In the early 20th century, with the rise of Catholic higher education in America, many religious orders sought to advance the higher education of their members. The Sisters of Mercy were one of these religious orders who desired to see their sisters receive college degrees. Rather than send her sisters to the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., the Mother Provincial of the Sisters of Mercy, Mother Mary Matthew Doyle, arranged through Bishop William A. Hickey to have one of the Dominicans at Providence College offer college courses to the sisters at St. Xavier's during the summer. As a result, in 1926, nine Sisters of Mercy, along with two sisters of the Dominican Order, received their degrees from Providence College, the first sisters to do so. Mother Mary Matthew Doyle was also one of the first degree recipients of this unique initiative.
In the ensuing years, hundreds of nuns from dozens of religious orders attended Providence College for these classes. These classes, however, were loosely organized, but in the summer of 1948, the Dominican Fathers at Providence College formalized the program by opening the School of Sacred Theology for Sisters. This program was initiated by the Very Rev. Robert J. Slavin, then President of Providence College, and the Rev. George Q. Friel, O.P. was its first Director. The teaching staff was composed of distinguished theologians and biblical scholars of the Province of St. Joseph.
The purpose of the school, as stated in one of the early brochures, was to deepen the sister’s knowledge of the revealed truth and to enable them to instill into their students a better knowledge of things divine and human. The core curriculum centered on the Bible and the Summa Theogiae of St. Thomas. These courses were supplemented by coursework in Church History and Cannon Law. In the first summer, 110 sisters from thirty-one different motherhouses enrolled in the program.