The University of Santo Tomas (UST) is the oldest existing university in Asia. In terms of student population, it is the largest Catholic university in the world in a single campus. The institution was established through the initiative of Bishop Miguel de Benavides, O.P., third Archbishop of Manila. On July 24, 1605, he bequeathed the amount of one thousand five hundred pesos and his personal library for the establishment of a “seminary-college” to prepare young men for the priesthood. Those funds, and his personal library, became the nucleus for the start of UST and its library.
The founding of the University of Santo Tomas followed on April 28, 1611. With the original campus located in Intramuros, the Walled City of Manila, UST was first called Colegio de Nuestra Señora del Santisimo Rosario, and later renamed Colegio de Santo Tomas, in memory of the foremost Dominican Theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas.
On July 29, 1619 the Colegio was authorized to confer academic degrees in theology and philosophy. By November 20, 1645, Pope Innocent X elevated the college to a university. In 1680, it was subsequently placed under the royal patronage of the Spanish monarchy. In 1681, Pope Innocent XI declared it a Public University of General Studies allowing it to confer other degrees. In 1734 Pope Clement XII authorized the University to confer degrees in all existing faculties as well as in all others that might be introduced in the future. The Pope also approved the curriculum in the entire field of jurisprudence.
The expulsion of the Society of Jesus from the Philippines in 1768 left the University of Santo Tomas as the only institution of higher learning in the islands.
On May 20, 1865, a royal order from Queen Isabella II gave the University the power to direct and supervise all the schools in the Philippines and the Rector of the University became the ex-officio head of the secondary and higher education in the Philippines. All diplomas issued by other schools were approved by the Rector of the University and examinations leading to the issuance of such diplomas were supervised by the Dominican professors of UST.
On September 17, 1902, Pope Leo XIII made the University of Santo Tomas a “Pontifical University”, and by 1947, Pope Pius XII bestowed upon it the title of “The Catholic University of the Philippines”. The University of Santo Tomas is the second university in the world after the Gregorian University in Rome to be granted the formal title of Pontifical University. The Gregorian University was allowed to assume this title in 1873.
The continuing increase in enrolment prompted the administration, in 1927 to transfer the university campus from Intramuros to its present site in Sampaloc district, which covers a total of 21.5 hectares. The Intramuros campus continued to operate until its destruction during the Second World War.
Since its establishment in 1611, the university academic life was disrupted only twice: once, from 1898 to 1899, during the second phase of the Philippine Revolution and the Filipino-American War, and for the second time, from 1942 to 1945, when the Japanese Occupation Forces during the Second World War converted the UST campus into an internment camp where around 2,500 allied civilians were detained. Buildings such as the Main Building, the Gymnasium and an annex building behind the Main Building called the Domestic Arts building, were used as living quarters. The internees were liberated by the U.S. forces on February 3, 1945.
Throughout its more than 400 years of existence, the University has become the alma mater of four Filipino heroes who shaped the nation’s destiny like Jose Rizal, Emilio Jacinto, Marcelo H. del Pilar, Apolinario Mabini; Philippine Presidents such as Manuel Luis Quezon, Sergio Osmeña, Jose P. Laurel and Diosdado Macapagal; various Chief Justices of the Supreme Court, senators, congressmen, scientists, architects, engineers and writers, all outstanding in their chosen professions. It was visited by three popes, Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II, , and Pope Francis, and various heads of states and foreign dignitaries.