by Ed Wilkinson
Seminarians studying theology as they prepare for priesthood in the Diocese of Brooklyn will no longer attend classes at Immaculate Conception Seminary, Huntington, but instead will reside and study at St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, currently the archdiocesan seminary.
Seminarians from the Rockville Centre Diocese also will move from Huntington to Dunwoodie.
The historic agreement was announced at a special press conference at Immaculate Conception Seminary, Huntington, on Nov. 10. It goes into effect in the fall of 2012.
Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre hosted the event that was attended by Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn. Also present were seminarians, faculty members, and friends of the Huntington theologate.
The evening announcement was followed by benediction of the Blessed Sacrament in the seminary chapel.
The plan is the culmination of years of planning and discussion among the three dioceses. It builds upon the program begun this past September when 77 college seminarians from the three dioceses came together in formation at Catheral Residence of the Immaculate Conception, Douglaston.
A new institute dedicated to the ongoing spiritual and pastoral formation of priests will begin at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, Huntington. Called the Sacred Heart Institute for the Ongoing Formation of Clergy, it will have regular programs of theological and spiritual enrichment for priests and permanent deacons and also will include the new Verbum Dei (Word of God) Preaching Institute, formation programs for international priests, and special workshops for priests.
The Huntington site also will offer formation programs for the laity and a retreat center to prepare lay members to be more active in the life of the Church.
The plan also calls for the master of arts in religious studies program at St. Joseph’s Institute for Religious Studies to come under the umbrella of Immaculate Conception Seminary, which will make new investments in distance-learning technologies enabling courses to be taught in a variety of settings across the three campuses in Douglaston, Huntington, and Yonkers.
Dioceses Retain Ownership
While each of the dioceses will retain ownership of their respective institutions, each has agreed to establish a new council for joint episcopal oversight of the three formation programs, named the St. Charles Borromeo Inter-Diocesan Council for Spiritual and Theological Formation.
“This agreement establishes a system of formation for seminarians, priests and the laity in a way never before conceived, that recognizes where we are as a Church today and what the needs will be into the foreseeable future,” said Bishop DiMarzio.
Archbishop Dolan added that he saw the plan as “truly an expression of the collegiality among the three bishops.”
Archbishop Dolan estimated there would be 100 seminarians at St. Joseph’s in the fall term. There are now approximately 90 men studying at St. Joseph’s and Immaculate Conception. St. Joseph’s also trains candidates for the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and Immaculate Conception has students from the Dioceses of Rochester, Syracuse, and Scranton, Pa. Both locations host international students who will be ordained for dioceses in their native countries.
Bishop Murphy said that he felt the arrangement “will help primarily provide a stronger experience of formation for men in the downstate area. By bringing the two programs together, we will be able to offer a formation experience that integrates the best qualities of Immaculate Conception and St. Joseph’s.”
The bishops acknowledged the difficulty of relinquishing their individual formation programs. Bishop DiMarzio explained that “Collaboration is not an easy thing. It doesn’t seem to fit in our vocabulary. … We’ve put aside our individual differences. We have a good idea together.”
The bishops said the partnership reflects Blessed John Paul II’s call to new evangelization. Since September, the process has been under the direction of Father James Massa, a priest of the Brooklyn Diocese, who served on the faculty of two seminaries and was executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.
The current rector of Immaculate Conception, Msgr. Peter Vaccari of the Brooklyn Diocese, will serve as the rector of St. Joseph’s.
Archbishop Dolan said that Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education, “was thrilled” to hear of the partnership during the archbishop’s recent visit to Rome.
“He thanked us for a giving a good example,” said Archbishop Dolan, “and acknowledged it was something we were asked to do during the apostolic visitation of seminaries” in the U.S. during the 2005-2006 academic year.
The bishops said the partnership will ultimately save money through reduction in costs for overhead, faculty and staff.
Archbishop Dolan indicated that initial financial savings “will not be towering.” He said in the long run, combining faculty will create an abundant pool of qualified candidates and “free up others for work in the Church.”
He said the partnership augers well for increased cooperation among the dioceses in other areas, including communications, charities and evangelization. As an example, he described Reconciliation Monday, a program of the Rockville Centre Diocese that was expanded to New York and Brooklyn in Lent of 2011. He said more than 100,000 people received the sacrament of reconciliation on one day in the three dioceses.
“It’s the advent of even more,” he said.
Contributing to this story was Beth Griffin of Catholic News Service.[hr]