When Dr. Phineas F. Bresee responded to the growing need for a Christian college in the Southern California area, God used him to answer the heartfelt prayers of a group of six women who called themselves the Bible College Prayer Circle. The group had come together in 1897, and on July 28, 1902, their prayers were answered.
Bresee founded and became the first president of Pacific Bible College, which would become Pasadena College and later Point Loma Nazarene University. The women had envisioned a Bible college, but Bresee’s vision was for a liberal arts institution. He believed spiritual and academic learning went hand-in-hand. That legacy is still with us today, as PLNU remains committed to the liberal arts and to whole-person education.
Pacific Bible College began with 41 students. In 1910, Bresee purchased the Hugus Ranch land in Pasadena and fulfilled his dream of creating not just a Bible college but a holiness university. Nazarene University opened in 1910 and from its beginning included male and female students.
By 1919, the name of the school had changed again to Pasadena College.
In 1964, W. Shelburne Brown became president of Pasadena College. He was instrumental in moving the college from its original location in Pasadena to its new Point Loma, San Diego, home in 1973.
Dr. Bob Brower, PLNU’s current president, was inaugurated in 1998. In 1999, PLNU began graduate programs in education in Bakersfield and Mission Valley. A graduate program in education had remained in Pasadena since the move and in 2001, it moved to Arcadia. Also in 2001, an MBA program was added in Mission Valley. PLNU now has three locations: the undergraduate campus in Point Loma and graduate programs at regional centers in Bakersfield and Mission Valley in San Diego. PLNU currently offers graduate degrees in biology, business, education, nursing, clinical counseling, kinesiology, and theology.
Bresee’s commitments to the message of holiness and to helping the poor set the stage for the future work of the Church of the Nazarene and PLNU. Nazarene churches are known for their outreach, their service to those in need, and addressing issues of social justice. Though the university began with only $4,000 in pledges, God has been faithful. Today, PLNU is home to more than 3,500 undergraduate and graduate students.
There is a Bible on campus, encased in protective glass, that belonged to Phineas Bresee. It’s opened to Isaiah 62, the chapter Bresee claimed for the school. Permanently marked with his fingerprints, it displays a double message: God’s words in Isaiah 62 and Bresee’s love for those words. It’s a message of being grounded in Scripture, of pursuing a well-rounded education and serving the poor out of a primary and intense love for God and His Word. Bresee died in 1915, but his message still resonates. In fact, it defines PLNU.