The Ateneo de Zamboanga began in 1912 as Escuela Catolica, a parochial school run by Spanish Jesuits at the old site of the Immaculate Conception Church, right across the Sunken Garden. Fr. Manuel M. Sauras, S.J. was the first director.
In 1916, the Escuela Catolica became the Ateneo de Zamboanga.
In 1930, the American Jesuits took over from the Spanish Jesuits with Fr. Thomas Murray, S.J. as the first American director. Classes were also held in the Knights of Columbus (K of C) buildng, now the site City Theater.
The first high school students graduated from Ateneo in 1932.
In 1938, a library was built on the first floor of the K of C Building. A facade, an auditorium, and an annex were also built. John Shinn was appointed headmaster of the Grade School and Fr. Francis Clark, S.J. became the principal and dean of discipline of the High School. The school was closed during World War II. It was used by the Japanese as a public elementary school until it was shelled and bombed by the American forces on March 8 and 9 in 1945, prior to the liberation of the city.
The high school reopened in 1947, with a nipa-sawali building on a new site outside the poblacion called Jardin de Chino along Camino Nuevo. It was providential that shortly before the outbreak of the World War II, Fr. Eusebio Salvador, S.J. had bought 18 adjoining lots in that section.
In 1948, the school was officially recognized as a Jesuit school separate from the parish.
The post liberation years were a period of rapid physical, curricular, and enrollment expansion for the school. A college was established in 1952 and the graduate school in 1976.
In the 1980s Fr. Ernesto A. Carretero, SJ started the work to acquire for the Ateneo de Zamboanga a university status. The efforts were continued by when Fr. William H. Kreutz, SJ came as president in 1989. The years of hard work finally paid off when, on August 20, 2001, the Ateneo de Zamboanga was declared a university by the Commission on Higher Education.
Moreover, the school was granted a Fully Autonomous status – one of only 30 higher education institutions in the country to be granted full deregulation and autonomy, and the only one in Western Mindanao. CHED awards full autonomous status to centers of excellence or centers of development with a long tradition of integrity and excellence in education/training, research, and community extension service. CHED also considers the school’s program with Level III accredited status and performance in the government licensure examinations.
The inauguration of Ateneo de Zamboanga as a university was held on December 8, 2001 during the celebration of the Ateneo Fiesta, the Alumni Homecoming and the Feast day of the Immaculate Concepcion, Patroness of the Ateneo.
(Based on “Memories of a Hail Mary School” by Mr. Restituto Banico and records of Fr Salvador Wee SJ, University Archivist)