St. Charles Borromeo Seminary’s Board of Trustees has called for scrapping the planned consolidation of seminary operations on one 30-acre section of the campus and to “affiliate with a local Catholic college or university and relocate the entire seminary operation” to that location, according to a statement released by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia Tuesday, June 7.
A plan to move the College Division seminarians to unused portions of the upper side, which now houses Theology Division seminarians in formation for the priesthood, was announced in 2013 as the best way to allow for the seminary’s growth.
But a feasibility study by the Catholic Foundation of Greater Philadelphia recently looked at alternative models to that plan, which was presented to the trustees in May.
The board recommended the seminary “cease actions aimed at consolidation on the upper campus,” according to the archdiocesan news release.
$50 millon in costs, $45 million in sales = a chasm too big
In an interview with CatholicPhilly.com, Bishop Timothy Senior, the seminary’s rector, said the estimated $50 million cost for renovating the buildings that would have housed the college seminarians was the key factor.
The massive three-story stone structures were built between 100 and 145 years ago. The newest residence and classroom facility, Vianney Hall, is 40 years old. All would need significant upgrades.
Since the estimated proceeds of selling the lower-side property would amount to about $45 million, a gap of at least $5 million would have to be raised just to complete the project. That also would not account for additional fundraising to build a long-term endowment fund to support future needs of the seminary.
The Catholic foundation, which is an independent development organization for Catholic organizations in the region, in its study advised against the plan.
The crucial question, as Bishop Senior put it, was, “Is it really the best thing to put all that money into those buildings?”
The seminary today is situated in buildings “which are consuming a disproportionate amount of resources.” Only a fraction of the money needed to “maintain a behemoth” is currently being spent on the physical plant today – the annual $500,000 in maintenance costs is “not even close to what it needs.”
The seminary’s physical layout reflects a different era of formation in which hundreds of seminarians were housed in the style of an army barracks, with resident priests located in a separate wing.
New living arrangements with existing amenities
Current best practices of priestly formation call for small groups of seminarians living closely with a resident priest who could model a healthy, integrated priestly spirituality and ministry.
The seminary’s trustees have called for the development of a new plan for seminary operations that may include “newly constructed buildings on or near the campus” of an area college.
Such construction would obviously have costs but likely would not require new facilities such as a dining hall, gymnasium, fitness center or other amenities already on a college campus, depending on the nature of the arrangement.
Archbishop Charles Chaput accepted the recommendation by the Board of Trustees and tasked Bishop Timothy Senior, rector of the seminary, to begin studying available options.
Father Patrick Welsh, vice rector of St. Charles, will work directly on developing the new plan over the next year. If accepted by the seminary board and approved by the archbishop, implementation could take two to three years, Bishop Senior estimated.
He also confirmed what seemed certain with Tuesday’s announcement: the entire 76-acre seminary campus will at some point be sold.
Development proposals for the site are a separate project from the plan to relocate the seminary, so it is too early to tell how they will proceed.
A proposal by Main Line Health to buy the 45-acre lower-side parcel surfaced last year but a lawsuit by a third party has stalled that plan in court. The regional health care company owns Lankenau Hospital, located across Lancaster Avenue from the seminary.
Where popes walked is ‘not a museum’
It is unknown what will become of the massive College Division buildings and ornate St. Martin’s Chapel, where Pope Francis last fall met seminarians and spoke to bishops, preceded in doing so by St. John Paul II in 1979.
But just as some parishioners have seen their parish close and in some cases their church sold off or even razed, a seminary, like a parish, is about more than buildings.
“It’s not about the past, and this is not a museum,” Bishop Senior said. “We are carrying on in a way that is sustainable in the long run. We are doing the best job we can with the men who are responding to God’s call today.”
He added that the start of a new plan for the seminary “allows us to pursue new facilities that will further enrich and better serve the contemporary academic, spiritual and human needs of our seminarians and lay students.”
Bishop Senior found inspiration recently to keep Tuesday’s announcement in perspective. Before he drove to preside at the graduation ceremonies for Conwell Egan Catholic High School in Fairless Hills on Monday, he stopped into the St. John Neumann Shrine in Philadelphia to pray before the saintly bishop’s tomb.
There he reflected on how St. John, as bishop of Philadelphia, moved the seminary from its location near the cathedral at 18th Street out to Glen Riddle, Delaware County, nearby today’s Franciscan Sisters’ motherhouse and Neumann University.
In fact, St. Charles Seminary’s current location in Wynnewood (Overbrook) since 1871 is its fourth site since its founding in 1832, having begun in a house near Old St. Mary’s Church.
Signs point to seminary strengthening
This year the seminary has seen its enrollment rise to 142, and Bishop Senior expects 164 to begin or continue their priestly formation in the fall.
Of this year’s total, 45 men are studying for the Philadelphia Archdiocese – 19 in theology, 17 in college, two in pre-theology and seven in the spiritual year.
Also in the total enrollment are 78 men studying for 10 other partner dioceses and 19 men for two religious orders for other partner dioceses and religious orders. The leaders of those dioceses and congregations were informed of the seminary’s new developments June 7.
St. Charles does more than form men for the priesthood in its theology and college divisions. A third division, the School of Theological Studies, offers graduate and undergraduate degrees for clergy, religious and lay men and women.
Currently 89 people are enrolled in the division, including 42 men in formation for the permanent diaconate for the archdiocese.
Another 228 people are studying in catechetical certificate programs for a total of 317 men and women in the school, previously known as the Religious Studies Division, and more recently as the Graduate School of Theology.
In addition to higher seminarian enrollment and new faculty members at the seminary, Bishop Senior said giving to the annual Seminary Appeal is up too, at about $3.4 million. All of that supports ongoing operational costs, he indicated.
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Does the St Charles Seminary have tours of the Seminary for the public?
Someone asked if The Cathreal will be next. If you read the latest plans that the Archbishop has for it , one could assume that is next on the list.
I am originally from Philadelphia. My uncle attended St.Charles and currently is a priest at a parish in Spring City. I also have a cousin who is currently discerning the priesthood. I remember visiting the grounds of the seminary to visit my uncle many times.Many of my relatives still live in and around Philadelphia. It saddens me to see what is happening to our seminaries, churches, and Catholic schools.
I hope a new college would be willing to provide room for a museum. I t would be awesome to have all the pictures, religious statutes, altars, chairs, etc that the archdiocese currently has in storage on display for the public. Plus, they could display some of the items from the Ecclesiastical Exchange while they wait for a new home.
I think a museum could be awesome for a new seminary (if the college partner would go for it)… A museum could basically be a partnership between the college host, the Ecclesiastical Exchange, and the Philadelphia Archdiocesan Historical Research Center.
Teaming up with DeSales is a wonderful idea. I hope they give it serious consideration and not limit themselves to St. Joes and Villanova.
I applaud Archbishop Chaput’s willingness to make prudent decisions based on realities of TODAY in the twenty-first century. We can easily get very wrapped up in buildings, preserving them and pouring huge resources into them while forgetting that their importance is to house / facilitate people in their journey in this life. I was blessed to visit a university in Mandeville, Jamaica, that by US standards would be deemed “below” standard, physically, but the enthusiasm of the faculty and students and the sense of community was phenomenal. St. Charles Borromeo Seminary formation program will thrive wherever it is physically located.
This is a heartbreaking tragedy! Our priceless and irreplaceable cultural and historic legacy will be lost forever. The Catholic Church was once known as the “Patron of the Arts” and the main builder of culture and protector of civilization. This land and buildings are not just reducible to economic commodities but a symbol of our faith and a sign of the Church’s presence through history by a sense of embodied sacramental place. The craftsmen, talent and will do not exist in this country to build anything to the caliber of these magnificent edifices again. While difficult decisions need to be made in divesting of the common Catholic heritage of the Archdiocese, there should be a threshold below which WE WILL NOT GO. This, in my opinion, is one of them. What price tag can be placed on the irreplaceable cultural and historical patrimony of a people? I would like to see the Archbishop fight to at least keep the original upper seminary for the formation of our future priest. The very sacramental embodiment of the breathtaking structures are an educational formation in themselves for future priests. Aesthetic and cultural formation needs to become a central aspect of education for our priests so we can understand how to counteract a sad culture of reductionism with a sense of beauty, hope, transcendence and faith. Where is the apologetic in defense of beauty and our cultural heritage read from the pulpits? While there are many struggles, needs and priorities, let us not lose site of the urgent importance of defending beauty and the stewardship of our Catholic cultural heritage in the process. As the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy states: “in the course of the centuries, she has brought into being a treasury of art which must be very carefully preserved. The art of our own days, coming from every race and region, shall also be given free scope in the Church, provided that it adorns the sacred buildings and holy rites with due reverence and honor; thereby it is enabled to contribute its own voice to that wonderful chorus of praise in honor of the Catholic faith sung by great men in times gone by.” Let us at least fight not to let the glorious singing of the Catholic Faith passed on through the means of the architecture and art of the seminary die out forever!
Why not build a modern seminary and dorms on five to ten acres of the existing acreage, close to City Line Avenue and sell the rest to developers, 55 plus communities, etc. It’s a great central location. I think maintaining identity, values and mores,independent of whatever other Catholic institutions are doing,is important.
That’s similar to what they were originally planning on doing. But the costs to fix or replace the buildings they need is higher than what the market will bare for the land they sell.
The University of Mary is an excellent school in Bismarck N.D. My daughter attends the U of M now. She attended Mount St. Mary’s in MD for two years where she lost her faith because the student body is NOT Catholic. Anything that the University of Mary does will be wonderful for our Seminary. I am sad to see the need to sell the property.
I know there was a huge outcry about selling off part of it. There will be an even bigger battle with the sale of the whole property.
I’m sorry- I know there are financial costs to consider, but this is a tragedy, plain and simple.
From what I observed, When my oldest son attended the Mount, The on-campus seminary worked well in the sharing of all facilities, in a historical (legacy) environment such as the Mount. Where the spirit and traditions of Bishop Carrol , and Saint Elizabeth continue to flourish.The campus environment also can lead into an internal source of new vocations. I have experienced the interruption of legacies over my 77 years as a product of Saint Charles, IHM (immaculata) and the more secular evangelistic approach of the OSFS (North Catholic,/ Father Judge).
I have/am experiencing the effects of preserving legacy (at all cost/price) on the taxes to support local public education.
However, I do understand the importance of Tradition in our Faith, and I strongly feel that will continue to live, and grow in a newer University collocation..
How dismaying….After all the churches and schools…Will the cathedral be next?
As a Catholic, is painful to read how the bishop wants to get rid off the seminary that coast a lot of money by the laity.
First – This was the idea of the Greater Philadelphia Catholic Foundation, not the Archbishop.
2nd, I’ve been to the Seminary, and the buildings are OLD and need to either be replaced or totally rebuilt. Merging with an University isn’t a bad idea. The Seminary would still exist.
However, the real question is which college is the right fit?
Selling the land to St. Joe’s would be ideal as the land could remain the home to dorms for the seminarians, the classes could be taught in state of the art classrooms on campus, and overtime, St. Joe’s could build new classroom buildings on the Seminary site. Also the chapel could remain.
But that’s only if St. Joe’s wants to buy the land.
But the Seminary would always be independent.
Personally, though, I would much rather see University of Mary, Christendom College, or Franciscan University create a branch campus on the site.
Another domino falls in the row…first the glorious St. Katherine Drexel shrine in Bensalem and now the seminary. Boy, I don’t know about the rest of you Catholic Philly (what’s left of you) but I sure am enjoying the air in the “new springtime” around these parts. Thanks Vatican II revolutionaries! Bang up job!!
The Katharine Drexel Shrine is still there. It’s just no longer a parish. Same with the National St. Rita Shrine. They are now full time Shrines and not longer parishes. That’s not a bad thing.
Sounds like a reasonable plan. Answer to prayers.
The only thing that makes me nervous about this is the fact that all of the Catholic colleges inside the Archdiocese have a Catholic identity problem.
Joining with DeSales University in Southern Lehigh County (just over the Bucks County border, past Quakertown) would be the best area Catholic College to align with.
If it must be a local University, merging with St. Joe’s always seemed logical to me.
However, another option (which I wonder if they considered) would be having a strong Catholic college turn the seminary into a branch campus. For example: sell the seminary grounds to DeSales University, Franciscan University of Steubenville, or University of Mary to build a Philadelphia Campus with Seminary. Bringing in a strong Catholic University like these three or any other on the Cardinal Newman Society list or National Catholic Register’s list would be AWESOME for Catholics in Philadelphia.
St. Charles Borromeo Seminary is already 1 of only 4 Seminaries that are on the National Catholic Register’s list of top colleges for Catholic Identity. I would hate to see one of our area colleges drag that down.
But, my dream would require one of those colleges to actually want to set up a campus here. If the seminary does move to the campus of one of the colleges inside the Archdiocese, I pray it will help bring that college back to having a strong Catholic identity.
I think you make some good points. My questions to you are how can one of the colleges you mention mitigate the property? What will they do as far as lodging? etc. Will the professors at the seminary have a job if it goes through? I agree with you, yet I believe there will be quite a few questions to answer. I would suggest you send it to a rep of the organization mentioned or even his excellency
The Catholic identity is a major concern, case-in-point: Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, MD.
Your proposal of attracting a University with a strong identity to open a Philadelphia area campus is very intriguing. I wonder if the Board of Trustees has discussed a similar option. Although, I suspect that the Archdiocese’s is weighing not only financial considerations, but also time constraints. Courting a University partnership like this might take more time than the Archdiocese has at this point.
I completely agree. If they’re thinking of working with a local Catholic college, they should have probably concentrated on enforcing Catholic identity at those colleges long before now.
While the branch university idea may sound good, it’s not realistic. The institutions mentioned do all they can to keep their heads above water in their current main locations.
I hope we will soon understand that the crisis of faith is in its early stages. It takes no prisoners. Sadly, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, of grand history and memories, is not alone. Philadelphia is on the cutting edge of decline and demise, but many other American dioceses will follow suit in time. No less than Fr. Joseph Ratzinger said in a radio address in 1970:
“Let us go a step farther. From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge – a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so will she lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, she will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. …” Faith and the Future, Ignatius Press, 2009.
These are very difficult times, and they will get worse. Let us pray for one another, that our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ be purified and strengthened. He will provide everything we need.
That’s a beautiful piece of property. If I had a few hundred million dollars I would gladly donate the money needed to rehab St Charles Borromeo.
God bless our Bishop Chaput and Bishop Senior and the whole Seminary staff for all they do to help us to have priests to take care of us, baptize us, give us the body and blood of Jesus, forgive our sins in the name of Jesus, confirm and marry us and see us through sickness, and then bury us.