.S. degree in August 1933." 

At the time of her death, her sister, Sister Mary Jeanne, was the sole survivor in her immediate family and had several nephews and nieces in California. 

Sister Mary (Louise) De Chantal LiebSister Mary (Louise) De Chantal Lieb

Louise Lieb was one of seven daughters and two sons born to William and Helen Halder Lieb in Pocahontas, IA. She entered the congregation of the Sisters of St. Francis October 2, 1903, and was received into the Novitia on June 17, 1904. Two year later, she made profession of vows. Sister Mary De Chantal spent the majority of her teaching career instructing at St. Mary's High School in Remsen, IA. In 1930, Sister was appointed as Briar Cliff College faculty, but after two months she was transferred to Sacred Heart Hospital in Le Mars, IA. She died on March 5, 1952, in the infirmary at Mount St. Francis.

Mother Mary Irmina ManternachMother Mary Irmina Manternach

The youngest of 11 children, Julie Irmia was born February 25, 1888, in Moesdorf, Luxembourg. When she was two years old, her parents came to the United States and settled at Cascare, there she attended St. Mary's School. On Aug. 15, 1905, she entered the convent, receiving the Franciscan habit the following June. She taught at Xavier High School, in Dyersville, and later Briar Cliff College. From 1934 to 1938 she was Mistress of Novices and then became first assistant to the Mother General. After six years, she became Mother General, holding that office from 1944 to 1950. 

The former mother general of the Sisters of St. Francis of Dubuque died on December 16, 1950 in Xavier Hospital at age 70. At the time of her death, she was survived by a brother (Father Manternach,) a sister (Margaret), several nieces, and a nephew. Two of the nieces (Sister M. Albert and Sister M. Janann) are members of the Franciscan community in Dubuque. Today, she is at rest in the Sister Annex of Mt. Calvary Cemetery. 

Sister Mary Aquinas McLaughlinSister Mary Aquinas McLaughlin

In 1884, Mary McLaughlin was born to Thomas and Lucy Handiboe McLaughlin of Bevington, IA. She entered Mount St. Francis Novitiate from Sacred Heart Parish, Pocahontas, IA, in August 28, 1902. She made her first profession of vows, July 21, 1905. She taught in the parish schools of Temple Hill, Holy Cross, LaMotte, and at the Immaculate Conception Academy, Dubuque for 11 years. She was the dean and head of the philosophy and psychology department of Briar Cliff College, Sioux City IA for 21 years. Since 1951, she had been professor of philosophy and psychology at the Briar Cliff College branch at Mount St. Francis. She died on June 16, 1964 at the age of 80 in the Holy Family Infirmary at Mount St. Francis. 

Sister Mary Elise (Elizabeth) PintSister Mary Elise (Elizabeth) Pint

Elizabeth Pint was born on August 20, 1901, to Leonard and Rose Weber Pint of Independence, IA. She was the eldest of 10 children and she graduated from St. John's High School in 1919. From there, she entered the novitiate of the Sisters of St. Francis in August of 1919, and professed at Mount St. Francis on June 21, 1922. Sister Mary Elise Pint, OSF,  graduated from Loras College in 1929, from Creighton University of Omaha, NE, in 1929, and The State University of Iowa in 1933.  Sister Mary Elise taught at St. Mary's High School in Waterloo, IA, and Immaculate Conception High School in North Washington, IA, before becoming Head of the Commerce Department and Treasurer of the Briar Cliff College from September 1920 to July 1949. She died at the young age of 48 in Xavier hospital and now rests in Calvary Cemetery.

At the time of her death, she was survived by her eight of her nine siblings (Sister Mary Venetta, OSF, also of Briar Cliff College, Joseph Pint, Herman Pint, Catherine Pint of Independence, IA, Hilda Pint, and Joseph Houlahan of Waterloo, IA, Ben Werner of Aurora, IA, and Lawrence Kane of Oelwein, IA).

Sister (Julia) De Lourdes RohretSister (Julia) De Lourdes Rohret

Julia Rohret was one of two daughters born on January 31, 1897 to Henry and Julia (Eckrich) Rohret of Cosgrove, IA. She was raised with her sister Mabel Rohret (now Schnoebelen). She entered the Sisters of St. Francis on December 21, 1915, and made her profession of vows on June 26, 1921. She received her bachelor's degree from Loras College and Master degrees in Education/English from Creighton University, Omaha, NE and Latin/Greek from the University of Iowa in Iowa City, IA. Sister De Lourdes taught Latin and General Science from 1918-1922 and 1926-1930 at the former Immaculate Conception Academy in Dubuque, IA. She taught elementary school in Portland, OR and high school at Remsen, IA in the years in between. She was invited to teach at the University of Iowa but declined saying "it wasn't the thing to do in those days."  She instead went on to teach at Briar Cliff College as one of its founding Sisters.

For 36 years she taught Greek, Latin, and education, and was librarian at Briar Cliff College. She is the last of the founding Sister faculty to have survived. In 1956, she was selected to the general Council of the Sisters of St. Francis in Dubuque, a position she held for six years. During that time, she taught Latin, and so much more to those members of the novitiate at the time. Si Camilla recalled learning all the constellations. After that time in 1962, she went back to Briar Cliff as superior. She then cooked and cleaned at the archbishop's residence in Dubuque until 1970 when she retired to Mount St. Francis. In 1987, she moved to holy Family Hall infirmary where she died on Friday, January 28. 

Sister Esther (Anna Susan) SchmitzSister Esther (Anna Susan) Schmitz

Anna Susan Schmitz was born on August 22, 1895, in Independence, IA, the oldest of 12 children of John B. and May Kayswer Schmitz. She was baptized on August 25 in St. Joseph's Church and was confirmed November 16, 1915. After her elementary schooling, Anna helped at home until she entered Mount St. Francis on August 15, 1917. As one of the older girls in a larger family, she was responsible for the care of the younger children, but she still found time to practice piano, ride a motorcycle, and enjoy movies featuring Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish. At reception, she received the name Mary Esther. She was perpetually professed on June 22, 1923.

Her lifetime ministry of music was spent in the following schools: Sacred Heart (Sioux City), Briar Cliff College, St. Edward's and St. Mary's (Waterloo), Keota, St. Mary's (Remsen), St. Christopher's (Midlothian). While in Midlothian, Sister also ministered to the sick and elderly in Oak Forest Hospital and served as organist for their liturgies. In 1978, she retired to Holy Family Hall. During her many years in school music, Sister taught piano and violin and enjoyed providing the music for such productions as "Hansel and Gretel" and "Jack and the Beanstalk."

Like all true Franciscans, Sister realized that the Spirit of God is revealed and encountered in ordinary, everyday events of life. Sister enjoyed life, laughed a lot, loved her family and her community. Hospitable always, she delighted in small, intimate lunches with her Sisters or fellow teachers. If joy and laughter are the gifts of living in the presence of God, Sister Esther certainly had open doors to the Kingdom. 

Sister Mary Clara (Anna) VeitSister Mary Clara (Anna) Veit

Anna Veit was the second youngest of the eight children of John and Elizabeth Walters Veit and was born on a farm near Odebolt, IA. She attended St. Martin's School through ninth grade. "My parents were both converts," she wrote later, "and my three oldest brothers were all baptized at the same time. My parents owe their conversion to a cousin of my mother's, a Franciscan Priest, who was also a convert. We drove to school in a horse and buggy, and my mother always saw to it that we got there in time for the eight o'clock mass. The last words she would say as she handed us our lunch pail were to 'be good to the Father and the Sisters.' The result was two Priests and a Sister in the family. I always thank God all my life for the gift of faith. It seems so precious to me." (The two priests to whom she referred were Father William Veit of the Sioux City Diocese and Father Charles Veit). 

Anna entered the convent, with a recommendation that said, "one of the best girls of my parish," on September 7, 1927, at age 29.  She was received with the name Sister Mary Clara on June 21, 1928. Her first profession took place on June 20, 1930. "As a Senior Novice, I spent six months at Sacred Heart, Dubuque," she wrote. " After profession, I was sent to take charge of the laundry at Briar Cliff College." Her two assignments to Briar Cliff laundry totaled 25 years, between she spent 15 years at Loras College Laundry in Dubuque. She was not a teacher, but her 40 years in college laundry gave her an influence on students' lives that cannot be measured.

"She was a great person, a big lift for people," says Monica Hennessy Krebsbach, who worked in Briar Cliff's laundry room as a student. "Working with her didn't seem like work." Part of Sister Clara's bright outlook, caught by students and Sisters alike, was shown in her sense of humor. Years after her Loras College laundry days, she was given a touch of the former laundry area, now a college bar. "Oh," she observed, "I see they still have the suds!" 

In 1971, she retired to Immaculate Conception Convent and in 1977, to holy Family Hall. She wrote her "last wish" in June which ended with "Goodbye, and may the good God always bless you all."

Sister Lucille WagnerSister Lucille Wagner

Little is known about Sister Lucille except that she was one of the twelve Sisters who founded Briar Cliff College in 1930. 

Briar Cliff University Presidents

Sister Servatius Greenen

Sister Servatius Greenen, OSF, MA


Sister Jean Marie Kann

Sister Jean Marie Kann, OSF, Ph.D.


Sister Matilda Adams

Sister Matilda Adams, OSF, Ph.D.


Sister Jordan Dahm

Sister Jordan Dahm, OSF, Ph.D.


Kasper Marking

Kasper C. Marking, Ed.D.


Charles Bensman

Charles J. Bensman, Ed.D.


Sister Margaret Wick

Sister Margaret Wick, OSF, Ph.D.


Jack Calareso

Jack Calareso, Ph.D.


Beverly Wharton

Beverly A. Wharton, MBA


Hamid Shirvani

Hamid A. Shirvani, Ph.D.


Rachelle Keck

Rachelle K. Keck, Ed.D., JD


Patrick Jacobson-Schulte

Patrick Jacobson-Schulte, D.B.A.