Bellarmine has its origin in 1851 when Father John Nobili, S.J., founded Santa Clara College for elementary, secondary, and college age students. This structure continued until 1903 when the elementary grades were discontinued.
In 1912 Santa Clara College became Santa Clara University and the high school division became Santa Clara Prep. In November 1925, Santa Clara Prep purchased the old campus of the College of the Pacific in the College Park neighborhood of San Jose for $77,500 and moved from the Santa Clara University campus to its new location. The school colors changed from the red and white of Santa Clara University to blue and white to honor Mary, the Mother of Jesus. In 1926 the school opened its doors with only 200 registered students. At the same time, its name was changed to Bellarmine at the prompting of Archbishop of San Francisco Edward Joseph Hanna, who suggested that the school honor Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, a Jesuit of the sixteenth century who had recently been canonized a saint and declared a Doctor of the Church.
The oldest building on campus is Berchmans Hall and was used as a dorm for seniors. The building is named for St. John Berchmans, a Jesuit seminarian who died in 1621. The house was built for Charles B. Polhemus in 1916 and was originally at Stockton Avenue and Taylor (then called Polhemus) before being purchased and moved by the school to its current location at Elm Street and Hedding in 1946.
For almost 20 years the number of students remained at 200 until the school needed to increase its student population and improve its campus buildings. Fr. Gerald Sugrue, S.J., was given this task and began the process which would lead the school into the post-war era. The old College of the Pacific buildings were replaced by new classroom buildings, the Schott Academic Center, a library, St. Robert's Jesuit Residence Hall, Vincent O'Donnell Residence Hall, Samuel L. Liccardo Center, Wayne Valley Memorial Gymnasium, James A. Carney Science Center, the Leontyne Chapel, and Matthewson Hall. Bellarmine was a boarding school until the 1982–1983 academic year, when the O'Donnell dormitory was converted to classroom and administrative functions. Bellarmine's enrollment has grown to more than 1,500 students from all parts of the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2001, Bellarmine celebrated 150 years of educating young men in the Jesuit tradition. In 2010, the Sobrato Center for the Humanities and the Arts was opened, a building that includes numerous classrooms and a new theater. Also in 2010, the Schott Academic Center was demolished, and at the beginning of the 2011-12 school year Bellarmine dedicated its new Lorry I. Lokey Center, housing math, religious studies, and social science courses. A new student life center that contains counseling and resource centers opened in 2012. A newly renovated baseball diamond opened in 2013 and in 2014 a new wrestling building erected from where the old fitness center stood.
The curriculum requires coursework in English, mathematics, social studies, science, foreign language, fine arts, physical education, and theology, while additional courses in computer science are available. With its emphasis on college preparation, Bellarmine also provides an honors and Advanced Placement program, preparing students to take more than 24 AP tests, with 87% of test scores qualifying for college credit, as of 2007. In 2007, 95.2% of the graduates chose to attend four-year institutions throughout the United States and abroad, both public and private, including the University of California system, the Big Ten, the Big East, the Ivy League, the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), the NESCAC, and the United States military academies.
The Bellarmine Bells field 34 teams in 13 sports in the West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL) of the CIF Central Coast Section. Sports include football, basketball, baseball, soccer, volleyball, water polo, swimming, lacrosse, tennis, cross country, golf, wrestling, track and field, and ice hockey. As of the 2009-10 school year, Bellarmine added rugby as a club team, competing in spring in the Skyhawk Conference. The campus includes an outdoor swimming pool, baseball diamond, and gymnasium, along with new facilities for soccer, football, and all-weather track. Since 1981, Bellarmine leads CIF Central Coast Section schools with 115 Division 1 titles.
The top sports at Bellarmine are swimming, cross-country, soccer, volleyball, and water polo. Under coach Larry Rogers the swim team for 15 years after 1985 won every CCS championship and the water polo team won 14 of 15 titles. The swimming team won the California state championship in 2012. In 2011, the cross-country team placed 13th at the California state meet and 8th in Division 1. The team had a streak of high placements and WCAL wins beginning in 2005. In 2011, the team was ranked 27th in the nation by ESPN.rise. Bellarmine's volleyball team has won nine of the thirteen CCS volleyball championships from 1997 to 2010, when coach Scott Petersen's team was ranked #5 in the country by ESPNRise and honored as having the highest grade point average in the state among boys volleyball teams. Former volleyball coach Patrick Adams has the most victories of a volleyball coach in CCS history with 305. In 2011 the lacrosse team reached the #1 ranking nationally during the season. Bellarmine's 2002 varsity soccer team had a 25-0-0 season. It had a streak of 17 out of 18 WCAL championships with a top-20 in the nation ranking most of those years and rising to #13 in 2010.
Central to Bellarmine's mission is its Campus Ministry and its Christian Service Program. Campus Ministry, in the tradition of Jesuit spirituality, offers the Freshmen Retreat, one-day Sophomore Breakaways, and four-day Junior and Senior Kairos, the capstone of the Bellarmine retreat experience. There are also weekend Mother/Son and Father/Son retreats, the Silent Retreat, and the 4th Day Retreat. Campus Ministry further provides personal counseling, assists in student-sponsored monthly liturgies, guides the Student Campus Ministry Team, leads Christian Life Communities, sets up daily Mass and morning prayer, and fosters spirituality among Bellarmine's staff and faculty.
The Christian Service Program (CSP) provides each student opportunities to engage directly with marginalized youth, the physically and mentally disabled, and the socio-economically disadvantaged. Students are required to complete 75 hours of service before graduation, including an extensive senior service project. CSP also oversees service learning in the school curriculum, administers service projects for alumni, faculty, and staff, and guides the student-run CSP Corps. Members of CSP run several Bellarmine clubs which focus on organizing fundraisers and events for the Bellarmine community. Direct experience and compassionate human interaction are emphasized in Bellarmine's immersion trips to Guaymas, Haiti, Tijuana, Uruguay, downtown San Jose, rural Salinas, and El Salvador. CSP trips have also included Los Angeles, Guatemala, Appalachia, Central Mexico, India, and Taiwan.
Bellarmine's co-curricular program offers nearly 150 different student groups and clubs emphasizing the arts, athletics, hobbies, diversity, leadership, service, scholastics and student government. The intramural athletic program offers touch football, dodgeball, basketball, softball, and rugby.
With over 170 participants, speech and debate has experienced success at the local and national levels. In 1994, Bellarmine won the team speech and debate National Forensic League Championship in Kansas City, MO. In 2003 and 2004 the team won the California State Championship, then came in second in the state in 2005 when it was ranked as one of the top two teams in the nation. In 2006, its policy debate team captured the National Championship. For nine years, 2006-2014, Bellarmine's Speech and Debate program won the California State Championship. Bellarmine also competes against local schools in the Coast Forensic League. In 2009, it reached the final round of the Tournament of Champions.
The Robotics Team is one of the larger organizations at Bellarmine with around 100-150 members. The team has won the World Chairman's Award (the highest award in FIRST), the World Championships in 2011 and 2014, placed second at World twice, and won the Silicon Valley Regional every year since its inception – 1999-2015 except for 2007. In 2008, Bellarmine first entered VEX Robotics and in 2009–2010 won 16 regional competitions, 6 of them in international competition. In the 2010–2011 season, Bellarmine's VEX team 254A won the VEX World Excellence Award, the highest it confers. In 2014, the team won three regionals, the Curie Division, and World Championships.
Bellarmine student publish a newspaper, The Cardinal, an award-winning yearbook, The Carillon, and a newsmagazine, Bellarmine Political Review. The student-run Writers Guild publishes annually the Written Echo which contains poetry, short stories, and art created by students and faculty. The Writers Guild also hosts yearly a spoken event known as "Pompous Penguin," in which students from Bellarmine and other schools in the area present works they have written.
In 2008 Bellarmine began its own radio station, KBCP The Bell, online and as a legal, unlicensed station at 1650 AM which reaches a 1-mile radius of the school. Programs include 30-minute newscasts, sports shows, daily music shows, and political talk radio. In August 2013 KBCP partnered with PlayON sports to produce bellarminetv.com, which then re-associated with High School Cube. In September 2013 KBCP added home Hockey games to its covered sports. KBCP also plays music during lunch break and offers student-run programs such as The Way Too Early Show, Hammertime, The Afternoon Grind and Cloud 140. KBCP peaked at 3700 listeners during its broadcast of the Bellarmine-Saint Francis football game in 2016.
In addition to course electives in painting, photography, ceramics, art history, sculpture, drawing, and graphic design, Bellarmine supports student groups including a cappella and improvisational. Music electives include symphonic band, lab band, jazz ensemble, percussion ensemble, wind ensemble, music appreciation, and choir. The symphonic band, percussion ensemble, and jazz ensemble have won honors and in the Heritage Festival in Los Angeles the Bells won 1st place in symphonic band, 1st and 2nd place in percussion ensemble (at the most advanced level), and the sweepstakes award for highest overall score. Student concerts often showcase these groups along with other student bands. Over 100 students participate in the Theater Arts program which produces a fall drama, winter musical, and spring comedy. Students also get a chance to display their film talents in the Bellarmine Film Festival in April and May.
Established during the 2006–2007 school year, Bellarmine's Freshman Experience program is composed of the new Big Brother program and the longstanding Freshman Retreat. For the Big Brother program upperclassmen are selected to act as guides and advisers to the incoming freshmen, also joining them on the Freshman Retreat. Each fall a day-long retreat introduces freshmen to the retreat experience and to Bellarmine's emphasis on "brotherhood." The retreat also focuses on team-building and spiritual growth, and on tips to relieve the stress of freshman year. Some big brothers help the director of the Freshman Experience to plan various activities throughout the school year.
Bellarmine's Quiz Bowl team has been nationally successful and is coached by admissions counselor Chris Fleitas. In the Fall 2008 Knowledge Master Open competition, the team placed second in California and third in the world. In the Fall 2009 competition for the KMO, the Bellarmine team took second in California and eighth in the world, while their freshman team took first in the world for the junior high competition. In the Spring 2010 KMO competition, the Bellarmine team once again took second place in California and eleventh place globally, while the freshman team repeated as first globally in the junior high competition. The team won the 2008 Northern California NAQT State championship, the 2009 Quiz Kids tournament, and the 2011 Quiz Kids tournament. On December 10, 2010, Bellarmine achieved first place nationally for the first time. They did this with only 17 students on the KMO team, compared to second place Montgomery Blair's squad of 121. In addition, Bellarmine took 4th place at the 2010 NAQT High School National Championship Tournament, improving to 3rd place in 2011. In 2012, Bellarmine took 1st place at the NAQT High School National Championship Tournament. Bellarmine player Sameer Rai won the 2013 National History Bowl team competition playing by himself.Bellarmine Art Magazine – also known as BAM, the annual art magazine presenting students' works over the year, published by Bellarmine's Creative Coalition (previously known as the Bellarmine Intergalactic Design Studio Club)
Bellarmine Political Review – also known as BPR, the newsmagazine covering news outside campus, produced by students
The Cardinal – the official student newspaper covering school news, produced by students. Stopped regular newsprint edition Spring 2016.
The Carillon – the yearbook and news website covering school news, produced by students
Connections – a magazine published for the alumni, friends of the school, and parents of current students, replacing the parent magazine "The Bell News"
The Family Newsletter – produced by the Bellarmine Mothers' Guild, offers news of interest to the current students and their families
The Written Echo – a collection of various prose and poetry works from students; plans have been made to publish a joint edition with sister school Presentation High School.