.- The U.S. bishops have entrusted their recently closed Belgian seminary to the local Katholieke Universiteit in Leuven in order to preserve the Catholic identity of the 19th century building.
The American College of the Immaculate Conception in Belgium closed in June of this year because of the small number of seminarians and a lack of available priests for faculty.
Archbishop Timothy Dolan, head of the U.S. bishops' conference and archbishop of New York, praised the new agreement on Aug. 22 as a step forward in the relationship between Belgian and American Catholics.
“The American College has provided a major contribution to the life of the Catholic Church. With this agreement, we are able to respond to the changing needs of our faithful and those who serve them.”
The U.S. bishops said on Monday that the agreement will hand the seminary building over to K.U. Leuven, which will renovate the building for use by future students.
The bishops founded the college in 1857 to train young European men to serve as missionary priests in North America and to offer American seminarians the philosophical and theological riches of Europe’s oldest Catholic university, located in Leuven.
Besides serving as a residence for new university students, the building will now house a project headed by the U.S. bishops, K.U. Leuven, the bishops’ conference of Belgium and the French-speaking sister university of K.U. Leuven, Louvain-la-Neuve.
The project will recruit students and researchers from the worldwide Catholic community – including priests, deacons, members of religious institutes and lay people – to promote educational initiatives in theology, canon law and philosophy.
The effort will be aimed at U.S. residents in particular, and will offer students assistance from the “Peter Kindekens Fund,” named after the first rector of the American College and created in honor of the U.S. bishops’ conference.
Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard of Mechelen-Brussel, president of the Belgian Bishops Conference, welcomed the agreement.
“We are pleased to see that the historical link between the Church in Belgium and the Church in the United States can continue, albeit in a new form,” he said. “Worldwide collaboration within the Church is our strength and enriches our own experiences.”