The USF Ricci Institutewas founded in 1984 by Fr. Edward J. Malatesta, S.J., Theodore N. Foss, Ph.D., and Sr. Mary Celeste Rouleau, R.S.M.
The Institute traces its origins to Fr. Francis Rouleau, S.J., who taught at the Jesuit Theologate in Shanghai and lived in China from 1929 to 1952. Fr. Rouleau, along with Fr. Thomas Carroll, S.J., had for many years been collecting and studying 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.
In 1982 Fr. Malatesta secured offices at the University of San Francisco Lone Mountain Campus and the project archives were moved to the new location. The day after Fr. Rouleau's death in 1984, Malatesta, Foss, and Rouleau founded the Institute for Chinese-Western Cultural History (ICWCH) with the intention of continuing and broadening the long Jesuit history of sinological research. This 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 by the Chinese-Peruvian Jesuit, Fr. Albert Chan, S.J., a Harvard-trained expert in Ming history.
In 1988, the newly renamed Ricci Institute for Chinese-Western Cultural History was officially incorporated into the University of San Francisco as a research arm of the Center for the Pacific Rim which was founded that year.