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Ecclesiastical Seminary

Reserved to schools instituted for the training of the Catholic diocesan clergy

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—The word seminary (Fr. seminaire, Ger. Seminar) is sometimes used, especially in Germany, to designate a group of university students devoted to a special line of work. The same word is often applied in England and the United States to young ladies’ academies, Protestant or Catholic. When qualified by the word ecclesiastical, it is reserved to schools instituted, in accordance with a decree of the Council of Trent, for the training of the Catholic diocesan clergy. It differs therefore from the novitiate and the scholasticate where members of religious orders receive their spiritual and intellectual formation. In the ecclesiastical seminary both go together. Hence a faculty of theology in a university is not a seminary; neither is the word to be applied to the German Konvictus, where ecclesiastical students live together while attending lectures of the faculty of theology in the State universities.

An ecclesiastical seminary is diocesan, interdiocesan, provincial, or pontifical, according as it is under the control of the bishop of the diocese, of several bishops who send there their students, of all the bishops of an ecclesiastical province, or of the Holy See. A seminary which receives students from several provinces or from dioceses in various parts of the country is called a central, or a national, seminary.

A theological seminary (grand seminaire) provides courses in Holy Scripture, philosophy, theology etc., and gives young men immediate preparation for ordination. A preparatory seminary (petit seminaire) gives only a collegiate course as a preparation for entrance into the theological seminary. The word seminary when used alone designates either a theological seminary or a seminary including both the collegiate and the theological courses.

In this connection it should be noted that the name “college” is sometimes given to institutions which offer no collegiate courses in the usual sense of the term, but receive only ecclesiastics who intend to study philosophy and theology. Such are All Hallows College, Drumcondra, Ireland, the Irish colleges on the Continent, and the various national colleges in Rome (see respective articles). These are in reality seminaries as regards both instruction and discipline. On the other hand there are seminaries which provide undergraduate courses as preparatory to philosophy and theology, thus combining in one institution the work of the petit seminaire and that of the grand seminaire.


—A seminary is a school in which priests are trained. A priest is the representative of Christ among men: his mission is to carry on Christ’s work for the salvation of souls; in Christ’s name and by His power, he teaches men what they ought to believe and what they ought to do: he forgives sins, and offers in sacrifice the Body and Blood of Christ. He is another Christ (sacerdos alter Christus). His training, therefore, must be in harmony with this high office and consequently different in many ways from the preparation for secular professions. He must possess not only a liberal education, but also professional knowledge, and moreover, like an army or navy officer, he needs to ac-quire the manners and personal habits becoming his calling. To teach candidates for the priesthood what a priest ought to know and to make them what a priest ought to be is the purpose of seminary education; to this twofold end everything in the form of studies and discipline must be directed.


—When a boy of intelligence and piety shows an inclination to become a priest, he is sent after graduation from the grammar or high school to pursue a classical course, either in a preparatory seminary or in a Catholic mixed college where lay as well as ecclesiastical students receive a classical education. This course, successfully completed, prepares him for admission into the theological seminary. The year opens with a retreat of eight or ten days, during which by meditations, conferences, visits to the Blessed Sacrament, recitation of the office, consultations with his spiritual director, his mind and heart are brought under the influence of the great truths of religion, so as to make him realize and feel the importance of his seminary training. Then begins the ordinary routine of the seminary, interrupted only by a short recess, usually at the end of the first term, and by the retreats which precede the Christmas and Trinity ordinations. The receptions of Holy orders are the greatest and the most joyful events of the year, for they keep before the mind of the student the goal of all his efforts, the priesthood. During the scholastic year, a day of each week is set apart for a holiday: the morning is devoted to recreation, or to some favorite study; in the afternoon there is usually a walk, and at times the students visit hospitals or other institutions, where they acquire a foretaste and gain some experience of their future work among the sick and the poor. On Sunday they all assist at a solemn High Mass and at Vespers, and in some places they also attend a conference on Holy Scripture. The summer vacation, lasting about three months, is spent either at the seminary villa, as is the general practice in Italy, or at home, as is commonly done in the United States and other countries.

The ordinary working day is divided between prayer, study, and recreation. Summer and winter, the student rises at 5 or 5:30 a. m., makes his meditation for a half-hour, hears Mass, and usually receives Communion. Breakfast is about two hours after rising. In the forenoon there are two classes of one hour each, while two hours also are devoted to private study. After dinner there is about an hour of recreation. In the afternoon four hours are divided between class and study, and as a rule another hour of study follows supper. A visit to the Blessed Sacrament, the recitation of the Rosary, and spiritual reading take place in the afternoon or evening; and the day closes with night prayer. Thus the student has devoted about three hours to exercises of piety and nine hours to work. After six years of this mental and moral training in retirement from the world, and in the society of fellow students animated by the same purpose and striving after the same ideals, he is deemed worthy of receiving the honor and capable of bearing the burden of the priesthood: he is an educated Christian gentleman, he possesses professional knowledge, he is ready to live and to work among men as the ambassador of Christ.


A. Late Origin

—This system of seminary education, which has now become an essential feature of the Church‘s life, had its origin only in the sixteenth century in a decree of the Council of Trent. Since Christ’s work on earth is to be continued chiefly through diocesan priests, the Apostles and the early popes and bishops always gave special care to the selection and training of the clergy. St. Paul warns Timothy not to impose hands lightly on any man (I Tim., v, 22). In the scanty records of the early Roman pontiffs we invariably read the number of deacons, priests, and bishops whom they ordained. But although the training of the clergy was ever held to be a matter of vital importance, we should look in vain during the first centuries for an organized system of clerical education, just as we should look in vain for the fully-developed theology of St. Thomas.

B. Individual Training in Early Times

—Before St. Augustine no trace can be found of any special institutions for the education of the clergy. Professors and students in the famous Christian schools of Alexandria and Edessa supplied priests and bishops; but these schools were intended for the teaching of catechumens, and for general instruction; they cannot, therefore, be considered as seminaries. The training of priests was personal and practical; boys and young men attached to the service of a church assisted the bishop and the priests in the discharge of their functions, and thus, by the exercise of the duties of the minor orders, they gradually learned to look after the church, to read and explain Holy Scripture, to prepare catechumens for baptism and to administer the sacraments. Some of the greatest bishops of the period had moreover received a liberal education in pagan schools, and before ordination spent some time in retirement, penitential exercises, and meditation on Holy Scripture.

C. From St. Augustine to the Foundation of the Universities

—St. Augustine established near the cathedral, in his own house (in domo ecclesice), a monasterium clericorum in which his clergy lived together. He would raise to Holy orders only such as were willing to unite the community life with the exercise of the ministry. In a few years this institution gave ten bishops to various sees in Africa. It was, however, rather a clergy house than a seminary.

The example of St. Augustine was soon followed at Milan, Nola, and elsewhere. A council held in 529 at Vaison, in Southern Gaul, exhorted parish priests to adopt a custom already obtaining in Italy, to have young clerics in their house, and to instruct them with fatherly zeal so as to prepare for themselves worthy successors. Two years later the second Council of Toledo decreed that clerics should be trained by a superior in the house of the Church (in domo Ecclesice), under the eye of the bishop. Another Council of Toledo, held in 633, urges that this training be begun early, so that future priests may spend their youth not in unlawful pleasures but under ecclesiastical discipline. Among those cathedral schools, the best known is that established near the Lateran Basilica, where many popes and bishops were educated ab infantia. Besides, not a few monasteries, such as St. Victor in Paris, Le Bec in Normandy, Oxford, and Fulda, educated not only their own subjects, but also aspirants to the secular clergy.

D. From the Thirteenth Century to the Council of Trent

—Out of the local episcopal schools grew the medieval universities, when illustrious teachers attracted to a few cities, e.g. Paris, Bologna, Oxford etc., students from various provinces and even from all parts of Europe. As in these schools theology, philosophy, and canon law held the first rank, a large proportion of the students were ecclesiastics or members of religious orders; deprived of their ablest teachers and most gifted students, the cathedral and monastic schools gradually declined. Still, only about one per cent of the clergy were able to attend university courses. The education of the vast majority, therefore, was more and more neglected, while the privileged few enjoyed indeed the highest intellectual advantages, but received little or no spiritual training. The colleges in which they lived maintained for a while good discipline; but in less than a century the life of ecclesiastical students at the universities was no better than that of the lay students. What was lacking was character-formation and the practical preparation for the ministry.

E. The Decree of the Council of Trent

—After the Reformation the need of a well-trained clergy was more keenly felt. In the work of the commission appointed by the pope to prepare questions to be discussed in the Council of Trent, ecclesiastical education occupies an important place. When the council convened “to extirpate heresy and reform morals”, it decreed in its Fifth Session (June, 1546) that provision should be made in every cathedral for the teaching of grammar and Holy Scripture to clerics and poor scholars. The council was interrupted before the question of clerical training could be formally taken up. Meanwhile, St. Ignatius established at Rome (1553) the Collegium Germanicum for the education of German ecclesiastical students. Cardinal Pole, who had witnessed the foundation of the German College and had been a member of the commission to prepare for the Council of Trent, went to England after the death of Henry VIII to reestablish the Catholic religion. In the regulations which he issued in 1556, the word seminary seems to have been used for the first time in its modern sense, to designate a school exclusively devoted to the training of the clergy. After the council reopened, the Fathers resumed the question of clerical training; and after discussing it for about a month, they adopted the decree on the foundation of ecclesiastical seminaries.

On July 15, in the Twenty-third Session, it was solemnly proclaimed in its present form, and has ever since remained the fundamental law of the Church on the education of priests. In substance it is as follows: (I) Every diocese is bound to support, to rear in piety, and to train in ecclesiastical discipline a certain number of youths, in a college to be chosen by the bishop for that purpose; poor dioceses may combine, large dioceses may have more than one seminary. (2) In these institutions are to be received boys who are at least twelve years of age, can read and write passably, and by their good disposition give hope that they will persevere in the service of the Church; children of the poor are to be preferred. (3) Besides the elements of a liberal education [as then understood], the students are to be given professional knowledge to enable them to preach, to conduct Divine worship, and to administer the sacraments. (4) Seminaries are to be supported by a tax on the income of bishoprics, chapters, abbeys, and other benefices. (5) In the government of the seminary, the bishop is to be assisted by two commissions of priests, one for spiritual, the other for temporal matters.

So well did the Fathers of Trent understand the importance of the decree, so much did they expect from it, that they congratulated one another, and several declared that, had the council done nothing else, this would be more than sufficient reward of all their labors. An historian of the council, Cardinal Pallavicini, does not hesitate to call the institution of seminaries the most important reform enacted by the council.

F. Execution of the Decree of Trent in various Countries

—To provide for the carrying out of this important decree, Pius IV forthwith instituted a commission of cardinals. The following year (April, 1564), he decreed the foundation of the Roman Seminary, which was opened in February, 1565, and which for more than three centuries has been a nursery of priests, bishops, cardinals, and popes. St. Charles Borromeo, Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, who had taken a leading part in the work of the Council of Trent, was also most zealous and successful in enforcing its decisions. For his large diocese he established three seminaries: one of them furnished a complete course of ecclesiastical studies; in another, a shorter course was provided, especially for those destined to country parishes; the third was for priests who needed to make up the deficiencies of previous training. For these institutions St. Charles drew up a set of regulations, which have been ever since an inspiration and a model for all founders of seminaries. In other parts of Italy the decree of Trent was gradually put into effect, so that the smallest of the three hundred dioceses had its own complete seminary, including both collegiate and theological departments.

In Germany, war and the progress of heresy were serious obstacles to the carrying out of the decree of Trent; still seminaries were founded at Eichstadt (1564), Munster (1610), and Prague (1631).

In Portugal the Venerable Bartholomew of the Martyrs, Archbishop of Braga, established a seminary a few months after the close of the Council of Trent.

Various attempts by French bishops ended in failure, until St. Vincent de Paul and Father Olier opened seminaries in Paris (1642), and helped to establish them elsewhere in France. A feature of these seminaries and, it is claimed, one of the causes of their success was the separation of theological students from those who were studying the classics, of the theological from the preparatory seminary. In Paris the students of St-Sulpice usually followed lectures at the Sorbonne; some courses given at the seminary completed their intellectual training, while meditation, spiritual conferences, etc. provided for their moral and religious formation. In other places, especially when there was no university, a complete course of instruction was organized in the seminary itself. As there was no Church law requiring students to spend a fixed time in the seminary before ordination, and as the powers of the bishops were hampered by existing customs: some of the clergy, previous to the French Revolution, were not trained in these institutions.

In England and Ireland persecution prevented the foundation of seminaries; before the French Revolution priests for the English mission were trained at the English College of Douai. Irish aspirants to the priesthood, leaving Ireland at the peril of their lives, went to the colleges founded for them in Paris, Louvain, and Salamanca by Irish exiles and other generous benefactors, to prepare for a life of self-sacrifice often ending in martyrdom.

G. Attempts at Secularization

—Towards the end of The eighteenth century, the Emperor Joseph II attempted to bring the education of the clergy in Austria, Northern Italy, and the Netherlands under the control of the State. Students were forbidden by law to frequent the German College in Rome; episcopal seminaries were suppressed, and in their place central seminaries were founded at Vienna, Budapest, Pavia, Freiburg, and Louvain, in which all clerical students were forced to receive their education under the control not of the bishops but of the state. Professors and text books were chosen by state officials, who also regulated the discipline. Against this usurpation, protests came not only from the Holy See and the bishops, but also from the people; at Louvain the central seminary was burned to the ground. The scheme had to be abandoned, and the successor of Joseph II allowed the bishops to possess and rule their own seminaries.

The tendency to interference, however, remained, and has since shown itself in various German states. In the early years of the nineteenth century the policy of secularization was adopted by the Bavarian Government. Protestants or Free-thinkers were appointed teachers in the faculty of theology and the seminaries; regulations were drawn up for the choice of superiors, discipline, plan of studies, examinations, admission, and dismissal of students. After a long conflict a concordat was signed in 1817, by which the rights of bishops to erect and control seminaries were recognized. The same struggle occurred in other German states. The conflict became specially acute in 1873, when the Prussian Government in the famous May Laws issued a scheme which prescribed a regular course in a gymnasium, three years theology at a state university, and then examination before state inspectors, as essential conditions of appointment to any ecclesiastical position. Education in seminaries might be accepted as equivalent if the bishops submitted the rules to the State for approval. As they refused to comply, the seminaries of Treves, Gnesen-Posen, Strasburg, and others were closed. Negotiations between the Government and the Holy See were opened after the election of Leo XIII. Among the points on which the Church could never yield, the pope laid stress upon the rights of bishops to have seminaries and to control the education of the clergy. The more vexatious measures were abolished, and harmony was restored between Church and State.

H. Present Conditions in Germany

—At present nearly all ecclesiastical students make their college course in a public gymnasium, together with lay students. For the teaching of theology and spiritual formation there are two systems. The first consists of a course of three years in one of the faculties of theology, in the State universities of Bonn, Breslau, Freiburg, Munich, Munster, Tubingen, or Würzburg. The appointment of processors in these faculties is made by the Government but with the approval of the bishops, who can moreover forbid their students to attend the lectures of objectionable teachers. While at the university the students usually live together in a Konvictus under one or two priests, but they enjoy about as much liberty as lay students. After completing their course they spend a year or eighteen months in a practical seminary (priesterseminar), to learn ceremonies, ascetic and pastoral theology, and thus prepare immediately for ordination. For this system, which has many strong advocates, the following advantages are pointed out: it develops intellectual and moral initiative, accustoms the students to live in the world, and gives them the prestige of a university education. Its opponents insist: That it is not in harmony with the decree of Trent and the subsequent instructions of the Holy See, urging bishops to establish seminaries ad rnentem concilii Tridentini, where candidates for the priesthood may receive the special education proper to their calling; that, the university professors being irremovable, the bishops have not sufficient control over the orthodoxy of their teaching; that instruction obtained in those faculties lacks unity and coordination, some essential points being overlooked, while undue importance is at times attached to matters of little practical utility for the majority of the clergy; that the spiritual training, neglected in the universities, cannot be obtained in the few months spent at the practical seminary.

There are regular Tridentine seminaries at Eichstadt, Fulda, Mainz, Metz, and Trier, in which professional instruction and spiritual formation go together. Recently a compromise between the university and the seminary systems of clerical training has been effected in Strasburg.

J. Recent Developments and Present Conditions in other Countries
(1) France

—The Revolution swept away the seminaries and the faculty of theology of the Sorbonne where the leaders of the French clergy had been trained. As soon as liberty was restored, one of the first cares of the bishops was to reestablish their seminaries. On account of the lack of thoroughly competent teachers in many places and the urgent need of priests everywhere, only a minimum of knowledge could be exacted. Nor had the short-lived faculty of theology established by the State at the Sorbonne much influence in raising the general standard of clerical studies. During the last thirty years, however, the Catholic institutes of Paris, Lyons, Toulouse, Lille, and Angers have done much to train teachers for theological seminaries, as well as for the petits seminaires. The latter are usually open to all who seek a liberal education, whether they intend to become priests or not; hence, they do not realize the Tridentine ideal. As a result of the Separation Law, the seminaries, even those built by private contributions of Catholics, have been confiscated by the State. In spite of financial difficulties and the falling-off in the number of students, diocesan seminaries are maintained, some with less than a score of students. As to preparatory seminaries, whereas formerly there were several in most dioceses, their number is considerably reduced.

(2) England

—The English College at Douai, suppressed by the French Revolution, was replaced in England by St. Edmund’s, Ushaw, and Oscott. These provided a complete course of clerical education, including collegiate and theological studies; none, however, was a seminary in the strict sense of the Council of Trent, for they received lay as well as ecclesiastical students. In the provincial councils of Westminster, the bishops advocated the separation of clerical from lay students as the only remedy against worldliness; they decreed that the foundation of seminaries for the exclusive education of the clergy would contribute powerfully to the increase of religion, and finally they pledged themselves to establish such seminaries. Cardinal Manning founded a separate seminary for the theological students of the Archdiocese of Westminster, and regarded this as the great work of his life. Other bishops followed this example. A seminary in full harmony with the Council of Trent, i.e. exclusively for ecclesiastical students, and destined to provide a complete course of preparation for the priesthood was opened for the Diocese of Southwark.

Cardinal Vaughan, who succeeded Cardinal Manning in 1893, had long been of opinion that separate diocesan seminaries were not opportune in England. He advocated a central seminary for the southern dioceses, in which by combining their resources in men and money the bishops could provide excellent teachers, a good library, the emulation which comes with increased number of students, and the stability which would be secured, if the control of one bishop were replaced by that of a board of all the bishops interested. These views being freely expressed in “The Tablet” (London), Dr. Bourne, the future successor of Cardinal Vaughan at Westminster, then rector of the Southwark Seminary, set forth in the same periodical the reasons for separate diocesan seminaries, i.e. the authority of the Council of Trent and of the provincial councils of Westminster, the possibility of giving in most dioceses the elementary yet solid instruction needed for the ministry, and of sending some of the most gifted students to some foreign Catholic university where they would receive higher instruction than could be provided in a central seminary in England. Cardinal Vaughan having secured the approbation and encouragement of Leo XIII for his project determined, together with four other bishops, to send his theological students to Oscott, which thus, from being the diocesan seminary of Birmingham, became in 1897 a central seminary for six dioceses. No change, however, was made in the faculty, and the administration continued in the main to be diocesan. Shortly after the cardinal’s death, a theological seminary for the Archdiocese of Westminster was opened in connection with St. Edmund’s College.

(3) Ireland

—Irish colleges on the Continent, which harbored about five hundred students, having been closed by the Revolution, it became necessary to provide in Ireland for the training of the clergy. A college opened at Carlow in 1793 was soon closed through fear of Government prosecution. reestablished later, it now gives a complete course of ecclesiastical training. The foundation of a Catholic college being made legal by an Act of Parliament, Maynooth was opened in 1795 with forty students. It has rapidly developed, especially during the last years of the nineteenth century. The missionary college of All Hallows was founded in 1842, and placed in 1892 under the direction of the Vincentians; it has sent hundreds of priests to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States. Besides these and other institutions, most of the dioceses have their preparatory seminaries. There are also some Irish students at Salamanca and at Rome. The Irish College in Paris has been closed in consequence of the Separation Laws in France.

(4) Canada

—The Jesuits established a college at Quebec in 1637. Bishop Laval founded a theological seminary in 1663 and in 1668 a preparatory seminary, the students of which followed the classes of the Jesuit College. When the latter was suppressed after the English conquest, the preparatory seminary became a mixed college. In 1852 the seminary and college of Quebec were raised to the rank of a university, with the title of Laval in honor of the founder. At Montreal a college was founded by the Sulpicians in 1767, a separate theological department was established in 1840, and the seminary of philosophy in 1847. More recently theological seminaries have been opened at Ottawa by the Oblates and at Halifax by the Eudists, and one is being erected at Toronto. Until recently, in several dioceses of Canada, candidates for the priesthood received their training not in seminaries, but in mixed colleges where, after finishing their clas-51Cal COUTOC, they read theology, whilst discharging the duties of prefect or teacher. Upon the advice of the Congregation of the Propaganda, the Provincial Council of Montreal (1895) decreed that ecclesiastics studying for the priesthood in colleges can only be prefects and not teachers; it also decreed that before ordination they must spend three years in a regular seminary.

(5) United States

—In colonial days, Spanish Jesuits and Franciscans labored in Florida, Louisiana, New Mexico, and California; missionaries from France and Canada were the pioneers in Maine, New York, and the Mississippi Valley; the Maryland missions, under the jurisdiction of the Vicar Apostolic of London, were in charge of English Jesuits. When John Carroll was appointed Bishop of Baltimore, one of his first cares was to provide the means for the training of a native clergy. In England, where he went to receive episcopal consecration, he obtained from a friend a generous gift for his future seminary, and he accepted an offer made to him in London, in the name of Father Emery, superior of St-Sulpice, to send some members of his society to establish a seminary at Baltimore. In his first address to his clergy and people on his return to America, Bishop Carroll mentioned among the duties of his pastoral office the institution of a seminary “for training up ministers for the sanctuary and the services of religion that we may no longer depend on foreign and uncertain coadjutors”.

The following year (1791) Father Nagot, with three other Sulpicians and four students, reached Baltimore and opened St. Mary’s Seminary in the place where it stands today. In this first American seminary Bishop Carroll ordained, May 25, 1793, his first priest, Rev. S. Badin, who for over half a century labored on the missions of Kentucky. The lack of a sufficient number of ecclesiastical students forced the Sulpicians to receive lay students also, even Protestants, so that St. Mary’s became a mixed college and, until the classical department was closed in 1852, had but few seminarians. In order to foster and preserve ecclesiastical vocations, Father Nagot opened (1807) at Pigeon Hill, Pennsylvania, a preparatory seminary which was the following year transferred to Mount St. Mary’s, but this institution soon became (like St. Mary’s at Baltimore), and has remained to this day (1911), a mixed college with a theological seminary, the students of which help in carrying on the work of the collegiate department. A more successful attempt to have a purely preparatory seminary was made by the Sulpicians in the foundation of St. Charles’s College; opened in 1848, it has always been destined exclusively for aspirants to the priesthood.

As new dioceses were created, the first care of the bishops was to provide a clergy. Shortly after their consecration, the bishops usually went to Europe to recruit priests, while at home they spared no pains to train a native clergy. Bishop Flaget went to Bardstown in 1811 with three students, the nucleus of St. Thomas’s Seminary which for half a century was the nursery of many pioneer priests and bishops of the West. It was closed in 1869. Seminaries were likewise established by: Bishop England at Charleston (1822); Bishop Dubourg at St. Louis (1818); Bishop Fenwick at Cincinnati (1829); Bishop Fenwick at Boston (1829); Bishop Kenrick at Philadelphia (1832); Bishop Dubois at New York (1832); Bishop Blanc at New Orleans (1838); Bishop O’Connor at Pittsburg (1844); Bishop Whelan at Richmond (1842) and Wheeling (1850); Bishop Henni at Milwaukee (1846); Bishop Lefebre at Detroit (1846); Bishop Timon at Buffalo (1847); Bishop Rappe at Cleveland (1849); Bishop Loras at Dubuque (1849). As a rule these seminaries were begun in or near the bishop’s house, and often with the bishop as the chief instructor. The more advanced students helped to instruct the others and all took part in the services of the cathedral. Their education, like that given to priests in the Early Church, was individual and practical; their intellectual training may have been somewhat deficient, but their priestly character was moulded by daily intercourse with the self-sacrificing pioneer bishops and priests.

Most of those imperfectly organized seminaries, after doing good service in their day, have long ceased to exist, while a few have been transformed into modern institutions. The diocesan seminary of New York was transferred (1836) from Nyack to Lafargeville, in the Thousand Islands, and later on to Fordham (1840). In 1864 a seminary was opened at Troy for the provinces of New York and Boston; the latter established its own seminary in 1884, and in 1897 the New York seminary was transferred to its present location at Dunwoodie. The theological seminary at Philadelphia, which commenced with five students in the upper rooms of Bishop Kenrick’s residence, was after various vicissitudes transferred in 1865 to its actual site at Overbrook, where the preparatory seminary opened at Glen Riddle in 1859 was also located in 1871. The Seminary of St. Francis, Milwaukee, started in 1846 with seven students in a wooden building attached to Bishop Henni’s house, was through the efforts of Dr. Salzmann removed to the present building, which was dedicated in 1856. In San Francisco, after several unsuccessful attempts under Bishop Amat and Archbishop Alemany, a preparatory seminary was opened by Archbishop Riordan in 1896; to this was soon. added a theological department. The St. Paul Seminary, opened by Archbishop Ireland in 1894-95, has done excellent service in educating priests for many of the western dioceses.

Among the leaders in the development of ecclesiastical education in America the late Bishop MacQuaid deserves a prominent place. He was the first president of Seton Hall College (1856), and later on as Bishop of Rochester he established the preparatory Seminary of St. Andrew, 1871, and the theological Seminary of St. Bernard. The latter, which opened in 1893 with thirty-nine students, numbers now over two hundred from various dioceses. The Josephinum, founded at Columbus (1875) and placed under the immediate direction of Propaganda (1892), provides a free and complete course for priests destined for the American missions, especially in German-speaking congregations. The Polish college and seminary at Detroit has been established to meet the special needs of Polish Catholics in the United States.

Religious orders had their full share in this growth of seminaries. The Vincentians, who have always considered the training of the clergy as an essential part of their work, opened the seminary at St. Louis (1816) which has been under their care ever since. They also conducted the seminary of New Orleans from 1838 until its suppression. They founded Niagara (1867), which has been raised to the rank of a university and maintains an important theological department. For ten years they were in charge of the seminary at Philadelphia. They have directed the diocesan seminary at Brooklyn from the beginning, and they have recently opened a theological seminary at Denver. The Sulpicians, a society of secular priests founded especially for training the clergy, besides their own theological and preparatory seminary in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, also opened and directed for some years the diocesan seminaries of Boston and New York (Dunwoodie). They have also been in charge of the seminary of San Francisco since its inception. The Benedictines, in keeping with the tradition of their early monastic schools, have trained students for the diocesan priesthood along with the members of their order at St Vincent’s, Pennsylvania (1846), St. Meinrad’s, Indiana (1857), and Belmont, North Carolina (1878). The Franciscans have a theological seminary connected with their college at Allegany, New York (1859). The Oblates have recently (1903) opened a theological seminary at San Antonio, Texas. In their colleges all over the country the Jesuit Fathers have given to a large proportion of the American priests their classical training; their Holy Cross College at Worcester has been since 1835 a nursery of the New England clergy. Moreover, not a few American priests have received their theological training from the Jesuits of Innsbruck.

The growth of seminaries in America did not until recently keep pace with the need of priests; many have come from Ireland, Germany, France and other countries of Europe, while American students have sought their education in the American colleges founded at Louvain in 1857 and Rome in 1859, or in other institutions on the Continent. About two thousand American priests, moreover, have been educated in the Sulpician Seminary at Montreal. Of late years the need of preparatory seminaries has been more keenly felt, and we find them established in Rochester, Hartford, Chicago, New York, and other dioceses. Some of these are merely day schools and, whilst having certain advantages, fail to effect the separation of aspirants to the priesthood from the world, as contemplated by the Council of Trent. Since 1904 the annual meetings of the seminary department of the Catholic Educational Association have been found to be of great value in raising the standard of ecclesiastical education. Carefully prepared papers have been read and discussed on the various topics of seminary training, such as entrance requirements, discipline, spiritual formation, and the method of teaching the various branches of the seminary curriculum: Holy Scripture, dogmatic and moral theology, natural sciences, and social problems.


A. Sources

—The general laws of the Church on the subject of seminaries are found in the decree of the Council of Trent, and in various documents issued by the Holy See. At no time has the question of clerical training been the object of so much attention or brought forth so many decrees as under Leo XIII and Pius X. Some of their acts refer only to Italian seminaries, others to the whole Church. They will, doubtless, be embodied in the Code of Canon Law now in preparation. Meanwhile, the most important issued before 1908 may be found arranged in logical order in M. Bargilliat’s handy little volume “De Institutione Clericorum”. In Apostolic letters to the bishops of Prussia (January 6, 1886), of Hungary (August 22, 1886), of Bavaria (December 22, 1887), of Poland (March 19, 1894) of Brazil (September 18, 1899), Leo XIII insists on the right and duty of bishops to establish seminaries where future priests may be trained in science and holiness. The various branches of study in the seminary were the object of special instructions. Thus he prescribed the study of St. Thomas’s philosophy (“Aeterni Patris”, August 4, 1879), encouraged historical research (August 18, 1883), gave directions for Biblical studies (“Providentissimus Deus”, November 18, 1893), and instituted a special commission to foster them (October 30, 1902). Towards the end of his long pontificate he wrote two letters: one to the French bishops, the other to the Italian bishops (September 8, 1899 and December 8, 1902), in which the training of the clergy is treated at length.

Pius X even more than his predecessor has taken a lively interest in the education of priests. Convinced that the restoration of all things in Christ requires first of all the good training of the clergy, he urged the bishops in his first Encyclical (October 4, 1903) to consider the care of their seminary as their first duty. He himself has brought about various reforms in Italy. Ecclesiastical students in Rome must live in a college and before ordination undergo an examination. As many dioceses in Italy cannot support well-equipped seminaries, the Holy Father has suppressed some and united others. A central seminary has been opened at Capua and placed under the direction of the Jesuits; others have been entrusted to the Vincentian. In order to raise the standard of studies a detailed program has been issued for all Italian seminaries: it prescribes a course of five years in the gymnasium, three years in the lyceum (philosophy), a year of preparation, and four years of study of theology. To this has been added a set of regulations for the discipline and moral training of the students, in which no detail is omitted (May 10, 1907; January 18, 1908). Other acts of Pius X extend not only to Italian but to all seminaries: they relate to the admission of students, to various branches of studies, etc.; they all tend to protect the faith of the students against Modernistic tendencies and to train a more learned and more pious clergy. On the occasion of the golden jubilee of his priesthood the Holy Father addressed to the clergy of the world (August 4, 1908) an exhortation which will remain the vade-mecum of seminarians and priests, for it sets forth the ideal priestly life with the means by which it can be attained and preserved.

Special regulations for the United States were enacted in the second and third Plenary Councils of Baltimore in 1866 and 1884. These laws of the Church leave undetermined many details of seminary discipline, which are left to the discretion of the bishop. Several methods, all based on the famous “Institutiones” of St. Charles and varying only in non-essential points, have been and are still in force. Among them are those framed by St. Vincent de Paul, Blessed John Eudes, Father Olier, and St. Alphonsus. None of these is imposed by the Church or generally adopted in all its details.

B. Foundation of Seminaries

—The decree of the Council of Trent imposes on every bishop the duty of having a seminary, that is, a school exclusively destined to prepare candidates for the priesthood. It should provide a thorough course of ecclesiastical training, and therefore, according to present discipline, include academic, collegiate, and theological courses. The ideal Tridentine seminary is an institution like Overbrook (Philadelphia) or Menlo Park (San Francisco), where the future priests of the diocese are received from the grammar school and kept until ordination. The Church, however, does not condemn, and Leo XIII has expressly approved the separation of the preparatory from the theological seminary; even in this case they are considered by law as forming but one diocesan institution, under the bishop with the same advisory board. For the foundation and support of the seminary the tax on benefices, authorized by the Council of Trent, is not practicable in America; the bishop has to depend on the generosity of the faithful; he may prescribe an annual collection or fix the amount to be contributed by each parish. Poor dioceses may combine their resources to found an interdiocesan seminary, to be controlled by the several bishops interested.

The controversy on the question of central versus diocesan seminaries has never been raised in this country. It belongs only to the Holy See and to the bishop to decide whether it is practicable for a given diocese to have its separate seminary. In the United States the majority of dioceses are now, and many will long remain, incapable of supporting a seminary. Interdiocesan seminaries, such as the Council of Trent recognizes and such as are now being established in Italy, are practically unknown. In their place there are seminaries such as St. Paul, Rochester, New York, founded and controlled by one bishop, but receiving students from other dioceses; and likewise seminaries in charge of religious orders or societies of secular priests, the students of which belong to various dioceses: such are St. Mary’s and Mount St. Mary’s (Baltimore), St. Vincent’s (Pittsburg), Our Lady of Angels (Buffalo), etc. Though such institutions were not contemplated by the Council of Trent, they have the earnest approval of the bishops and of the Holy See.

C. Obligation of Seminary Training

—A student could obtain all the knowledge necessary for a priest by following classes in a college and lectures in a university, without living in the seminary; but since the Council of Trent, the sovereign pontiffs and the bishops have constantly endeavored to have candidates for the priesthood spend some time in a seminary so as to acquire, along with knowledge, habits of piety and self-discipline. They have felt that the purpose of the Tridentine Decree would be defeated if residence in the seminary were left to the option of the students. It is the desire of the Holy See, based on the Council of Trent and repeatedly expressed, especially by Leo XIII and Pius X, that future priests be trained from early years apart from lay students. The same idea is enforced by the third Plenary Council of Baltimore, when it declares that the custom which obtains in some parts of the country of having aspirants to the priesthood take their classical course in a mixed college is not in perfect harmony with the mind of the Church, and when it urges the foundation of a preparatory seminary in every diocese or at least in every province (nos. 139, 153). Where this decree cannot be carried out, colleges receiving young men who study for the priesthood must strictly observe the regulations prescribed for preparatory seminaries, relating to discipline, religious instruction, and the program of studies (ibid, no. 153). With still greater insistence does the Church demand residence in a seminary from the students of theology, even if they follow the lectures of a Catholic university. Thus Pius X has ordered all ecclesiastical students in Rome to live in one of the colleges established for them; a similar instruction has been issued for the ecclesiastical students at Fribourg. The Council of Baltimore required all aspirants to the priesthood to go through the six years of training prescribed for all American seminaries (no. 155). The bishop can dispense in rare cases, and for grave reasons.

D. External Government of Seminaries

—All matters referring to seminaries are under the supreme direction of the Consistorial Congregation in Rome. Diocesan seminaries are controlled by the bishop, who appoints and removes professors, determines in detail the regulations to be followed, and watches over the temporal administration, studies, discipline, and piety. Nothing of importance can be done without his advice and consent; to him belongs the final decision on the admission and dismissal of students, as well as on their call to orders. In provincial or interdiocesan seminaries this power is vested in the board of interested bishops. For diocesan seminaries, the bishop is bound by the common law of the Church to seek, though not bound to follow, in matters of temporal administration the advice of a commission composed of two canons of the cathedral (one chosen by himself, the other by the chapter) and of two other priests of the episcopal city, one chosen also by the bishop, the other by the clergy. For spiritual matters the advice of two canons chosen by the bishop is likewise necessary. In the United States the bishop must have in the management of his seminary at least one adviser for spiritual matters, and another for temporal matters; both are chosen by himself with the advice of the diocesan consultors (Council of Baltimore, no. 180).

Although no text of ecclesiastical law forbids the bishop to entrust the direction of his seminary to a religious order or congregation, this cannot be done without the approval of the Holy See; for the bishop has no power to give up for himself and his successors the right to appoint the rector and teachers; neither can he set aside the law of the Council of Trent, requiring the advice of consultors in the management of the seminaries, while religious congregations in taking charge of a seminary assume the appointment of the faculty, and in governing it do not admit the interference of a diocesan commission. Several religious orders or societies, however (Eudists, Lazarists, Marists, Oratorians, Sulpicians), have a general permission from the Holy See to accept the seminaries entrusted to them. A contract between the bishop and the society determines the conditions under which the seminary is accepted and must be governed (Council of Baltimore, no. 180).

E. Internal Administration of Seminaries

—Two systems prevail. In one the management of the seminary is in the hands of the rector, who alone under the bishop governs the seminary, calls to orders, admits and dismisses the students; a treasurer has full charge of temporal matters, while to a spiritual director is entrusted the formation of the students in piety. The professors are merely teachers.

In the other system, all the professors have a share in the administration of the seminary; and all important matters are decided by a vote of the faculty. The professors are spiritual directors and confessors of the students. Of course, they have no voice in the faculty meetings when one of their penitents is concerned. A Decree of the Holy Office (July 5, 1899) forbids superiors of seminaries and colleges in Rome to hear the confessions of their students. With the special organization of those colleges, such a practice could easily interfere with the liberty which the Church assures to all in the sacred tribunal. Although this decree has not been officially extended beyond those colleges, its spirit should be observed in others similarly organized.

F. Admission and Dismissal of Students

—”Let those be received”, says the Council of Trent, “who having been born in lawful wedlock, have at least attained their twelfth year, are able to read and write passably, and whose naturally good disposition gives token that they will always continue in the service of the Church. “It is the wish of the council that the children of the poor should be preferred. Today an ordinary grammar school instruction is required for admission into the preparatory seminaries. As regards vocation, all that can be expected is not indeed certainty, but probability. Still, preparatory seminaries must be maintained in their proper spirit, and receive only candidates for the priesthood. Parents and parish priests are urged to encourage and to help boys who by their intelligence and piety give hope that they are called to the priesthood (Council of Baltimore, no. 136). No one should be admitted to a theological seminary unless he has completed a six-year collegiate course, and passed a successful examination (ibid, nos. 145, 152). A student from another diocese cannot be received without first obtaining information from his bishop. If it appears that he was dismissed from the seminary (as unfit for the priesthood) he should not be admitted at all (Congregation of the Council, December 22, 1905). Dismissal from the seminary means no more than that the student is not considered fit for the priesthood; it does not necessarily reflect on his character as a Christian layman.

G. Intellectual Training

—In the preparatory seminary the aspirant to the priesthood follows the ordinary academic and collegiate course for six years; he studies Christian doctrine, Latin and Greek, English and at least one other modern language, rhetoric and elocution, history and geography, mathematics and natural sciences, Gregorian Chant and bookkeeping (Council of Baltimore, nos. 145, 151). Catholic colleges with a course of eight years, four years academic and four years collegiate, teach philosophy and science in the junior and senior years; but as a rule this is not accepted by seminaries as the equivalent of two years of philosophy. The Council of Baltimore requires ecclesiastical students to spend six years in the theological seminary. There they receive a special moral training which cannot be given in a mixed college, and they are taught philosophy with a view to the study of theology. In the theological seminary two years are devoted to the study of philosophy, Scripture, Church history, and natural sciences in their relation to religion. During the last four years the course of study includes Holy Scripture, with Greek and Hebrew, apologetics, dogmatic, moral, and pastoral theology, Church history, and, in some institutions, liturgy and canon law. The courses given in these various branches have a twofold purpose: to equip every student with the knowledge necessary for the discharge of the ordinary functions of the ministry; and to give brighter students the foundation of more scientific work, to be pursued in a university. The seminary trains general practitioners, the university forms specialists; the seminary gives the elements of all ecclesiastical science, the university provides a thorough treatment of some special questions. In Rome ecclesiastical students from various colleges follow a course of lectures at the Gregorian University, the Dominican College, the Propaganda, or the Roman Seminary; these are supplemented by repetitions in the colleges (see Roman Colleges). There are likewise ecclesiastical students preparing for the priesthood who follow the courses of theology in the Universities of Louvain and Fribourg, and in the theological faculties of the German universities. In the Catholic University at Washington there is only a post-graduate course of sacred sciences.

The vast majority of the clergy in nearly all countries receive their education in seminaries, and only at the end of the regular course are some of the best gifted sent to a Catholic university to pursue higher studies, which lead to the degrees of licentiate and doctor. Leo XIII and Pius X, in their letters to bishops in various parts of the world and in their

Decrees regarding seminaries, insist that ecclesiastical studies be in harmony with the needs of our times, but free from all dangerous novelties, especially from the errors condemned under the name of Modernism. Various means have been taken to secure the per-feet orthodoxy of both the professors and the students.

H. Moral and Spiritual Training

—Unlike most of the professional schools (law, medicine etc.) which give only knowledge, the seminary aims at training the will. Like West Point and the Naval Academy it subjects the student to a system of discipline by which he may gradually acquire habits becoming his profession. In a priest, holiness of life is not less essential than professional science. In order to discharge with success the functions of his ministry, he must be a gentleman, a true Christian, and moreover capable of bearing the special obligations of the priesthood. “In order to restore in the world the reign of Jesus Christ“, writes Pius X (May 5, 1904), “nothing is as necessary as the holiness of the clergy.” Hence, in his first Encyclical he warns the bishops that their first care, to which every other must yield, ought to be “to form Christ in those who are to form Christ in others” (October 3, 1903).

Seminarians are to learn the sacerdotal virtues first of all by the exmple of their teachers. Hence the sovereign pontiffs and various councils frequently insist on the qualifications of those who are chosen to train priests. They should be “conspicuous for ability, learning, piety, seriousness of life. They should devote their life to study, bear cheerfully the burden of seminary rule and of a busy life; by word and example teach the students the observance of seminary discipline, humility, unworldliness, love of work and retirement, and fidelity to prayer” (Council of Baltimore, no. 159). Another powerful means of training seminarians in Christian virtue is the semi-nary discipline. The student is separated from the world and subjected to a rule of life which, leaving nothing to caprice, determines what he has to do at every moment of the day. Classes, studies, exercises of piety follow one another at regular intervals, and punctual attendance is expected of all. Fidelity to seminary rules, extending over several years, prompted by a sense of duty, and inspired by the love of God, cannot fail to produce habits of regularity, self-control, and self-sacrifice.

Instructions on Christian perfection, on the dignity and duties of the priesthood are daily given in spiritual conferences and readings. These are supplemented by retreats, which take place in the beginning of the year and before ordinations, and by private consultations of each student with his spiritual director. Even more efficacious than instruction and discipline is the direct intercourse of the soul with God in prayer, meditation, and the reception of the sacraments. Nowhere, perhaps, has the Decree of Pius X on frequent communion produced more abundant fruit than in seminaries. The students gladly avail themselves of the special encouragement given to them to receive Our Lord daily. By this close communion with our great High Priest, even more than by their willing acceptance of all the restraints of seminary life, they gradually become worthy of the mission conferred upon them by ordination. Thus the seminary becomes a nursery of faithful representatives of Our Lord for the salvation of men; they go forth, the light of the world and the salt of the earth.

History fully bears out the words of the learned historian and great bishop, Hefele: “If the Catholic world has had for the last three hundred years a more learned, a more moral, a more pious clergy than that which existed in almost every country at the time of the so-called Reformation, and whose tepidity and faithlessness contributed largely to the growth of the schism, it is wholly due to this decree of the Council of Trent, and to it we in this age owe our thanks” (“Tiibinger Quartalsehrift”, no. 1, p. 24).


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