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The University of Santo Tomas is the oldest existing university in Asia and in terms of student population, the largest Catholic university in the world located in one campus.

It was founded on April 28, 1611 by the third Archbishop of Manila, Msgr. Miguel de Benavides, O.P., together with Frs. Domingo de Nieva and Bernardo de Santa Catalina. It was originally conceived as a school to prepare young men for the priesthood.

Located within Intramuros, the Walled City, it was first called Colegio de Nuestra Señora del Santisimo Rosario and later renamed Colegio de Santo Tomas in memory of the foremost Dominican Theologian, Saint Thomas Aquinas.

In 1624, the Colegio was authorized to confer academic degrees in Theology, Philosophy and Arts. On November 20, 1645 Pope Innocent X elevated the College to the rank of a university and in 1680, it was subsequently placed under royal patronage. In 1785, for the exceptional loyalty shown by the administration and students who volunteered to defend Manila against the British invasion, King Charles III granted it the title of "Royal University".

Pope Leo XIII made the University of Santo Tomas a "Pontifical University" on September 17, 1902 and in 1947, Pope Pius XII bestowed upon it the title of "The Catholic University of the Philippines".

In 1927, with the continuing increase in enrollment, the University moved from Intramuros to its present site which covers an area of 21.5 hectares in the district of Sampaloc .

Since its foundation, the University's academic life has been interrupted only twice: 1898 to 1899, during the Philippine revolution against Spain; and 1942 to 1945, during the Japanese occupation of Manila, when the University of Santo Tomas was transformed by the Japanese Forces into a concentration camp.

In recognition of the noble achievements of this institution, a number of important dignitaries have officially visited the University, among them, during the last three decades: His Holiness Pope Paul VI on November 28, 1970; His Royal Highness, Prince Juan Carlos, now King Juan Carlos I of Spain in 1974 and 1995; Mother Teresa of Calcutta in January 1977 and again in November 1984; Pope John Paul II on February 18, 1981 and January 13, 1995; Pres. Eduardo Frei of Chile on November 21, 1995; and Pres. Jose Maria Aznar of Spain on July 1, 2000.