In 1939, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate arrived in the Philippines, continuing their evangelization in Cotabato and the Sulu-Tawi-Tawi islands. Despite the interruption caused by the Pacific War in 1941, they returned with unwavering dedication.
The Notre Dame College, established in 1948, initially operated without its own building. The first 128 students attended classes at the Notre Dame of Cotabato Girls Department Building, which belonged to the RVM sisters. However, during the second semester, enrollment dropped to 98 students, and only eight students attended classes in the summer of the first School Year 1948-1949. Undeterred, the Oblates embraced new ventures and broke new ground in their evangelization efforts.
In 1949, the Notre Dame College acquired its own building adjacent to the Immaculate Conception Cathedral and the Notre Dame Press on Quezon Avenue. This strategic location placed the school in the heart of Cotabato City. The School Year 1950-1951 brought brighter hopes as enrollment increased, prompting the administration to expand the range of courses offered. A new course in Education was introduced for students interested in teaching at the secondary level. Additionally, the college organized an ROTC Unit, providing military science and tactics for the male population of the college.
In 1952, Fr. John P. Murphy, OMI succeeded Fr. Sullivan as Dean of the College. In 1953, the College obtained full Government Recognition for its courses in Liberal Arts, Commerce, and Education. The College of Law also commenced offering first-year law subjects.
Fr. James W. Burke, OMI took over as Dean in 1954, leading the expansion of course offerings to meet community needs. During his term, the Normal College opened, providing complete courses in Elementary Education leading to a Bachelor of Science degree. In 1956, the college introduced a two-year pre-nursing course.
That same year, Notre Dame College established the Elementary Training Department, a laboratory school exclusively for boys pursuing teacher education. At the time, there were only two other private elementary schools in the city, one admitting only girls and the other primarily catering to children of Chinese heritage.
In 1957, Fr. John P. Murphy, OMI resumed his role as Dean, succeeding Fr. Burke, who became Superior of the OMI Philippine Province. Under Fr. Murphy’s leadership, the college expanded its course offerings and improved its physical infrastructure.
To accommodate the growing student population, the college sought a new school site in the late 1950s. The chosen site was approved, and on February 27, 1959, the Very Rev. Leo Deschatelets, OMI, Superior General of the Oblate Congregation, blessed the college grounds during a cornerstone-laying ceremony attended all the way from Rome.
Despite financial challenges, the construction of the new building and acquisition of facilities continued with unwavering faith in God’s providence.
In June 1960, classes were transferred to the newly constructed Burke Building, named after Fr. James Burke, OMI, the Oblate Provincial Superior from 1957 to 1963. On February 19, 1961, the new college building was inaugurated and blessed by His Excellency Archbishop Salvatore Siino, Papal Nuncio to the Philippines, marking a significant event in Notre Dame College’s history.
By the Academic Year 1962-1963, other buildings were constructed — the Faculty House, the Elementary Training Department, and the Technical Building.
During the 1960s, the College expanded its curriculum. The College of Engineering was established, offering common subjects for Civil, Mechanical, and Electrical Engineering in the first and second years. In 1965, a complete course leading to a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering received Government Recognition. The Graduate School offered courses leading to a Master of Arts in Education. The Technical School also obtained Government Permit and Recognition in 1965 and 1967 respectively, providing secondary high school and vocational education. These advancements were made possible under the leadership of Fr. Philip F. Smith, OMI, who assumed the role of Rector in 1964.
In 1968, a new Administration-Science-Auditorium Building was constructed. It was inaugurated in March 1969 and dedicated to Dan and Ana O’Keefe, generous donors who contributed substantially to its completion.
1969 proved to be a historic year for the College as it attained University status on March 11, 1969, through an order signed by the Secretary of Education, Dr. Onofre Corpuz, and the Director of Private Schools, Dr. Narciso Albarracin. This elevation to University status served as the capstone and crowning glory of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate’s educational leadership in Southern Philippines. It exemplified their unwavering commitment to providing relevant and dynamic education through the apostolate of teaching.
Notre Dame University was formally inaugurated on September 9, 1969, coinciding with its 21st year as a higher education institution. The investiture of the Very Rev. Joseph Milford, OMI as the first University President and the installation of the Very Rev. Philip F. Smith, OMI as the first University Rector were significant highlights of the event. In his inaugural address, Fr. Milford emphasized the university’s Catholic identity as a guiding beacon for the pursuit of truth, reflecting the constant quest of all universities.
In the 1970s, Notre Dame University underwent significant changes. On January 30, 1971, the first Filipino President, Rev. Fr. Orlando Quevedo, OMI, assumed office, emphasizing human resource development within the community and the university’s role in addressing regional challenges.
Amidst the MNLF wars in the early 70s, NDU faced the impact of conflict, with soldiers stationed on campus due to security concerns. Despite the challenges, qualitative developments took place, such as the appointment of department heads and the establishment of the Planning and Development Office and the Socio-Economic Research Center (SERC) in 1972.
Academic expansions occurred in subsequent years, including the opening of the Nursing College in 1974 and the introduction of new courses in the College of Commerce and Graduate School in 1975. However, the university faced a devastating earthquake on August 17, 1976, resulting in building damage and disruptions to the academic calendar.
Fr. Jose Roberto Arong, OMI, became the third University President and led reconstruction efforts. New buildings, such as the Quinn and McGrath Buildings for the Engineering College and the Archbishop Gerard Mongeau Chapel, were constructed. Academic offerings were also enhanced, with the addition of programs like M.A. in Public Administration and M.A. in Business Administration.
Throughout the years, NDU continued to evolve. In 1978-1979, girls were admitted to the Elementary Training Department, and more sections and kindergarten classes were opened in subsequent years. Fr. Jose D. Ante, OMI, succeeded Fr. Arong as the fourth President in 1982, and under his leadership, the Science Building (Archbishop Philip Smith Science Hall) and Deckert Building were constructed in 1983.
These developments reflected NDU’s commitment to academic growth, community engagement, and resilience in the face of challenges.
In School Year 1978-1979, Notre Dame University responded to parents’ pressure and admitted girls to the Elementary Training Department. Additional sections were opened in the lower grades starting in School Year 1980-1981, and kindergarten classes were introduced in 1986.
Fr. Jose D. Ante, OMI, assumed the role of the 4th President of NDU on June 12, 1982. During his presidency, Fr. Ante was elected President of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines.
The University’s new Science Building, Archbishop Philip Smith Science Hall, was blessed on February 17, 1983. This three-storey structure with a roof deck housed laboratories and lecture rooms for basic science courses. In the same year, the Deckert Building, which accommodated the Business Office, was also constructed.
On December 8, 1988, the De Mazenod Building, financed by USAID, was blessed and dedicated. The event was graced by Ambassador Nicholas Platt, the US Ambassador to the Philippines, as well as prominent local, provincial, and military officials.
In 1992, Fr. Eliseo R. Mercado, Jr., OMI became the 5th President of Notre Dame University, succeeding Fr. Jose Ante, OMI. Under Fr. Mercado’s innovative leadership, the University underwent significant reforms and sought external support to restore its financial stability.
During this time, Notre Dame University gained prominence for its commitment to academic excellence, peace advocacy, and community development. Fr. Mercado’s initiatives focused on enhancing the curriculum, promoting research, and fostering a vibrant academic environment. The University also became a platform for dialogue and understanding among different cultural and religious groups, contributing to peace and reconciliation efforts in the region.
Notre Dame University actively engaged in community development, implementing outreach programs and initiatives to uplift marginalized communities. The University’s dedication to social responsibility extended to healthcare, livelihood projects, and environmental conservation, making a positive impact on local communities.
Fr. Eliseo R. Mercado, Jr., OMI’s transformative leadership solidified Notre Dame University’s position as a leading institution. His vision continues to inspire the University community as they strive for academic excellence, peace, and sustainable development in Mindanao and beyond.
In October 2001, Notre Dame University was awarded Deregulated Status by the Commission on Higher Education for its exemplary performance in instruction, research, and public service.
In June 2002, Fr. Ramon Ma. G. Bernabe, OMI became the 6th President of the University, the first alumnus and youngest to hold the position. In February 2005, Fr. Bernabe was elected as the Oblate Provincial Superior of the Congregation of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Philippine Province.
Fr. Eduardo G. Tanudtanud, OMI assumed the role of the 7th University President on June 24, 2005.
In June 2006, Notre Dame University articulated its Vision Statement, aiming to be a leading institution in education for social transformation, guided by the charism of St. Eugene de Mazenod and committed to excellence.
On March 11, 2009, the Commission on Higher Education re-awarded Notre Dame University with Deregulated Status, recognizing its outstanding performance as a higher education institution.
The University also underwent a process of revisiting and re-articulating its Core Values, resulting in the adoption of the acronym FIRES: Faith, Integrity, Respect, Excellence, and Service. Inspired by FIRES, Notre Dame University embraces social transformation through education.
To enhance the teaching and learning environment, the University embarked on infrastructure development projects, including the construction of a pre-school building, a Multi-Purpose Facility, student lounges for the colleges, and the renovation of the Gymnasium, Deckert Building, Brekel Building, and others.
October 10, 2010 marked the blessing of the Fr. Alfonso Cariño Building, which houses various academic offices and departments, reflecting the commitment to quality education upheld by Fr. Cariño during his tenure at Notre Dame University in the 1970s.
In June 2010 and 2011, the university faced challenges caused by citywide flooding, leading to the suspension of classes for several weeks.
March 2011 marked the accreditation of NDU’s Elementary Training Department, receiving Level 1 recognition for providing quality basic education from PAASCU (Philippine Accrediting Association of Schools Colleges and Universities).
The emergence of the K to 12 education system prompted NDU to realign its curriculum and standards to meet the changing educational landscape, from kindergarten to tertiary education.
June 2012 saw the acceptance of Grade 7 students at NDU’s Junior High School, followed by the addition of Grade 8, 3rd year, and 4th year levels in June 2013.
In the 2013-2014 school year, the Elementary Training Department achieved Level II Accreditation status.
Fr. Charlie Malapitan Inzon, OMI, PhD, assumed the presidency of NDU on August 18, 2014, bringing a strong focus on research and enhancing faculty engagement in institutional and collaborative research.
The implementation of the K-12 program led to the enrollment of the first batch of Senior High School (Grade 11) students at NDU in SY 2016-2017, with a total of 712 students. This number increased to 1,605 in SY 2017-2018, encompassing both Grade 11 and 12.
In November 2017, the Junior High School underwent PEAC Recertification, obtaining a Survey Rating of 3.0, ensuring compliance with DepEd standards and GASTPE Law criteria. The PEAC Recertification is valid for five years.
Through a partnership with the University of San Carlos, NDU, along with other Oblate schools, automated its institutional processes using the Integrated School Management Information System (ISMIS).
In January 2018, Fr. Inzon, like his predecessor Fr. Ramon Ma. G. Bernabe, OMI, who served as the 6th University President and later became the OMI Provincial Superior, was appointed as the Provincial Superior of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate-Philippine Province.
On May 1, 2018, Fr. Francis Efren C. Zabala, OMI assumed the presidency of Notre Dame University and was officially installed as the 9th University President on July 4, 2018. In his inaugural address, he addressed the challenges facing the university, including the impact of the K-12 transition and the transition in the Bangsamoro Region, the need for internal process refinement, maintaining standards of excellence, providing access to education for the underprivileged, and becoming responsible contributors to society. He emphasized the university’s vision of being a leading institution in education for social transformation and urged the community to uphold care, compassion, shaping the youth, promoting interreligious dialogue and intercultural relations, and being an institution with a heart.
In 2018, the Graduate School received government approval to offer a Doctor in Business Administration (DBA) program. The first batch of DBA students began their studies in the First Trimester of Academic Year 2019-2020.
In June 2019, Notre Dame University (NDU) received its ISO 9001:2015 Certificate from the Professional Evaluation and Certification Board (PECB), valid until 2022. This certification recognizes NDU’s commitment to providing quality education across all levels, from Basic Education to Post-Graduate Programs and other institutional support processes.
In the same year, NDU President Fr. Zabala and Faculty and Employees Union President Engr. Emmanuel Martinez signed a Collective Bargaining Agreement that would be in effect from 2019 to 2024.
During the 2019-2020 school year, NDU underwent accreditation processes. The Elementary Training Department received reaccreditation by the Philippine Accrediting Association of Schools Colleges and Universities (PAASCU) for five years, while the Education, Business, and Arts and Sciences programs underwent Level 3 reaccreditation.
In celebration of NDU’s 71st anniversary as a higher education institution and Golden Anniversary as a University, the campus hosted various activities of the Notre Dame Educational Association (NDEA) in 2019. These included the NDEA General Assembly, NDEA Junior High School Area Meet, the 1st NDEA Senior High School Area Meet, and later in 2020, the NDEA Tertiary Meet.
In December 2019, the news of two topnotchers in the Licensure Examination for Teachers, ranking 4th and 10th nationwide, brought inspiration to the NDU community. This achievement added to the university’s track record of producing national licensure examination topnotchers in various fields over the past decade.
Furthermore, NDU’s College of Law reached the semifinals of ABS-CBN’s ANC Square Off, the V&A Law Debates, for two consecutive years, showcasing their debating skills and surpassing esteemed teams from other universities.
With accredited programs by PAASCU, NDU remains dedicated to its mission of being a leading institution for social transformation in Mindanao. Guided by the values of Faith, Integrity, Respect, Excellence, and Service (FIRES), the university strives to deliver quality education and services to its stakeholders.
As the oldest higher education institution in Cotabato City and the former Empire Province of Cotabato, NDU continues to produce individuals and professionals who exemplify competence, conscience, and compassionate commitment. NDU stands as a symbol of the Oblates’ mission of love and solidarity with the people. With its commitment to academic excellence and authentic service, NDU remains at the forefront of education in the twenty-first century, dedicated to the greater glory of God and under the patronage of Our Lady, Notre Dame.
In 2020, Notre Dame University faced unprecedented challenges brought about by the global COVID-19 pandemic. As the world grappled with the effects of the virus, NDU swiftly responded to ensure the safety and continuity of education for its students and faculty.
The university underwent a remarkable transformation, transitioning from traditional face-to-face classes to remote learning modalities. Through the utilization of online platforms and digital tools, NDU successfully established virtual classrooms, allowing students to continue their studies from the safety of their homes. Faculty members underwent intensive training to adapt their teaching methods to the virtual environment, ensuring that the quality of education remained uncompromised.
Amidst the uncertainties, NDU prioritized the health and well-being of its community. Stringent health protocols were implemented on campus, including regular temperature checks, mandatory mask-wearing, and physical distancing measures. The university worked closely with local health authorities to ensure a safe and conducive environment for all.
While navigating the uncertainties, NDU maintained its unwavering dedication to academic excellence and community service. The university continued to provide quality education, ensuring that students received comprehensive and holistic learning experiences. NDU actively promoted mental health and well-being initiatives, offering counseling services and creating support networks to address the emotional challenges faced by the community.
Through resilience, adaptability, and a strong sense of community, NDU emerged from the pandemic with valuable lessons learned. The experience further strengthened the university’s commitment to innovation and preparedness for future disruptions.
As Notre Dame University (NDU) enters a new chapter in its rich history, the future holds immense promise and opportunities. Building on its strong foundation of academic excellence and commitment to social transformation, NDU envisions a future marked by innovation, inclusivity, and global impact.
With the valuable contributions of our esteemed faculty and staff, dedicated students, supportive parents, and engaged stakeholders, we have the power to shape history and steer NDU towards greater heights. Together, we can build a vibrant community that fosters intellectual growth, cultivates character development, and nurtures lifelong learners.
In the years to come, NDU aims to further enhance its academic programs, aligning them with emerging fields and industry demands. By fostering interdisciplinary collaborations and promoting research-driven teaching, we will equip our students with the knowledge, skills, and adaptability needed to thrive in a rapidly evolving world.
As we embrace the digital age, NDU will leverage technology to enhance the learning experience and broaden access to education. By integrating innovative teaching methods, online resources, and interactive platforms, we will create a dynamic and inclusive educational environment that transcends physical boundaries.
Furthermore, NDU remains committed to its core values of faith, integrity, respect, excellence, and service (FIRES). Guided by these principles, we will continue to nurture a campus culture that celebrates diversity, fosters empathy, and promotes social responsibility. By instilling these values in our students, we empower them to become compassionate leaders and catalysts for positive change in society.
We invite the entire NDU community, including faculty and staff, students, parents, and stakeholders, to join hands and embark on this transformative journey together. Let us write a new chapter in NDU’s history—one that reflects our collective aspirations, accomplishments, and unwavering dedication to excellence. As we unite in our shared vision, let us shape the future of Notre Dame University and create a lasting legacy for generations to come. Together, we will forge a path of progress, resilience, and greatness, leaving an indelible mark on history.