The decision was not an easy or unsentimental one. While it’s been in the works for about a year, the decision to move instead of consolidate has been “painful,” said Bishop Senior, who himself is an alum of St. Charles.
“I don’t want to minimize the attachment to the campus,” he said.
“First of all it’s a beautiful campus, secondly it’s a historic place. For priests and lay people and permanent deacons and religious who have gone to the seminary there and studied theology and have discerned their vocations to ministry, it’s a very sacred place.”
But it’s also a place that’s deteriorating, with a lot of deferred maintenance and excess space that is “encumbering the mission” of the seminary, Bishop Senior said.
“And that’s where I start saying, the seminary is not a museum.”
The next step is for the seminary board and faculty to find a suitable partner college, with some available land where St. Charles could build whatever facilities they would need that they would not share with their partner school.
Bishop Senior said so far, the conversations with potential partner schools out of the archdiocese’s 11 Catholic colleges and universities have been “very hypothetical.” The process of finding a partner, building additional facilities and moving will take another two or three years.
“We have to have a commitment to the mission of the seminary and a solid commitment to Catholic identity in order for it to be a suitable partner,” he said.
“And it also has to be a win-win, good for us and good for that institution.”
But while the move has been a difficult conclusion to come to, Bishop Senior said the program at the seminary is strong. Enrollment jumped from 128 in 2013 to 146 at the end of this school year, and projected numbers for next year are up to 168.
Partnering with a college or university is also not uncommon – approximately one-third of seminaries in the United States follow this model, Bishop Senior said.
“We’re going to have the same sense of zeal and mission that those who built Overbrook campus and established the seminary way back in 1800s had,” he said.
(Story continues below)
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“They weren’t interested in preserving institutions as they had been known, but they were interested in responding to the needs of the Church at that time.”
“Even as we treasure our past and recall the tradition, the most important thing is the formation of leaders, priests and other leaders who have that spirit of evangelization and missionary discipleship.”
Update 6/22, 1:32 p.m.: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the current operating costs of St. Charles seminary are $3.4 million. Rather, $3.4 million is the amount currently raised to cover much higher operating costs. It has since been corrected.