Formal introductory courses in Astronomy were introduced to the Saint Mary's curriculum by Father Michael J. Burke-Gaffney S.J. in 1957. Fifteen years later, Burke-Gaffney convinced the University to build a small observatory on the roof of the 23-story Loyola residence to be used for both class activities and public tours. In recognition of Burke-Gaffney's seminal role in establishing Saint Mary's as the regional centre for astronomy, the observatory was named in his honour.
Between 1971 and 1974, three astronomers joined the Department of Physics who, in 1974, formed a separate department and began offering an M.Sc. in Astronomy. This was the University's first Master's program in science as well as the first Astronomy program in the region. In 1989 and in cooperation with the Department of Physics, the Department of Astronomy began offering undergraduate programs in astrophysics to complement the M.Sc. in Astronomy and the B.Sc. in physics.
In 1993, the independent Departments of Physics and Astronomy were combined into a single department with eight faculty members and three staff. Given the University's status as the only institution in Atlantic Canada to offer full programs in Astronomy at either the undergraduate or graduate levels, the new department was called the Department of Astronomy and Physics. Building upon this strength, Saint Mary's made the strategic decision to allocate two of its six Canada Research Chairs to Astronomy and the Department used this opportunity to found the Institute for Computational Astrophysics (ICA) in 2001. With the addition of an NSERC University Research Fellow, the Department now has eleven full-time faculty and three faculty emeriti bringing more than $350,000 annually to the University in external research funds.
In 2002, approval was granted to the University to offer a Ph.D. program in Astronomy, making it the first science Ph.D. program offered in Nova Scotia outside Dalhousie. With its emphasis on research as well as teaching, its status of offering the only full complement of university astronomy degrees east of Toronto, and its small, intimate, urban setting in one of the most charming cities on the continent, Saint Mary's University is truly a unique place to study astronomy and astrophysics at any level.