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History of New Orleans Seminary and Leavell College

Founded for Mission

Established in 1917, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary was actually the fulfillment of a century-old dream of Baptists to reach the city of New Orleans (then one of the largest cities in America, with a well-deserved reputation as a “sin city”) and to establish a missionary training school at the gateway to Latin America. NOBTS was voted into being by the Southern Baptist Convention in 1917 as messengers met in New Orleans for their annual meeting. New Orleans Seminary was the first theological institution to be created by direct action of the Southern Baptist Convention. Originally named Baptist Bible Institute, the name was changed to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in 1946.

Growth and Expansion

Following unanimous SBC approval in 1917, the Institute opened its first session in October 1918 under the leadership of Byron H. DeMent, who served as president of the Baptist Bible Institute from 1917 to 1928.

Others who have served as president of the school are William W. Hamilton Sr. (1928-42); Duke K. McCall (1943-46); Roland Q. Leavell (1946-58); H. Leo Eddleman (1959- 70); Grady C. Cothen (1970-74); and Landrum P. Leavell II, nephew of Roland Leavell (1974-95); and Charles S. “Chuck” Kelley Jr. (1996-2019).

On June 5, 2019, the NOBTS trustees unanimously elected James K. “Jamie” Dew Jr. to serve as the school’s ninth president. Dew brings a wealth of academic, administrative, and ministerial experience to the task. He holds two Ph.D. degrees, one from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and another from the University of Birmingham (UK). Dew most recently served as vice president of undergraduate studies and distance learning at Southeastern Seminary.

From its beginning until 1953, the school was located at 1220 Washington Avenue, in the heart of the Garden District of residential New Orleans. During the presidency of Roland Q. Leavell, the current campus at 3939 Gentilly Boulevard was purchased in 1947. The landmark entrance gates and fence from the Garden District mansion now are located on the front block of the Gentilly campus. The current property, once a 75-acre pecan orchard, has been transformed into a beautiful campus with 12 additional acres and more than 70 buildings.

New Orleans Seminary is accredited to offer degrees on both the undergraduate and graduate levels: associate, baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral. The Seminary is committed to making quality theological education as accessible and affordable as possible to as many as possible. NOBTS currently serves more than 3,600 students. More than 20,000 men and women have studied and prepared themselves for ministry at NOBTS. In 2017 and 2018, the seminary celebrated its 100th year of ministry in New Orleans.

Leavell College History

Honoring the legacy left by George Washington and Corra (Berry) Leavell and their extended family, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary trustees voted to change the name of the institution’s College of Undergraduate Studies to Leavell College in October 2001. The new name recognizes the Leavells’ nine sons and their families, eight of whom have served in full-time vocational ministry as pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and denominational leaders throughout the Southern Baptist Convention. One of the brothers, Roland Q. Leavell, served as president of the Seminary for 12 years. Landrum P. Leavell II, nephew of Roland Leavell, served as president for over 20 years.

Roland Q. Leavell, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s fourth president, began the School of Christian Training in 1954. The program, devoted to training students who did not have a college degree, was discontinued a few years after it began. The dream for this type of school did not die.

In 1976, the Seminary re-activated the School of Christian Training (later renamed the College of Undergraduate Studies) with the purpose of offering diploma and associate degree programs. Roland Leavell’s nephew, Landrum P. Leavell II, was a driving force in re-establishing and strengthening the School of Christian Training. Leavell envisioned an accredited college that would offer Christian education to a greater number of students. In 1992, the Seminary expanded its undergraduate offerings to include a fully accredited four-year baccalaureate program.

When the school was re-established, the school had only 25 to 30 students. Now with more than 1,400 students enrolled, Leavell College offers four fully accredited bachelor of arts degrees and three associative of arts degrees, certificate-level classes for laypeople, and a diploma program for those without high school diplomas or GEDs.

The Leavell Brothers

Years before Leavell College existed, a group of men turned their hearts to God and were used mightily to change their world. This group was made up of eight brothers, the Leavell brothers. The Leavells were raised by godly parents who surrounded their children by prayer. God found willing hearts in these men who surrendered themselves for service. They were willing to do whatever God had called them to do, even if it had never been done before. Desiring not to be just followers, they became pioneers.

  • Frank, one of the brothers, became a pioneer in student ministries work, eventually serving as the Baptist Student Union leader at the Baptist Sunday School Board (now LifeWay).

  • Another brother, Landrum P., was the first director of the Baptist Young People’s Union, which eventually became the discipleship ministry of the local church.

  • Roland Q. served as the evangelism director for the Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board) and later became president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary from 1946-1958.

  • Two brothers, George Walne and Ullin Whitney, served as missionaries in China.

  • Leonard O. was a pastor in the Southeast and was the father of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s seventh president, Landrum P. Leavell, who served from 1975-1994, plus an additional year as interim president.

  • James Berry was an evangelist and pastor who served churches across the Southeast.

  • Clarence Stanley served on the Arkansas state mission board.

  • Arnaud Bruce was a dedicated dentist in Hollywood, CA. The Leavells made a great impact on their generation. Our prayer is that the graduates of Leavell College will have a similar impact in the Kingdom of God.

A Vision for the Future

The future is bright at New Orleans Seminary and Leavell College and the school remains committed to the task of training men and women for Gospel ministry in this most unique setting. In addition to a continued focus on graduate programs, NOBTS leaders plan to expand and enhance the work of Leavell College. Dr. Dew also brings a new emphasis on raising up a generation of Gospel ministers marked by servanthood and total devotion to Christ and His kingdom. Servanthood and the basin and towel will characterize the NOBTS community as they proclaim the Gospel and grow in spiritual fervor.