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Catholic University of Leuven (1834–1968)

Catholic University of Leuven
Université catholique de Louvain - Katholieke Universiteit te Leuven
University seal, created in 1909, depicting the Sedes Sapientiae statue in Leuven.
Other name
Catholic University of Louvain
Active1834 (1834)–1968 (1968)
FounderThe Bischops of Belgium and Pope Gregory XVI
Religious affiliation
Roman Catholicism
ChancellorEngelbert Sterckx (first)
Léon-Joseph Suenens (last)
RectorPierre de Ram (first, 1834-1865)
Albert Descamps (last, 1962-1968)
Mechelen (1834-35), Leuven (1835-)
LanguageFrench (1834-1969)
Dutch (1930-1969)
Latin (faculty of theology)
Pope Gregory XVI, co-founder in 1834 with the bishops of Belgium of the Catholic University of Malines, which would later become the Catholic University of Leuven

The Catholic University of Leuven or Louvain (French: Université catholique de Louvain, Dutch: Katholieke Hogeschool te Leuven, later Katholieke Universiteit te Leuven) was founded in 1834 in Mechelen as the Catholic University of Belgium, and moved its seat to the town of Leuven in 1835, changing its name to Catholic University of Leuven.[1] In 1968, it was split into two universities, the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven and the Université catholique de Louvain, following tensions between the Dutch and French-speaking student bodies.


Pierre de Ram, first rector of the new Catholic University of Belgium.
Castle Arenberg, part of the university

Founding in Mechelen (1834)

On 8 November 1834, on the basis of authorisation in a papal brief of 13 December 1833, from Pope Gregory XVI,[2] the Belgian bishops founded the Catholic University of Belgium (Latin: Universitas catholica Belgii) in Mechelen. About this first year, it is generally referred to as "Catholic University of Mechelen". The bishops aimed to create a university "to accommodate any doctrine from the Holy Apostolic See and to repudiate anything that does not flow from this august source".

The announcement of the bishops' founding of the new university in Mechelen was met with demonstrations and disturbances in the cities of Ghent, Leuven and Liège.[3]

The first rector was the priest and historian Pierre de Ram.[4]

Move of the new university to Leuven (1835)

The university was short-lived in Mechelen, as the bishops already moved the university to Leuven on 1 December 1835, where it took the name "Catholic University of Leuven". This outraged Belgian liberal opinion, which depicted it as an attempt to usurp the past of the former Old University of Leuven.[5] It also reinvigorated demands for the foundation of a secular university in Brussels which would lead to the foundation of the Free University of Brussels.

Previous universities in Leuven

An earlier University of Leuven was founded in 1425 by John IV, Duke of Brabant and chartered by a papal bull of Pope Martin V.[6] It flourished for hundreds of years as the most prominent university in what would become Belgium, and one of the more prominent in Europe. Once formally integrated into the French Republic, the law of 15 September 1793, had decreed the suppression of all the colleges and universities in France and it was abolished by Decree of the Departement of the Dijle on 25 October 1797.[7]

The region next became part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands (1815–1830), and William I of the Netherlands founded a new university in 1816 in Leuven as a state university (Dutch: Rijksuniversiteit) which was a secular university and where several professors from the old university continued their teaching. In 1830, the Southern Provinces of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands became the independent state of Belgium. This university was closed in 1835.

Relation to the Old University of Leuven

With the closing of the State University of Leuven, the new Catholic University of Mechelen moved its seat to Leuven, adjusted its name and declared itself as a "re-founding" of the 1425 University of Leuven.

This claim to continuity with the older institution was challenged in the courts, with Belgium's highest court issuing rulings (in 1844, 1855 and 1861) that as a matter of law the Catholic University of Leuven was a different institution created under a different charter.[8][9]

Nonetheless, the Catholic University of Leuven unofficially continued to claim to be a continuation of the older institution in Leuven,[10] in spite of the liberal protests of the time.[11]

Further history as unified institution (1835–1968)

Book celebrating the 25 anniversary of the founding of the Catholic University of Louvain, November 3, 1859.

On 3 November 1859, the Catholic University celebrated the silver jubilee of its foundation.[12] A banquet for more than five hundred guests offered by the students to the Rector and the faculty, took place the 23 November 1859, in the great festival hall of the Music Academy of Louvain.[13]

In the year 1884, the Catholic University of Louvain celebrated solemnly its 50th anniversary.[14]

In 1909, the Catholic University celebrated its 75th anniversary, and struck a medal where for the first time it officially used the French word "réinstallation" (resettlement), and the Dutch word "herstelling" (restoration) beginning of a new "official" history.

In 1914, during World War I, Leuven was looted by German troops. They set fire to a large part of the city, effectively destroying about half of it, including the university library (see below). In the early stages of the war, Allied propaganda capitalized on the German destruction as a reflection on German Kultur.

Split into two officially new institutions (1962–1970)

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From its beginning in 1834, the university provided lectures only in French. Latin was sometimes used in the theology faculty, but it was essentially a French-language institution. Lectures in Dutch, the other official language of Belgium and the language spoken in Leuven, had begun to be provided in 1930 in the Catholic University of Leuven in the meantime.

In 1962, in line with constitutional reforms governing official language use, the French and Dutch sections of the Catholic University became autonomous within a common governing structure. Flemish nationalists continued to demand a division of the university, and Dutch speakers expressed resentment at privileges given to French-speaking academic staff and the perceived disdain by the local French-speaking community for their Dutch-speaking neighbours. At the time, Brussels and Leuven were both part of the officially bilingual and now defunct Province of Brabant; but unlike Brussels, Leuven had retained its Dutch-speaking character. Tensions rose when a French-speaking social geographer[who?] suggested in a televised lecture that the city of Leuven should be incorporated into an enlarged bilingual 'Greater-Brussels' region.[citation needed] Mainstream Flemish politicians and students began demonstrating under the slogan Leuven Vlaams – Walen Buiten ("Leuven [is] Flemish – Walloons out"). Student demonstrations escalated into violence throughout the mid-1960s. Student unrest fueled by the history of discrimination against Flemings eventually brought down the Belgian government in February 1968.

The dispute was resolved in June 1968 by turning the Dutch-language section of the university into the independent Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, which remained in Leuven. The French-speaking university, called the Université catholique de Louvain, was moved to a greenfield campus called Louvain-la-Neuve ("New Leuven"), farther south in the French-speaking part of the Province of Brabant. Acrimony about the split was long-lasting. Currently, however, research collaborations and student exchanges between the two "sister universities" take place with increasing frequency.


The ruins of the Catholic University of Leuven's library after it was burned by the German army in 1914

The library of the Catholic University dating from 1834 was housed in the University Hall, a building which in its oldest parts dated back to 1317. This was destroyed in August 1914 by invading German forces, with the loss of approximately 230,000 books, 950 manuscripts, and 800 incunabula.[15] Materials lost included the Easter Island tablet bearing Rongorongo text E and the oldest Czech Bible.[16]

The library building designed by Whitney Warren and built from 1921 to 1928, now the KUL's central library.

After the First World War, a new library was built on the Mgr. Ladeuzeplein, designed by the American architect Whitney Warren in a neo-Flemish-Renaissance style. Construction took place between 1921 and 1928.[17] Its monumental size is a reflection of the Allied victory against Germany, and it is one of the largest university buildings in the city. The library's collections were rebuilt with donations from all around the world, outraged by the barbaric act which it had suffered. In 1940, during the second German invasion of Leuven, the building largely burnt down, with the loss of 900,000 manuscripts and books. The building was rebuilt after the war in accordance with Warren's design.

The library's tower included a 48-bell Gillett and Johnston carillon installed in 1928, and dedicated to the memory of the engineers of the United States who died in all wars. After having fallen into complete disrepair and neglect, efforts began in the early 1980s to restore the carillon. With the cooperation of the Belgian American Educational Foundation and the University, organized efforts to restore the carillon began. The restoration fell to Eijsbouts and the bell count increased to 63. The newly restored carillon was rededicated in October 1983, with a series of lectures, concerts, statements from diplomats including Ronald Reagan, and European carillon keyboard standardization agreements.[18]

The library's collections were again restored after the war, and by the time of the split in 1968 had approximately four million books. The separation of the university into distinct French-language and Dutch-language institutions in 1968 entailed a division of the central library holdings. This was done on the basis of alternate shelfmarks (except in cases where a work clearly belonged to one section or the other, e.g. was written by a member of faculty or bequeathed by an alumnus whose linguistic allegiance was clear). This gave rise to the factoid that encyclopedias and runs of periodicals were divided by volume between the two universities, but actually such series bear single shelfmarks.

The building on the Mgr. Ladeuzeplein is now the central library of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven.

Notable alumni

See also


  1. ^ Encyclopédie théologique, tome 54, Dictionnaire de l'histoire universelle de l'Église, Paris : éd. J.P. Migne, 1863, sub verbo Grégoire XVI, col. 1131 : "Après sa séparation de la Hollande en 1830, la Belgique libérale a vu son Église jouir d'une véritable indépendance. Les évêques s'assemblent en conciles, communiquent avec le Saint-Siège en toute liberté. Sur l'article fondamental des études, ils ont fondé l'université catholique de Louvain, où les jeunes Belges vont en foule puiser aux sources les plus pures toutes les richesses de la science". And : Edward van Even, Louvain dans le passé et dans le présent, Louvain, 1895, p. 606 : "Par lettre collective du 14 novembre 1833, le corps épiscopal s'adressa à Grégoire XVI, à l'effet d'obtenir l'autorisation nécessaire pour ouvrir l'école. Cette autorisation fut octroyée par un bref du 13 décembre suivant. Une circulaire épiscopale, datée du 20 février 1834, annonça aux fidèles la fondation d'une Université catholique".
  2. ^ Edward van Even, Louvain dans le passé et dans le présent, Louvain, 1895, p. 606: "Par lettre collective du 14 novembre 1833, le corps épiscopal s'adressa à Grégoire XVI, à l'effet d'obtenir l'autorisation nécessaire pour ouvrir l'école. Cette autorisation fut octroyée par un bref du 13 décembre suivant. Une circulaire épiscopale, datée du 20 février 1834, annonça aux fidèles la fondation d'une Université catholique".
  3. ^ John Bartier, Guy Cambier, Libéralisme et socialisme au XIXe siècle, Université libre de Bruxelles, Institut d'histoire du christianisme, 1981, p. 17. And Emiel Lamberts and Jan Roegiers, Leuven University, Louvain, 1990, p. 194 : "There were demonstrations in protest, especially at Ghent and Louvain [...] and the Liberals responded by setting up a parallel university in Brussels".
  4. ^ Père V. De Buck S.J., Mgr de Ram, recteur magnifique de l'université catholique de Louvain, Paris : Ch. Douniol, 1865 : "Naturellement, on songea à lui pour lui confier une charge dans l'université catholique dont on projetait la fondation. On n'a pas écrit jusqu'ici et nous ne rechercherons pas qui, le premier, osa concevoir cette idée, une des plus hardies qui aient jamais été mises à exécution. Le pays est petit, et il possédait déjà trois universités soutenues par l'autorité et l'argent du gouvernement (....)et de faire apprécier les énormes difficultés qui s'attachaient à la fondation de l'université catholique".
  5. ^ According to Maurice Voituron, who wrote in his Le parti libéral joué par le parti catholique dans la question de l'enseignement supérieur, (Brussels, 1850): "et alors aurait paru plus évidente encore aux yeux du pays l'intention du parti catholique de tuer l'enseignement de l'État, afin de ne laisser debout que l'Université catholique de Malines, qui allait prendre le titre d'Université de Louvain, pour y usurper la renommée de l'ancienne, ainsi que ses fondations de bourses. Cependant, malgré lui, le parti catholique laissa échapper cet espoir par la bouche de son rapporteur M. Dechamps, lorsqu'il disait : "la confiance entourera de telle façon les établissements privés que les Universités de l'État, par exemple, deviendront à peu près désertes"
  6. ^ "About K.U.Leuven". Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. 21 September 2009. Archived from the original on 5 July 2011. Retrieved 18 July 2010.
  7. ^ Jan Roegiers et al., Leuven University, Leuven, Leuven University Press, 1990, p. 31: "With the Law of 3 Brumaire of Year IV, which reorganized higher education in the French Republic, there was no place for the University of Louvain, and it was abolished by Decree of the Departement of the Dijle on 25 October (1797)".
  8. ^ Several rulings of the Belgian Courts, of Cassation and Appel, forbid the identification of the Catholic University with the Old University: "L'université catholique de Louvain ne peut être considérée comme continuant l'ancienne université de Louvain; et lorsqu'un acte de fondation a désigné pour collateur un professeur de cette ancienne université, il y a lieu d'y pourvoir par le gouvernement", (Table générale alphabétique et chronologique de la Pasicrisie Belge contenant la jurisprudence du Royaume de 1814 à 1850, Bruxelles, 1855, p. 585, colonne 1, alinea 2. Voir également: Bulletin Usuel des Lois et Arrêtés, 1861, p.166.) See also the ruling of the Cour d'Appel of 1844: La Belgique Judiciaire, 28 July 1844 n° 69, p. 1 : "Cour d’Appel de Bruxelles. Deuxième chambre. L'université libre de Louvain ne représente pas légalement l’antique université de cette ville. Attendu que cette université (l’ancienne Université de Louvain), instituée par une bulle papale, de concert avec l'autorité souveraine, formait un corps reconnu dans l'État, ayant différentes attributions, dont plusieurs même lui étaient déléguées par le pouvoir civil; Attendu que ce corps a été supprimé par les lois de la république française; Attendu que l'université existant actuellement à Louvain ne peut être considérée comme continuant celle qui existait en 1457, ces deux établissemens ayant un caractère bien distinct, puisque l'université actuelle, non reconnue comme personne civile, n'est qu'un établissement tout-à-fait privé, résultat de la liberté d'enseignement, en dehors de toute action du pouvoir et sans autorité dans l'État...".
  9. ^ Table générale alphabétique et chronologique de la Pasicrisie Belge contenant la jurisprudence du Royaume de 1814 à 1850, Brussels, 1855, p. 585, column 1, alinea 2. See also: Bulletin Usuel des Lois et Arrêtés, 1861, p.166
  10. ^ Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "University of Louvain" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  11. ^ Discussion de la loi sur l'enseignement supérieur du 27 septembre 1835, et de la loi sur le jury d'examen du 8 avril 1844 : précédée d'un aperçu historique sur l'organisation universitaire en Belgique, Bruxelles : Th. Lesigne, 1844, p.1143 : « M. d'ELHOUGNE (député) : Messieurs, permettez-moi de rétablir la vérité des faits. Entre l'ancienne Université de Louvain, dont la gloire appartient à toute la Belgique, et l'université catholique, la filiation me paraît quelque peu douteuse. Il y a plus d'une solution de continuité dans la généalogie. Ce n'est pas comme héritière légitime que l'université catholique a recueilli la succession de l'université de Louvain, elle s'est emparée d'une succession en deshérence » Lire en ligne.
  12. ^ Souvenir du XXVe anniversaire de la fondation de l'Université catholique: Novembre 1859, Louvain, typographie Vanlinthout et Cie, 1860 : "Inaugurée à Malines, le 4 novembre 1834, l'Université catholique a célébré à Louvain, le jeudi 3 novembre 1859, sa vingt-cinquième année d'existence"
  13. ^ Souvenir du XXVe anniversaire de la fondation de l'Université catholique: Novembre 1859, p. 24 : "Banquet offert par les étudiants au Recteur et au Corps professoral le 23 novembre"; and : Emiel Lamberts, Jan Roegiers, et alii, Leuven University, "The Catholic University", Leuven, 1990, p. 199 (illustration 11)
  14. ^ E. Descamps, in : Université catholique de Louvain : Liber Memorialis : 1834–1884, Louvain : Peeters, 1887, p. V : "les fêtes du cinquantième anniversaire de l'Université catholique de Louvain ont eu un brillant éclat et un immense retentissement".
  15. ^ "Universiteitshal" (in Dutch). Flemish organization for Immovable Heritage. 2020.[permanent dead link]
  16. ^ Lost Memory – Libraries and Archives Destroyed in the Twentieth Century ( Archived 5 September 2012 at the Wayback Machine)
  17. ^ Jan van Impe (20 November 2012). De Leuvense universiteitsbibliotheek / druk 2: historische wandelgids. Leuven University Press. p. 26. ISBN 978-90-5867-920-8. Retrieved 29 June 2013.
  18. ^ Halsted, Margo (April 1984). "Leuven Carillon Dedicated" (PDF). The Diapason. 75 (4): 9.
  19. ^ "'I have smelt the breath of Satan and heard the demons' voices...'". The Irish Times. Dublin. 7 August 1999. ISSN 0791-5144. Archived from the original on 21 February 2021. Retrieved 14 November 2021.
  20. ^ "Father Michael Hurley dies aged 87". RTÉ News and Current Affairs. 16 April 2011. Retrieved 14 May 2011.
  21. ^ Jeffrey M. Elliot and Mervyn M. Dymally, eds., Voices of Zaire: Rhetoric or Reality, p. 53


  • Text of De Ram's inaugural speech at the opening of the University (in Latin)
  • 1834: L'Ami de la religion, 1834, p. 233
  • 1837: A. Ferrier, Description historique et topographique de Louvain, Bruxelles, Haumann, Cattoir et Cie, 1837.
  • 1841: Augustin Theiner, Jean Cohen, Histoire des institutions d'éducation ecclésiastique, 1841, p. 112.
  • 1850: Maurice Voituron, La parti libéral joué par le parti catholique dans la question de l'enseignement supérieur, Bruxelles, 1850, p. 16.
  • 1860: Edward Van Even, Louvain monumental..., Louvain, C.-J. Fonteyn, 1860.
  • 1864: Correspondance du R. P. Lacordaire et de Madame Swetchine, 1864, p. 26.
  • 1864: Journal des économistes, Société d'économie politique of Paris, Société de statistique de Paris, 1864, p. 13.
  • 1864: Louis Hymans, Histoire populaire du règne de Léopold Ier, roi des Belges, 1864, p. 154.
  • 1866: Adolphe Quetelet, Sciences Mathématiques et Physiques chez les Belges au commencement du XIXe, 1866, p. 534.
  • 1875: Patria Belgica, encyclopédie nationale, 1875, p. 140.
  • 1881: Analectes pour servir à l'histoire ecclésiastique de la Belgique, Volume 17, 1881, p. 236.
  • 1885: Edmond Henri Joseph Reusens, Documents relatifs à l'histoire de l'Université de Louvain (1425–1797), 1885, p. 228
  • 1930: Georges Weill, L'éveil des nationalités: et le mouvement libéral (1815–1848), 1930, p. 181.
  • 1952: Marcel Dessal, Charles Delescluze, 1809–1871: un révolutionnaire jacobin, 1952, p. 30.
  • 1958: Mémoires de la Société royale des sciences de Liège, 1958, p. 89.
  • 1967: L'esprit laïque en Belgique sous le gouvernement libéral doctrinaire, 1857, 1967, p. 665.
  • 1974: Ruth L. White, L'Avenir de La Mennais: son rôle dans la presse de son temps, 1974, p. 173.
  • 1975: Aloïs Simon, Gaston Braive, Jacques Lory, Mélanges dédiés à la mémoire de Mgr Aloïs Simon, 1975, p. 145.
  • 1977: Jean Préaux, Église et enseignement, 1977, p. 177.
  • 1980: Carlo Bronne, Léopold Ier et son temps, Bruxelles, éd. Paul Legrain, 1980, p. 154.
  • 1981: John Bartier, Guy Cambier, Libéralisme et socialisme au XIXe siècle, 1981, p. 17.
  • 1998: Astrid von Busekist, La Belgique: politique des langues et construction de l'Etat de 1780 à nos jours, 1998, p. 87.
  • 1999: Véronique Laureys, L'histoire du sénat de Belgique de 1831 à 1995, 1999, p. 71.
  • 2006: Jacqueline Aubenas, Suzanne Van Rokeghem, Jeanne Vercheval-Vervoort, Des femmes dans l'histoire de Belgique, depuis 1830, 2006, p. 14.

Further reading

  • 1860: Souvenir du XXVe anniversaire de la fondation de l'Université catholique: Novembre 1859, Louvain, typographie Vanlinthout et Cie, 1860 Souvenir du XXVe anniversaire de la fondation de l'Université catholique: Novembre 1859.
  • 1887: Université catholique de Louvain : Liber Memorialis : 1834–1884, Louvain : Peeters, 1887.
  • 1975: R. Mathes, Löwen und Rom. Zur Gründung der Katholischen Universität Löwen unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Kirchen-und Bildungspolitik Papst Gregors XVI, Essen, 1975.
  • 2006: abbé André Tihon: Article Löwen. In: Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, vol. 6. Herder, Fribourg, Bâle, Vienne, 3e éd., 2006, p. 1070–1073.
  • 2011: Pieter Dhondt, Un double compromis. Enjeux et débats relatifs à l'enseignement universitaire en Belgique au XIXe siècle, Gand : Academia Press, 2011.

50°40′11″N 4°36′44″E / 50.66972°N 4.61222°E / 50.66972; 4.61222

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Catholic University of Leuven (1834–1968)
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