Opened as a Roman Catholic Seminary in 1893 and restructured into an Institute for Theological and Ministerial studies in 1981, St. Bernard’s has steadily pursued a course of dedication and service to a changing Church in a changing world. The founder, Bishop Bernard J. McQuaid, an educational pioneer, was bold and innovative in his vision of theological education. Succeeding bishops of Rochester also left their mark on the development of St. Bernard’s. Archbishop Thomas Hickey laid the groundwork for its financial stability. Bishop James E. Kearney left a legacy of deeply rooted personal devotion. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen introduced changes enabling the traditional seminary to meet the challenges of the Second Vatican Council.
In response to the Second Vatican Council, St. Bernard’s changed rapidly and became one of the first Roman Catholic seminaries in the United States to open its doors to laity. The focus on ministerial and theological education for the laity intensified with the move from the north side of Rochester to the Colgate Rochester Divinity School (now known as Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School) campus on South Goodman Street. On August 26, 1981, St. Bernard’s and the Colgate Rochester Divinity School signed a covenant establishing a graduate-level affiliation between the two institutions. Under this arrangement, both institutions retained their own curriculum, degrees, endowment, alumni, and Boards of Trustees. Both institutions shared the physical facilities of the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, maintaining a single library, and, within curriculum requirements, extended cross-registration privileges to all enrolled students.
In the fall of 1989, St. Bernard’s initiated an extension program in the Diocese of Albany with the enthusiastic support of Bishop Howard Hubbard. St. Bernard’s program at Albany serves the educational and ministerial needs of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany as well as the wider ecumenical community of the Albany and surrounding areas.
In the spring of 1992, the Diocese of Rochester started a non-graduate training program for people serving in and preparing for parish ministry. This program known as the Certification Program continues to serve as the Diocesan training program for many parish leaders while also providing opportunities for individuals seeking adult faith formation. A comparable program known as the Instituto de Pastoral Hispano is offered for the Hispanic community.
In the fall of 1994, the Certification Program, the Instituto de Pastoral Hispano and the Office of Professional Development were incorporated into the structure of St. Bernard’s. The consolidation of these educational programs with the graduate program brings both better collaboration and clarity to the diverse levels of preparation for ministry. The integration of the Certification and Continuing Education programs into the overall mission of St. Bernard’s signaled the emerging role of the school as the ministerial training center for the Diocese of Rochester. In 2002, the Certification program was extended to the Albany diocese, further enhancing St. Bernard’s role in preparing a wider range of people for ministry.
In August 2003, St. Bernard’s moved to its new campus at 120 French Road. This marked an exciting new phase in the history of the school. This independent existence would not have been possible without the support and significant financial commitment from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester under the leadership of the 8th Bishop of Rochester, The Most Rev. Matthew H. Clark.