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St. Bonaventure College traces its roots to an earlier collaborative venture between the three families of the Order of Friars Minor in the historic town of Livingstone in Zambia, just a short distance from the world-famous Victoria Falls, or to give the Falls their local name, Mosi O Tunya. It was in 1978 that the Zambian Capuchin Chapter discussed the possibility of co-operation with other religious institutes in Zambia to establish joint facilities for post-novitiate formation. Nothing came of this immediately, but in 1981 the then Southeast African Capuchin Association (SEACA) explored the idea of establishing a house for philosophical studies in Zambia, with English as a common language. This idea was adopted by SEACA the following year. In the same year, 1982, the two Conventual Custodies in Zambia expressed an interest in participating in this venture. Further meetings in 1983 resulted in a substantial degree of agreement concerning the aims and programme of such a venture.

In 1986 the Friars Minor in Zimbabwe and of the then Vicariate of St. Francis in Africa inquired about their possible participation, and all welcomed this. It is out of such meetings that the Franciscan House of Studies opened in Livingstone Zambia in May 1984 with five students. It is, therefore, from this small beginning that the present St. Bonaventure University—Franciscan formation Centre takes its origin.

As the number of staff and students continued to grow it soon became apparent that the premises in Livingstone would need to be expanded or a new Institute founded. After a series of meetings between the representatives of the three families of Friars Minor with the consent of the Zambia Episcopal Conference St. Bonaventure College—Franciscan Formation Centre was founded in Lusaka. On 20th January 1988 the Ministers of the three Franciscan families in Southern African signed a formal agreement to found St. Bonaventure College.

Construction began in November 1988 and the cornerstone of the College was blessed by H.E Jozef Cardinal Tomko, Prefect of the Congregation for Evangelization of the People, on May 5th 1990, in the presence of all bishops of the Zambia Episcopal Conference, numerous friars and local people. the first students moved from Livingstone to Lusaka in July 1991 and classes commenced in November the same year.

Thus, SBC came to life on 27th June 1992 when the three Ministers General of the Order of Friars Minor officially blessed the College. Hence, it has the approval of the three Ministers General of the first Order of the Friars Minor. It also has the approval of the Ministry of Education of the Zambian Government, and according to the Zambian Law passed in 2014, it is now St. Bonaventure University.

Over the years, up to twenty jurisdictions of Friars Minor in English, French and Portuguese speaking Africa have involved themselves in this project. It is worthwhile mentioning that other religious institutes have joined the University. The Major Superiors, in different annual meetings of the Board of Governors, unanimously decided to open the doors of then St. Bonaventure College to non-Franciscan institutes. A good number of students from Marianhill Missionaries (CMM), Divine Word Missionaries (SVD), Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) Passionist Fathers (CP), Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB) and others today study at the University.

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