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 the Church as it meets the challenges and changes within our world. Our 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; and Venerable 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 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. In the late summer of 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 continues to this day to serve the educational and ministerial needs of the Roman Catholic Diocese of 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 served as the Diocesan training program for many parish leaders for over two decades while also providing opportunities for individuals seeking adult faith formation. A comparable program known as the Instituto de Pastoral Hispano continues to be offered for the Hispanic community.
In August 2003, St. Bernard’s moved to its new campus at 120 French Road in Rochester. This marked an exciting new phase in the history of the school. This existence, independent from its former association with the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, 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, as well as from its many alumni and donor supporters. This third iteration of St. Bernard’s (from this point forward known no longer as an Institute but as a School of Theology and Ministry) continues to meet the challenges of the day in its service of the Dioceses of Rochester, Albany, and Syracuse. In addition to the support it receives from The Most Reverend Salvatore R. Matano, 9th Bishop of Rochester, it enjoys many associations with other communities that serve the Church (specifically, with the Abbey of the Genesee, and the Finger Lakes Medical Guild), and, most recently, offers a pre-seminary program to serve the ministerial needs of the Diocese of Albany, part of which includes the establishment of a new degree program, the Master of Arts in Catholic Philosophy.