Our History

Established 1924. 100 years: a century of uniting education and action

2024 marks 100 years!

Centennial celebration ≫

Nazareth's story is one of responding to the needs of the time, and of creating success against all odds.

Asked by Roman Catholic Bishop of Rochester Thomas Hickey to found a college for women — an underserved population then — the Sisters of St. Joseph responded. Despite traditional gender roles and a prevailing anti-Catholic bias, the sisters led the way to success. With newly-minted doctorates from Fordham University in New York City, and extensive graduate study at Oxford University and the Sorbonne, five Sisters of St. Joseph launched Nazareth College with the first 25 students starting classes on September 24, 1924, which came to be known as Naz Day.

exterior of house on Lake Avenue

Original location, 1924

Nazareth opened in September 1924 in a mansion called the "glass house" on Lake Avenue in Rochester, then moved to Augustine Street in Rochester in 1928 to accommodate growing enrollment.

Nazareth moved to its current home, East Avenue in Pittsford, in 1942.

About Nazareth’s founders

The degree programs that the founding Sisters pursued did not fit the traditional academic path for women in the 1920s, but they had the self-awareness to understand their strengths and intentions and make choices in alignment with them.

  • Sr. Rose Miriam Smyth, Nazareth’s second president from 1939 to 1951, earned a Ph.D. in chemistry. A woman ahead of her time in many ways, she was known as a scientist and environmentalist. (The rose bushes behind Linehan Chapel were her specialty.) Rumor has it that she started studying Russian in her 90s!
  • Sr. Teresa Marie O’Connor earned a Ph.D. in philosophy. As the first dean and librarian of Nazareth, she emphasized the importance of faculty scholarship throughout her academic career; she wanted Nazareth faculty to be passionate and curious individuals who carried their research interests into the classroom.
  • Sr. Rose Marie Carroll completed a Ph.D. in English and then went on to post-doctoral work at Oxford University in England. Passionate about student scholarship, she expected Nazareth students to develop the skills needed for debates and public speaking.
  • Sr. Agnes Patricia Breen established the study of foreign language after completing her doctoral work in French language at the Sorbonne in Paris, France.
  • Sr. Raphael Lyons earned her doctorate in Latin and then, like Sr. Rose Marie Carroll, traveled to England to continue her studies at Oxford University.

Nazareth’s pioneering students were challenged to follow their passions so that they could make a difference in people’s lives and in society, especially listening to and partnering with people in need and championing social justice.

The founding sister-faculty, true to their charism to "serve all without distinction," enabled students to unleash their potential, and the first graduating class included educators, social workers, nurses, and lawyers. As the original "Changemakers" of Nazareth, the founding faculty introduced their students to important life lessons through debating ideas and theories across a broad spectrum of liberal arts courses, the priority of service, and the imperative of confronting injustice.

Nazareth's first graduating class

Changemaker education

One of the first courses offered at Nazareth focused on global economics, with students studying and making recommendations about economic issues around the world.

People are seated outside facing a stage that's under a canopy

Class of '37

Commencement was held outdoors on a beautiful day in 1937.

100 years in about 100 seconds

    Now a University

    On June 1, 2023, Nazareth officially became Nazareth University.

    "It's another time of changemakers... taking the college another step farther." — Eileen Daly, SSJ, trustee

    FAQs: Nazareth University ≫

    As needs changed and expanded with time, Nazareth responded.


    Graduate programs were added, further developing Nazareth as a leader in quality teacher education programs and social work.

    1960s, 1970s

    • Nationally and internationally known speakers such as John Ciardi, Robert Fitzgerald, Edward Said, Gabriel Marcel, Dorothy Day, Rudolph Nureyev, and Costa Rica's President Oscar Arias were invited to address the students and provoke their thinking.
    • The college became co-educational and legally independent of the religious congregation, to “serve all without distinction,” without compromising its original focus on academic excellence.


    Nazareth values experiential learning as a teaching tool, often intersecting with community-based work or projects. Nazareth approaches these opportunities with a spirit of reciprocity: The community and the college are equal stakeholders who each give and benefit.

    • Faculty/staff and student trips, such as The March Bearing Witness to Hope (Germany, Poland) and Hunger and Homelessness (Philadelphia), offer students first-hand experiences related to oppression and the burning cry for justice.
    • Multiple study abroad programs expand students' opportunities to experience other cultures, understand historical events that influence the 21st century, and deepen their global citizenship.
    • Undergraduate research opportunities to collaborate with published faculty pave the way for graduate study, fellowships, grant opportunities, and sought-after post-doctoral awards.
    • A distinguished Partners for Learning program, begun in 1994, continues to focus on advancing educational equity by building partnerships with schools, education centers, and human service organizations dedicated to alleviating poverty, housing and homelessness, addiction recovery, refugee resettlement, and youth development.
    Cassandra Matalavage

    Cassandra "Cassie" Matalavage '17, '18G began tutoring Rochester elementary students during her first year through Nazareth's Partners for Learning program.

     Prof. Padmini Das and Nazareth student Shane Fuentes

    A Nazareth team, including Prof. Padmini Das, Ph.D. (hand raised), and Nazareth student Shane Fuentes '18 (right), guide high school students in investigating an algae problem in local waterways.


    • Integrating math and science — in a distinctive curriculum and new building design — signals renewed commitment to ground-breaking innovations in the sciences (Peckham Hall)
    • Aligning occupational and physical therapy with art, music, and speech therapies in the same location provides practicums for students, interprofessional learning, and full-service clinics for under- and non-insured members of the Rochester community (York Wellness and Rehabilitation Center)
    • Continuing its exemplary commitment to community engagement, Nazareth is recognized as a Presidential Awardee in the 2013 President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll.
    • Partnering with the Clinton Global Initiative University, Nazareth supports more than 40 students in their commitments to action focused on education, poverty alleviation, climate action, peace and human rights, and health.
    • Experiencing state-of-the-art acoustics in the Glazer Music Performance Center showcases student musical performances as well as accommodates professional guest ensembles such as the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and The Society for Chamber Music.
    • Collaborating with Special Olympics in a new fieldhouse on campus — Golisano Training Center — provides inclusion, fitness, and wellness for athletes of all abilities and enables Nazareth students majoring in nursingpublic healthphysical therapyspeech therapysocial workart therapymusic therapy, and occupational therapy, as well as pre‐medical and pre‐dental minors and those pursuing Nazareth's unique interdisciplinary specialty program in autism (I‐SPAN), to learn and provide service through promoting wellness for all.
    • Nazareth stands out for its significant number of Fulbright awards for a college of its size.
    • Committing to interreligious dialogue in practice, Nazareth is proud of the ongoing contributions and programs hosted by our Hickey Center for Interfaith Studies and Dialogue, our Konar Center for Tolerance and Jewish Studies, and our Sulam Center prayer space, shared by both Nazareth’s Hillel and the Muslim Student Association.

    Determined to become an equity-minded, inclusive campus, Nazareth administrators and students are committed to welcoming and creating space for all to discover their identity, inclusive of any sexual/gender orientation, race/ethnicity, religion, and socio-economic background.

    Drone Flyover

      We are Nazareth

        2021, 2022, 2023, 2024, and beyond

        Through its 80+ academic programs and majors, and through community partnerships, Nazareth continues to empower its students for a life-long journey of self-awareness and discovery through passionate dialogue and lively debate. Committed to the dynamic synergy of academic inquiry, community engagement, spiritual development, and principles of justice, the College challenges students to experience new cultures, confront racism, and respond with empathy to the cry of the environment and the cry of the poor.

        Emulating the passion, drive, and perseverance of the founding sisters, Nazareth students — known as the Golden Flyers — are prepared to fly: to develop a sense of purpose, to investigate and respect divergent world views across borders and cultural divides, to pour energy into creatively shaping a world of compassion, equity, and inclusivity, and to become community leaders who are authentic Changemakers.

        Learn more about today’s guiding principles, which draw from Nazareth’s roots:

        June 1, 2023: The name Nazareth University took effect, recognizing the significant graduate programs the institution has long offered.

        College Archives

        Nazareth's Archives collects, organizes, describes, maintains, promotes, and provides access to institutional records of enduring historical and research value as a resource for the Nazareth community.

        For more information, contact Deborah Janetos in the Library at djaneto1@naz.edu or 389-2140.

        Naz History Podcasts

        • Nazareth Centennial Podcast by Professor Timothy Kneeland features people and stories from Nazareth’s first 100 years, 1924-2024.
        • Prez Paul Podcast: President Beth Paul, Ph.D., is joined by Tim Kneeland, Ph.D., professor of history and political science, and Susan Nowak, Ph.D., SSJ, professor and Shannon chair of religious studies. Listen: What Would Our Founders Do? (January 19, 2021)