SAN FRANCISCO (CNS) — After 118 years, the Sulpicians, who have administered and taught at St. Patrick’s Seminary & University in the San Francisco Archdiocese, will withdraw completely from the seminary at the end of this academic year.

The abrupt Oct. 21 announcement by the community’s U.S. provincial, Father John C. Kemper, to Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone will sever a relationship with the Society of St. Sulpice that began with the Menlo Park seminary’s founding in 1898.

The Sulpicians are a society of apostolic life, composed of diocesan priests who serve as educators of seminarians and priests. Six Sulpicians teach and work as administrators at St. Patrick’s; they include the rector-president, the vice rector and the dean of spirituality.

The province owns and operates St. Mary’s Seminary & University in Baltimore; administers Theological College in Washington, which is associated with The Catholic University of America; and contributes staff to the Archdiocese of San Antonio’s Assumption Seminary.

Archbishop Cordileone expressed sadness in an Oct. 23 statement to priests of the archdiocese. He wrote that Father Kemper, a seminary trustee, “informed me of this decision Friday afternoon, about two hours before the commencement of the meeting of the board of trustees. He then stayed for the board meeting and responded to questions and entreaties by board members. The decision, however, remains final.”

The archbishop praised the Sulpicians in his statement, noting the society educated many of San Francisco’s archdiocesan priests.

“For 118 years, the Sulpicians have formed priests after the heart of Jesus Christ for the work of the Church here in the Bay Area and beyond,” Archbishop Cordileone wrote. “While this moment is an occasion of sadness and challenging transition for all of us, it is also one of gratitude to them for having built up our seminary and contributed to its accomplishments for its entire history until now.”

The decision by the Sulpicians came as the seminary board of trustees was seeking to negotiate a change in the governance structure to a more “collaborative” model similar to Assumption Seminary in the Archdiocese of San Antonio, said seminary spokesman Bishop Thomas A. Daly of Spokane, Washington, who is a trustee and graduate of St. Patrick’s. Sulpicians are on the formation staff at Assumption Seminary, but the rector is not a Sulpician.

The Oct. 22 statement by the Sulpicians said that the Sulpicians were informed they were no longer to provide “administrative leadership” at St. Patrick’s.

However, Bishop Daly said, the Sulpicians made the call to leave. “They made the decision. There was no discussion with the board of trustees. They had made up their mind” the day before and had voted to withdraw, he said. “So there was no collaboration in the decision.”

In the Oct. 22 public announcement, the Sulpicians stated: “We have recently been informed that we are no longer invited to provide Sulpician administrative leadership to St. Patrick’s. As a consequence, we will not be able to serve the seminary according to the Sulpician tradition. After consultation, discussion and prayerful discernment, the provincial council has decided to withdraw totally from St. Patrick’s as of June 30, 2017. We extend our best wishes to St. Patrick’s Seminary & University as it moves forward.”

The relationship with the Sulpicians has had some rocky moments in the past few years, with Sulpician Father James McKearney, predecessor of the current rector-president, asked to resign in 2013. Bishop Daly, then an auxiliary bishop of San Jose, served as interim rector until current rector-president, and former vice rector and theology professor, Sulpician Father Gladstone Stevens, was chosen.

The Archdiocese of San Francisco owns the seminary and its grounds. In addition to the archdiocese, the seminary’s sponsoring dioceses are Fresno, Monterey, Oakland, Orange, Sacramento, San Jose, Santa Rosa and Stockton, which are all in California; Spokane and Honolulu; and Reno, Nevada.

The seminary has seen a significant drop in enrollment from 2012 at 114 seminarians to 63 today, but Bishop Daly said that is not a reflection of seminary administration rather a function of decisions by some dioceses to send seminarians to other seminaries as well as an overall drop in seminarians in some dioceses. Some such as the Fresno and Orange dioceses are sending men closer to home to St. John’s Seminary, Camarillo, in Southern California, Bishop Daly said.

“There are misconceptions about the program at St Patrick’s Seminary — some see it as too conservative,” Bishop Daly told Catholic San Francisco, the archdiocesan newspaper. “The seminary is a solid program of priestly formation.”

The board of trustees was concerned about some aspects of the seminary administration in academic and spiritual areas and was interested in discussing a new collaborative relationship with the Sulpicians. Those issues were raised in an executive committee conference call with Father Kemper and another Sulpician the previous Sunday, Bishop Daly said.

That discussion apparently led to the province’s decision four days later to withdraw from the seminary.

A search committee comprised primarily of a subcommittee of the board of trustees has been formed to find a new president-rector. Among those on the search committee are Bishop Daly, Oakland Bishop Michael C. Barber, Auxiliary Bishop William J. Justice and retired Archbishop George H. Niederauer of San Francisco and Honolulu Bishop Clarence Silva, as well as several lay seminary trustees, Bishop Daly said.

The Sulpicians leaving in June will include three administrators — Father Stevens, rector-president; Father Anthony J. Pogorelc, vice rector; and Father Vincent Doan Bui, dean of spiritual life — as well as three teachers, Father Chris Arockiaraj, instructor of pastoral studies; Father Paul Maillet, assistant professor of sacred Scripture; and Father Jaime Robledo, instructor of moral theology.

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Schmalz is assistant editor of Catholic San Francisco, newspaper of the Archdiocese of San Francisco.