The First 300

Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary

View of the original part of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary built in 1871. Architects Addison Hutton and Samuel Sloan designed this building which reunited the preparatory college and theology divisions.

Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary was founded in 1832 by the Most Reverend Francis P. Kenrick, third Bishop of Philadelphia. The initial location of the Seminary was the home of Bishop Kenrick on Fifth Street in Philadelphia. Circumstances dictated the subsequent moves to the northwest corner of Fifth and Prune (now Locust) Streets, to St. Mary’s Rectory on Fourth Street, and eventually to the southeast corner of Eighteenth and Race Streets in Philadelphia. For an 11-year period the preparatory division of the Seminary was located at Glen Riddle in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. In 1863, Archbishop James F. Wood made the first of three purchases of property just outside Philadelphia in Overbrook. Today these purchases in Lower Merion Township comprise the Seminary campus.

Original farmhouse (1860s) still located on the campus. This house was part of the purchases in Lower Merion made by Archbishop James F. Wood, starting in 1863.

Architects Addison Hutton and Samuel Sloan designed the building where the preparatory college and theology divisions were reunited in September 1871. In December 1875, the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception was formally dedicated by Archbishop Wood. Subsequent Archbishops of Philadelphia have made improvements on the campus: Archbishop Patrick J. Ryan: Library (1911); Archbishop Edmond Prendergast: student residence hall; Dennis Cardinal Dougherty: the college building as you enter the main gates; John Cardinal O’Hara: indoor swimming pool; John Cardinal Krol: residence hall for theology students and multipurpose building dedicated to St. John Vianney (1971). The buildings that consist of the current Theology Division and the Ryan Memorial Library stand at the western end of the campus. The Seminary College is located at the eastern end.


The fundamental mission of Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary is the formation of Catholic men of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, of other dioceses, and of religious communities for pastoral service in the Roman Catholic priesthood. The Seminary is committed to providing a unified college and theology program of formation in priestly spirituality, pastoral ministry, celibate witness, emotional maturity, intellectual integrity and physical wellness.

This program is complemented by personal and community prayer, a comprehensive academic program of liberal arts and theological studies, and a program of pastoral preparation designed primarily for parochial ministry.

Offering its resources to the larger church community through its Religious Studies Division, the Seminary provides a variety of academic and pastoral programs to serve the needs and interests of priests, deacons, and the religious in parochial and other ministries, other parish ministers, teachers of religion and interested lay persons. The Seminary is committed to serving the need for ongoing formation and preparation for pastoral ministry.

Open house at St. Charles Seminary (1999).
Aerial view (1930s) of the grounds of the Seminary bordering Lancaster Avenue and Wynnewood Road. The original buildings are to the left in the photo and the large college building and St. Martin’s Chapel to the right.
Interior view of Immaculate Conception Chapel, formally dedicated by Archbishop Wood in 1875.
Early engraving of the Seminary from the 1870s.


The seminary is a fully accredited college and graduate school of theology. It consists of three divisions: College, Theology, and Religious Studies. Potential candidates for the Roman Catholic priesthood pursue a program which consists of a four year liberal arts curriculum followed by a four year curriculum within the professional school of theology. The seminary offers the degrees of Bachelor of Arts, Master of Divinity, and Master of Arts.

Seminarians of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and several other dioceses participate in the College Division’s Spirituality Year Program in Northampton, Pennsylvania as part of the normal preparation for the Theology Division. These programs are envisioned as parts of a single uniform program of formation for the priesthood which gives the Seminary its distinct identity.

In addition to its responsibility for the formation of candidates for the Roman Catholic priesthood, the seminary also serves as a center of theological education for laity and the religious in the Greater Philadelphia area and around the country. Its Religious Studies Division conducts evening and summer courses on both the graduate and undergraduate levels in Catholic theology, Sacred Scripture, and related fields. The Religious Studies Division offers a fully accredited Master of Arts Degree Program. All programs are designed to foster greater knowledge and deeper appreciation of the Catholic faith and keener awareness of the religious needs of all men and women.

Examples of art work in the Seminary’s collection:

Archbishop James F. Wood by Thomas Eakins.
Monsignor Patrick J. Garvey by Thomas Eakins.
Archbishop Jean Jadot by Alice Neel.
John Cardinal Krol by Philip Pearlstein.

Within the Larger Community

The campus provides the setting for numerous activities in the course of the year. While not directly related to the Seminary program, events such as prayer meetings, clerical and professional conferences, alumni reunions, vocation weekends and a summer camp for children give evidence of the Seminary’s spirit of openness for the sake of service. In addition, a number of Archdiocesan offices have been located on campus: the Vocations Office for Diocesan Priesthood, Family Life Office, and the Office for the Permanent Diaconate and Church Ministry Training Program. The various educational projects and workshops conducted on campus together with the services that the Ryan Memorial Library extends to the larger community create a spirit of vitality and outreach for the Seminary.

Interior view of St. Martin’s Chapel.
The focus of life at St. Charles is to prepare for the priesthood. An example of the social life is seen in this photo of street hockey.