Transition Underway for Downstate Seminary Education

Last fall, the three bishops of downstate New York committed their seminaries to work together for the training of priests and their co-workers in ministry. The Inter-diocesan Seminary Partnership came about on Nov. 10, 2011 as a result of a joint operating agreement signed by Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan of

New York, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn and Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre.

Among the immediate goals of the partnership is the creation of a single program of priestly formation that begins with college and philosophical studies at Cathedral Seminary Residence, Douglaston, and continues, for most seminarians, with graduate-level study at St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie. The Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, L.I., will continue to be home for graduate-level theology programs for laity and permanent deacons, as well as a new institute for the ongoing formation of clergy called Sacred Heart.

Msgr. Peter Vaccari, a priest of the Brooklyn Diocese and the current rector in Huntington, will become the rector of St. Joseph’s next summer, as Msgr. Richard Henning, a priest of Rockville Centre and the current vice-rector in Huntington, takes over as rector of Immaculate Conception and coordinator of its varied programs for training Catholic clergy and laity.

Msgr. Robert Thelan, a priest of the Brooklyn Diocese who presided over the merger of the Brooklyn-Rockville Centre and New York college programs, will continue as rector of Cathedral Residence, Douglaston.

The combined number of diocesan seminarians training for ministry in the three dioceses is more than 150.  The vast majority of them study at the institutions benefitting from the new collaboration.  In addition, the Sacred Heart Institute will coordinate retreats and workshops for the more than 3,000 active and retired priests and 750 plus permanent deacons who reside in the region.

When one considers the number of Catholics in the three downstate dioceses (5.5 million, according to the 2010 Kennedy Directory), and those in consecrated life (6,400+), the opportunities abound for lay formation through academic and retreat programs offered through this collaborative venture.

During this year of transition, the bishops have created five committees to oversee the implementation of their vision for the inter-diocesan partnership. Drawing on expertise from clergy and laity, each of the committees focuses on one of the following areas: academic programs, seminarian formation, governance and finance, library resources and information technology and the ongoing formation of clergy. On the basis of their study and consultations, the committees produce a set of recommendations on a regular basis that the bishops together examine and then either adopt or remand to committee for further discussion.

The process has already yielded decisions on personnel, finances, and the renovations of facilities at each of the seminaries in order to accommodate new programs and adjustments in mission. (More about these programs will appear in future editions of The Tablet.)

On the evening when the three bishops signed the Joint Operating Agreement, Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, recalled the challenge of Blessed John Paul II ten years ago to be courageous and set out into the deep.

“With his prayers and with the vision of our Holy Father Pope Benedict, I believe we today are creating the structures and the opportunities for our churches to be heralds of the New Evangelization,” Bishop Murphy said.