In the 67 years that the Manna Bible Institute has trained clergy for the ministry, the private, independent school has moved 12 times.

The low point in that pilgrimage was 1999, when its home on Church Lane in Germantown went up in flames in an arson.

Every move since then has drained the school of its enrollment and prominence in the community.

"When I would say I was with Manna, people would say, 'I didn't know Manna was still around,'" said Cleonia J. Walker, the college's academic dean.

On Saturday, Walker, the school's faculty, students, and alumni will celebrate what they hope will be Manna's last stop: a new 12,500-square foot building in North Philadelphia.

The school - alma mater of at least 100 area pastors - has purchased a two-story building on North Broad Street that will serve as its main campus. Officials believe it will be the setting for the rebirth of a school battered by its frequent moves, a struggling economy, and competition from an increasing number of church-based Bible schools.

"Manna's presence in the inner city is critical to provide that additional opportunity to strengthen our churches and leaders at a cost that is affordable," said the Rev. Robert P. Shine, chairman of Manna's board of directors.

Founded in 1944, Manna opened as an evening school for students who did not have the grades or the tuition money to attend other area Bible schools and seminaries. The first class, for 12 students, was held at a YWCA in South Philadelphia.

"They needed people, and we just came to support" the founders, said Hazel M. Robinson, 85, who was in the first class in 1944. "My girlfriend didn't finish, but I graduated with nine people in the class in 1948."

The school offers a two-year Christian Workers certificate and a four-year Standard Bible diploma. It is not accredited to grant college degrees, but some classes may count toward degrees at other schools. Manna is not aligned with a denomination.

Hundreds of pastors, Sunday school teachers, missionaries, and deacons have trained at the school, whose student body now includes people who previously have earned college degrees. The current enrollment is 76 students at five locations: Philadelphia, and churches in Chester, Atco, Mount Holly, and Glassboro.

"Counting every location from our humble beginnings until now, the Burholme Baptist Church was Manna's 11th [Philadelphia location]," Minister Addie Pate Edmonson said from the lectern at a Manna alumni banquet Saturday. "But God had a 12-step program. And the 12th step is, home again."

The school's new building, down the street from the Uptown Theater, has two large meeting room-worship spaces, offices, classrooms, and a bookstore. It formerly was a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses and an office of the Philadelphia Electric Co.

The school moved into its new building in March and will celebrate with an open house at 10 a.m. Saturday and a special worship service at 3 p.m. Sunday.

 At its height in the 1970s, nearly 400 students were studying at the school. In 1976, it purchased the 4.5-acre Church Lane property, which had been a home for Jewish orphans and a Catholic girls school.

The 1990s were a turning point. Plumbing and heating problems forced the school to vacate the five-building campus. The school moved three times as officials planned to renovate the property.

But in 1999, a group of teenagers set fire to the four-story main building. The five-alarm blaze leveled it.

"It was so upsetting," said Annabell Ridley, a 1954 graduate. "But I just felt that this was the Lord's ministry and he would make it rise again."

School officials intervened when the teenagers were charged and arranged a plan with Judge Abram Frank Reynolds for Manna officials to mentor the students. The teens helped out at the school as part of their community service, said the Rev. Arvelle C. Jones, who served as interim president and then president of the school from 1998 to 2009.

In the meantime, the school moved two more times. With each move, enrollment decreased.

But a turnaround began in 2007. The school sold its Church Lane campus to La Salle University for $750,000. In February, that money was used to purchase the new building for $725,000.

Officials have big plans - and big challenges - ahead. They want to improve the curriculum, library, and finances enough to eventually earn degree-granting status.

In the works are a recruitment drive, a broadcast ministry, and increased outreach to alumni, churches, and Christian groups.

"There are a lot of people who need biblical training beyond what we get in Sunday school and at Wednesday night Bible study," Jones said. "I believe God still has a work for Manna, and the mission has not been completed."

Contact staff writer Kristin E. Holmes at 610-313-8211 or kholmes@phillynews.com.