Olivet Nazarene University traces its roots to 1907, beginning in Miss Mary Nesbitt’s grammar school in a house in Georgetown, Illinois. In 1908, the school’s founders acquired 14 acres in the village of Olivet and moved the grammar school to the proposed campus and a Wesleyan-holiness community developed around it.
In 1909, the liberal arts college was chartered and named Illinois Holiness University, with A. M. Hills from Texas Holiness University as its first president. It was then given to the Church of the Nazarene in 1912, with E. F. Walker as president, it was renamed Olivet University in 1915.
In 1939, the main building on the southern Illinois campus was destroyed by fire and prompted the school to move onto the previous campus of St. Viator’s College, in Bourbonnais, Illinois. The school’s name was changed in 1986 to Olivet Nazarene University (ONU), to express the advanced academic offerings.
Since then, the University has thrived, particularly under the 30-year leadership of Dr. John C. Bowling. During his tenure, Olivet acquired 61 buildings and remodeled 27 buildings to enhance the student experience. Dr. Bowling also established the ONU Global online graduate programs and opened the campus for community use, including the Chicago Bears' summer training camp and the home of the Kankakee Valley Symphony Orchestra.