For almost 200 years, Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School has served as one of the world’s leading progressive theological schools, preparing socially conscious, socially active leaders who impact the world through Christ-centered leadership and service. Its name and its rich heritage speak to a series of unique unions and partnerships among several outstanding seminaries. The result of these visionary unions and collaborations is the progressive gem we know today as Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School.
The Establishment of the Oldest Baptist Seminary in America
The roots of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School trace all the way back to 1817 when a small group of 13 Baptists concerned about the education of clergy, gathered in rural Hamilton, New York with $13 and 13 prayers to form what would soon become the Hamilton Literary and Theological Institution. The vision and effort of this group also eventually led to the founding of Colgate University with the seminary one of its schools. Thus, the seminary was soon renamed Colgate Theological Seminary. Its first graduate, Jonathan Wade, began a tradition of outstanding ministerial and socially engaged leadership when he conducted pioneering mission work in Burma.
Throughout its history, Colgate Theological Seminary was noted for its uncompromising commitment to academic freedom. William Newton Clarke (1840-1912), one of its faculty members, wrote An Outline of Christian Theology (1898) that became, in the words of a leading historian, “virtually the Dogmatik of evangelical liberalism.”
An Urban Seminary Begins in Rochester
An offshoot of Colgate Theological Seminary was planted in Rochester in 1850 by a group of Baptists who wished to remove both Colgate University and its theological seminary to an urban setting. The initial removal controversy failed in a legal dispute; however, a number of faculty and students came from Colgate to Rochester to help begin a new university and seminary in what was then a booming urban center. As a result, the Rochester Theological Seminary was founded concurrently with the University of Rochester.
The seminary soon distinguished itself for its combination of academic rigor and social witness, traits remarkably combined in its most famous faculty member, Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918), the founder of the Social Gospel movement of the late 19th century. For 40 years, Augustus Hopkins Strong (1836-1921) served as president of Rochester Theological Seminary while producing theology that incorporated the new doctrine of evolution and the emerging practices of biblical criticism. Like her sister school in Hamilton, Rochester Theological Seminary was ecumenical in its mission, enrolling seminarians from many denominations while remaining firmly rooted in its Baptist heritage.
Two Seminaries Unite
In 1928, the Colgate and Rochester seminaries merged to become Colgate Rochester Divinity School, and as part of that merger, the present campus was built on one of the highest hills in the southeastern corner of Rochester, New York, thanks to funding from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. The joining of these two schools represented a distinctive blending of roots and heritages. In time, it would serve as a precedent for other mergers by demonstrating that two distinctive institutions could strengthen their lives by becoming one.
Women’s School Merges with Colgate Rochester Divinity School
In 1961, the Baptist Missionary Training School joined Colgate Rochester, adding another important branch to the school’s lineage.
The 19th century was a period of great ferment and social change. While the Social Gospel movement concentrated on the widening gap between the rich and poor, the Baptist Missionary Training School, founded in Chicago in 1881, was created to address another issue: the role of women in the Church. Its founder, Mrs. Rumah Crouse, possessed a vision both local and global. She created a community for women who were “responding to God’s call as revealed in Jesus Christ,” even when the Church failed to recognize their call. Typical of its graduates was Joanna P. Moore, a graduate of its first class in 1881, who worked with African-Americans for more than 40 years, instituting “fireside schools” to teach literacy skills to women and children. To prepare its graduates for such forms of service, the training school innovatively combined classroom work with field education to equip its students to minister wherever the need was greatest.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Alma Mater Moves to Rochester
In 1970, Crozer Theological Seminary merged with Colgate Rochester Divinity School to form Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School (CRCDS), bringing Crozer’s deep commitment to social justice and theological education oriented to the work of ministry.
Crozer Theological Seminary was a result of the generosity of Baptist industrialist John P. Crozer. In 1867, he donated the building and land in Upland, Pennsylvania, that would eventually become Crozer Theological Seminary. His investment paid great dividends. In 1951, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. graduated from Crozer. A few years later, he would put to use the social ethics he had been taught at Crozer and lead the emergent Civil Rights Movement that would change forever the character of American society.
Collaborative Partners Bring Ecumenical Richness to CRCDS
Saint Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry
In 1893, St. Bernard’s Seminary was founded to provide education for Roman Catholic diocesan priests. Following the Second Vatican Council, the seminary turned its attention to educating men and women for lay ministry. In 1981, St. Bernard’s Seminary was closed, and St. Bernard’s Institute was born and entered into a covenant relationship with Colgate Rochester Crozer. It moved to the CRCDS campus, where it remained until 2003 when it moved to a new campus nearby, changing its name to St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry. St. Bernard’s remains a vital covenant partner with Colgate Rochester Crozer to this day.
Bexley Seabury Federation program in Anglican studies
Another educational institution more recently joined our ecumenical partnerships. In the fall of 2013, CRCDS, in collaboration with Bexley Seabury and the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester, initiated a program in Anglican Studies. This program provides a local and regional option for Episcopal students to prepare for ordination as students earn a Master of Divinity degree from CRCDS while concurrently earning a Certificate in Anglican Studies from Bexley Seabury.
Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School Today
Through a series of unusual and even improbable unions and covenant partnerships, Colgate Rochester Crozer has emerged as witness to God’s faithfulness and to all that can be accomplished when like-minded, steadfast individuals work together to serve and educate God’s people. The school lives as a vibrant community of learners who seek to know and understand themselves and others while learning the critical skills necessary for successful leadership, ministry and service.