History and heritage

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The Université Catholique de Lille: a history of excellence and commitment

History takes root in 1853, when a group of humanistic men driven by the Catholic faith united around a triple visionary aspiration. Their objectives were clear and ambitious.


• Building a church in honor of Our Lady of the Treille.
• Elevating Lille to the rank of a bishopric, with the Treille as a cathedral.
• Establishing a Catholic university in the city.


On 7 May 1875, Philibert Vrau and Camille Feron Vrau, two of the founders, presented this project before the Pope who gave them his blessings. The République Law about Academic Freedom was promulgated on July 12 of the same year. This date marks the birth of the Université Catholique de Lille.


Supported by visionary laypersons, bishops and committed Christians, the Université Catholique de Lille officially opened in January 1877. It then consisted of three pioneering faculties: law, letters, and sciences.

In record time, it also opened a theological college and a faculty of medicine, thus broadening its field of disciplines.


Since its creation, the Université Catholique de Lille has brilliantly assumed its role as a key actor in the region, educating many generations of students and actively contributing to the advancement of society. Always faithful to its original missions: education, research, and service, it continues to innovate and reinvent itself. It offers excellent professional education and modern pedagogical approaches while keeping true to the heritage of its founders.

Camille Féron-Vrau
Philibert Vrau

Camille Féron-Vrau, a doctor and entrepreneur and Philibert Vrau, an industrialist from Lille, were important Catholic figures in Lille and were the founding fathers of the Université Catholique de Lille.

Photos: Service du Patrimoine et des Archives de l’Institut Catholique de Lille

The Rectors and President-Rectors since 1875

Mgr. Hautcoeur, first Rector named in 1875, occupied the position for 13 years. From 1973, when the Fédération Universitaire et Polytechnique de Lille (Polytechnic and University Federation of Lille), more commonly called the Université Catholique de Lille, was created, President-Rectors became the administrators of the institution.


Michel Falise became the 1st lay President-Rector in 1979 and Thérèse Lebrun was the first woman to become President-Rector in 2003.


Below is a list of the Rectors and President-Rectors who headed the Université Catholique de Lille.

1er –  Mgr Hautcœur – 1875-1888
2e –   Mgr Louis Baunard – 1888 – 1908
3e –   Mgr Alfred Margerin – 1908 – 1919
4e –   Mgr Emile Lesne – 1920 – 1940
5e –   Mgr Gaston Delepine – 1940 – 1949
6e –   Mgr Palémon Glorieux – 1949 – 1958
7e –   Mgr Simon Delacroix – 1958 – 1959
8e –   Mgr Georges Leclercq – 1960 – 1968
9e –   Chanoine Gérard Lepoutre – 1968 – 1971
10e – Mgr Gérard Leman – 1971 – 1979


The President-Rectors since 1973


           Mgr Gérard Leman  jusque 1979
11e –  Michel Falise (1st lay President-Rector) – 1979 – 1991
12e –  Gaston Vandecandelaere – 1991 – 2003
13e – Thérèse Lebrun (1st female President-Rector)- 2003- 2012
14e –  Pierre Giorgini – 2012 – 2020
15e –  Patrick Scauflaire – depuis 2020

The architectural heritage

During the first few years, classes were given in rue Royale, Lille, in several locations in the old town, including the former Hôtel de l’Intendance which today hosts the seat of the bishopric. Faced with the time limit of these premises’ rental contracts, it was urgent to build a functional academic site capable of accommodating the growth of the various faculties and professional schools.


After awareness efforts, the founders opted for the construction of a site inspired by English and American institutions, with a 13th century Gothic style to affirm its Catholic character.


In 1877, plots around the Vauban Boulevard were acquired. A Belgian architect, the Baron Béthune of Ydewalle, in close contact with the first rector Mgr Hautcoeur, drew a first series of very complex plans which frightened the administrators. In the end, the architect Louis Dutouquet (1821-1903) built a simplified and more practical version of the initial project.


The actual construction is divided in three phases, conditioned by financial constraints and the political context of the time

The first construction phase saw the construction of the Hôtel Académique, formerly called the Palais Académique:


1879-1880: Family House Albert le Grand – Northeast part of the Hôtel Académique and library

1880-1881: Family House Saint-Louis, which was replaced in 1995 by a new building

1882-1883: Faculty of Medicine

1883-1884: Faculty of Sciences

1883-1885: Central part of the Hôtel Académique

1885-1887: Faculty of Theology

The second construction phase built nearby extensions:


1886-1889: Clinique Saint-Raphaël, rue du Port

1892-1893: Family House Saint-Michel, boulevard Vauban

1900: Student House, rue Meurein

1913: Building of the future École d’électricité, rue Norbert Segard

The third phase, delayed by the First World War, finished the initial plan. In order to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the foundation in 1927, the university church was built, the Aula Maxima wing with the main entrance on boulevard Vauban, the Saint-Philibert Polyclinic, rue Saint Jean-Baptiste de la Salle, and the Sainte-Anne Maternity Hospital, boulevard Vauban.

The architect

Louis Dutouquet, trained in the academic schools of Valenciennes, then in the Paris Architecture School, became an architect in Valenciennes in 1848.


He was specialized in the construction of religious buildings, with for example the Notre-Dame de Valenciennes School, the Saint-Jean de Douai School, and twenty churches including, among others, Saint-Vaast and Notre-Dame du Sacré-Cœur in Armentières, the churches of Douvrin, Saint-Saulve, Bruay, Vicoigne,…


In 1879, he started building the Palais Académique, a work dear to his heart, done in a Gothic style, like many of his creations. The recognition of the University earned him the Cross of the Order of Pius IX.

The Hôtel Académique

The architectural jewel of the Vauban campus, the Hôtel Académique, formerly called the Palais Académique, was built between 22 November 1879 and autumn 1881. It is an imposing 125 meters long building in a Gothic style. It housed the Faculty of Letters, Law and Theology from the beginning, thus embodying the intellectual heart of the University.


The Hôtel Académique also housed a library with treasured manuscripts and incunabula, testifying to the wealth of knowledge preserved there. Today, this library is housed in the building of the rue du Port and is now named the “Bibliothèque Universitaire” (University Library).

Façade HA patrimoine

At the center of academic life, the Hôtel Académique remains the main building of the Université Catholique de Lille. Today, it houses the Faculty of Letters & Human Sciences, the Faculty of Theology and administrative services.

Chapelle façade Vauban

The Chapelle Universitaire Saint-Joseph

Built in 1911 according to the plans of architect Jean-Baptiste Maillard, disciple of the Baron Béthune, the Chapelle Universitaire (University Chapel) de l’Université Catholique de Lille was completed in 1924. This imposing building constructed with pink bricks decorated with white stones is in the shape of a Latin cross, with two rows of superimposed windows.

The chapel was dedicated to Saint-Joseph on 18 November 1924, the patron saint of the Université. The stained glass windows, major elements of its decoration, were only installed in 1929, under the impulse of Bishop Émile Lesne, rector of the University. He organized a competition for their creation, defining a thematic program inspired by the Gospels. Thus, these stained glass windows are a visual catechesis for students retracing 36 important episodes of the life of Christ, from the Nativity to the Pentecost story. Their layout follows a symbolic journey, starting with a small door to the right of the choir, linked with the academic buildings, to finish like the Stations of the Cross from window to window.


From 2012, the first discussions on how to renovate the chapel were conducted. In 2016, Pierre Giorgini, then President-Rector of the University, called the Diocesan Commission of Sacred Art with a project specifying that the renovation projects should integrate a plurality of uses, both religious and cultural.


2021 marked the end of the renovation works of the Chapelle, when it once again regained its past splendor. The chapel was remade anew from the floors, windows and paintings to the gilding, thanks to the sale of the evangelistary of Saint Mihiel and with the precious help of patrons. The bank CIC NORD OUEST donated the marble from the old façade of its headquarters in Lille to renovate the floors. In 2023, the book Chemins de Lumière, dedicated to the history of the Saint-Joseph chapel, interested itself in the renovation and the stained glass windows representing the life of Jesus, from the Nativity to the Pentecost.


A new pipe organ was also inaugurated on 25 May 2021. Moreover, the former pipe organ Merklin, which once embellished the chapel, was dismantled and offered to the Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours church in Nieppe. Following its restoration, it has gained a new life there, thus perpetuating its musical heritage.


In 2024, the Chapelle Universitaire Saint-Joseph celebrated one century of history. It is as ever focused towards the future. It continues to be a place of interreligious dialogue, spiritual support and culture. It plays a valuable role in the life of the Université Catholique de Lille and beyond, inspiring future generations to pursue their quest for sense.

Photos : Service du Patrimoine et des Archives de l’Institut Catholique de Lille + Denis Paillard + Gautier Deblonde