In 1817 Cornelius Paulding, a wealthy businessman and president of the Louisiana Bible Society, first proposed the establishment of such a school in the gateway to Latin America. In 1849 Dr. Basil Manly, Sr., president of the University of Alabama, wrote that locating an institution for the training of preachers and missionaries in New Orleans was "very rational, feasible, and eligible." Further laying a groundwork in the 1890s, SBC President J.B. Gambrell, for three successive years, conducted an annual "Pastors' Theological Institute" at the First Baptist Church of New Orleans.
Then in 1914 P.I. Lipsey, editor of the Mississippi Baptist Record, spoke vigorously on the subject in an editorial, stating: "A seminary (in New Orleans) would plant the Baptist cause in this city in a way that would immediately command the attention and the respect of all. It would be planting the siege guns at the enemies' gates. It would rally the Baptists and put heart into them and equip them for their work as nothing else could." At the time, only five Southern Baptist churches, four of which were missions, existed in the greater New Orleans area.
Three years of planning finally culminated in action by the Southern Baptist Convention when sessions were held in New Orleans in 1917, whereby the SBC's Home Mission Board and Sunday School Board were instructed to cooperate with the Mississippi and Louisiana State Baptist Conventions in the establishment of a theological school in New Orleans.
Thus, a century-old dream of Baptists in the South became a reality. The rich traditions and atmosphere of New Orleans are a part of the life of the seminary. From its beginning until 1953, the school was located at 1220 Washington Avenue in the heart of New Orleans' historic Garden District. The beautiful antebellum facility there was purchased in 1918 from the H. Sophie Newcomb College. Its history reaches back into the 1850s when the grounds were laid out as a magnificent mansion site.
The current campus, at 3939 Gentilly Boulevard in eastern New Orleans, was purchased in 1947. The landmark entrance gates and fence from the Garden District mansion now are located prominently on the front block of the Gentilly campus. The current property, once a 75-acre pecan orchard and marsh, has been transformed into a beautiful campus, now including twelve additional acres and numerous buildings, many in French Colonial architecture.
The vision of Cornelius Paulding, almost two hundred years ago, to establish a training facility for missions and outreach has become a world class facility dedicated to the effective training of ministers for church and other ministry related assignments.