Maynooth – Michael Kelly (From the Irish Catholic)
Maynooth College may soon cease to function as a Catholic seminary marking the end of a 200-year-tradition, The Irish Catholic has learned.
The national seminary, which has educated Irishmen for the priesthood since 1795, may be set for closure after the recent Apostolic Visitation by New York’s Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan. It is expected the report will recommend that Pope Benedict XVI move all Irish seminarians to a reformed and restructured Pontifical Irish College in Rome.
The historic shift would bring an end to concerns about falling academic standards at Maynooth and claims by some that the college in no longer ‘fit for mission’. One senior academic told The Irish Catholic that the Apostolic Visitors were ”appalled” by some of the standards in Maynooth. Rome would give access to heavyweight universities under direct scrutiny from the Vatican.
It is understood the plan would include the Irish College in Rome dramatically reducing the number of non-Irish students enrolled in the seminary to make way for the seminarians from Maynooth.
The Irish college would also have to be reformed to take account of an expected raft of recommendations from Archbishop Dolan’s report.
During his visitation to Maynooth, Archbishop Dolan requested from moral theology lectures copies of class notes and presentations to students to assess the suitability of the content. A wholesale move to Rome would address concerns that some of the theology taught at Maynooth is not sufficiently orthodox for future priests.
On a practical level, Maynooth has been under pressure in recent years to fill vacancies left by the retirement of theology professors. In addition, the faculty of Canon Law has only one full-time member while the faculty of philosophy has no full-time staff relying instead on occasional lecturers from the neighbouring National University of Ireland, Maynooth.
It is understood that the Apostolic Visitors are of the view that the current low number of seminarians at Maynooth makes the college’s future as a national seminary untenable with a concentration in Rome offering a better use of resources and seminary staff. Most seminarians would go to the Irish College while some others would join other Irish students at the Pontifical Beda College in Rome which specialises in training older men for the priesthood.
Meanwhile, in Rome, Rector of the Irish College Msgr Liam Bergin is due to step down at the end of this term. Msgr Bergin – a priest of the Ossory diocese – is expected to take up an appointment teaching theology at Boston College in the US. The new rector of the Irish College will require the approval of the Vatican before an announcement can be made.
There are currently 66 seminarians for Irish dioceses at Maynooth, 18 at the Irish College in Rome, seven at the Beda College in Rome and seven at St Joseph’s Seminary in Belfast. Two Irishmen are also undergoing preparatory studies at the Royal English College in Valladolid, Spain.
Update 25th March 2011
The president of St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, has denied that the seminary is going to close, after speculation following the end of the Apostolic Visitation.
Mgr Hugh Connolly spoke after the Irish Catholic reported that the Apostolic Visitors to Ireland, and in particular Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, will recommend that Maynooth be shut down and the seminarians moved to the Irish College in Rome, which will be reformed.
Mgr Connolly said: “There are 72 men studying for the priesthood in Maynooth, making us the largest in Europe. Media reports today about the possible closure of the seminary are without foundations.
“St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, is a vibrant centre of seminary formation and theological research.”
He added that Maynooth “is confident of its contribution to the future of the Church in Ireland”, and said that the Apostolic Visitation was a “positive and affirming experience for the whole college community”.
The Irish Catholic suggested that Archbishop Dolan was unsatisfied with the orthodoxy of the theology teaching at Maynooth, and quoted an anonymous academic at the college that the Visitors were “appalled” by the standards at the college in county Kildare.
Archbishop Dolan is said to have requested class notes from moral theology lectures as well as presentations to students at the college in order to assess the suitability of what is being taught there.
Maynooth College has also come under pressure due to staffing problems. The seminary currently employs only one full-time canon law lecturer, and relies upon part-time lecturers from the National University of Ireland.
The Visitors are expected to present their report to the Pope in the next few months.