The USF Ricci Institute was founded in 1984 by Fr. Edward J. Malatesta, S.J. (1932-1998), Theodore N. Foss, Ph.D., (born 1950) and Sr. Mary Celeste Rouleau, R.S.M. (1926-2008). The Institute traces its origins to Fr. Francis Rouleau, S.J. (1901-1984), who taught at the Jesuit Theologate in Shanghai and lived in China from 1929 until 1952. Fr. Rouleau, along with Fr. Thomas Carroll, S.J., had for many years collected and studied materials on early Sino-Western cultural contacts at the Sacred Heart Center in Los Gatos and originally called their endeavor the Sino-Jesuit History Project, with a focus on the Chinese Rites Controversy. After the untimely death of Fr. Carroll, Fr. Edward Malatesta joined Fr. Rouleau to continue the project. Fr. Rouleau’s niece, Sr. Mary Celeste Rouleau, also joined the project as archivist.
In 1982 Fr. Malatesta secured offices at the University of San Francisco’s Lone Mountain Campus and the project archives were moved to the new location. Dr. Theodore N. Foss, Ph.D, joined the team and brought his personal archives to enhance the collection.
The day after Fr. Rouleau's death in 1984, Fr. Malatesta, Dr. Foss, and Sr. Celeste founded the Institute for Chinese-Western Cultural History (ICWCH) with the intention of continuing and broadening the long Jesuit tradition of Sinological research. This aim was greatly facilitated by the arrival of the Chinese Library of the Society of Jesus (Bibliotheca Sinensis Societatis Iesu) in 1985, which had been compiled in Hong Kong over many years by the Chinese-Peruvian Jesuit, Fr. Albert Chan, S.J., a Harvard-trained historian in Ming history.
As the Institute grew and worldwide scholarly interest in the field dramatically increased, in 1990 the name was officially changed to the Ricci Institute for Chinese-Western Cultural History in order to better reflect our approach to research and our international connections with students, scholars, and academic institutions.