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Santa Clara University and Notre Dame de Namur University both trace their roots back to 1851.
The Jesuits took over Mission Santa Clara and suggested a nearby site to the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, who were looking for a home in San Jose, then the capital of the new state.
Notre Dame opened on Santa Clara Street on Aug. 4, 1851. By 1923, size constraints led the sisters to move the college to the Belmont foothills.
Despite the distance, Santa Clara and Notre Dame stayed connected socially through regular dances and organizations like the National Federation of Catholic College Students (NFCCS). In the era of single-sex education, students at the Bay Area’s Catholic men’s colleges—Santa Clara, St. Mary’s, and University of San Francisco—often courted their female equivalents at Notre Dame, Holy Names, and Dominican universities. As Santa Clara’s closest neighbor, Notre Dame had obvious advantages.
Attorney Robert Williams ’55 and his wife, Carol, met at an NFCCS convocation at Santa Clara in 1953. She graduated from NDNU in 1955. “If my wife and I sat down, we could probably make a list of 10 couples where the guy was at Santa Clara and the girl went to Notre Dame,” Williams says.
At times, the school’s sibling relationship was more than figurative. Patrick Donohoe, S.J., served as president of SCU from 1958 to 1968. His sister, Sr. Joan Marie Donohoe, was a longtime teacher at Notre Dame and a dean in the late 1960s.
The advent of undergraduate coeducation at Santa Clara in 1961 and at Notre Dame in 1969, however, loosened ties between the two schools, to the point that today many students at both would be surprised to know of the historic connection.SS