Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Short Timeline and History of Catholic Seminaries in the Eastern United States

I'm involved in putting together a historical journal celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the parish my family belongs to. Located on Staten Island, St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church was founded in 1862 by the Reverend John Barry under the auspices of the Diocese of New York.

Reading over the early history, I was intrigued by the references to Catholic Seminaries, institutions of higher learning charged with preparing young men for the priesthood. There were not very many back in those days and candidates for the priesthood embarked on  long and arduous journeys in order to attend school. Over time and with the increasing amount of Catholics arriving in the New York area, the seminaries moved closer to New York City, the seat of the Archdiocese. Most of the priests in New York parishes today are prepared at St.Joseph's Seminary, commonly known as Dunwoodie, located in Yonkers, New York about 13 miles away from St. Patrick's Cathedral. There were many more to be sure but listed below are the main Catholic institutions.

Pope Pius VI (above) makes the United States a Diocese

1791: St. Mary's Seminary, Baltimore, Maryland
Located in Baltimore, Maryland, St. Mary's (pictured left) was the first Catholic seminary established in the United States. In existence for well over two hundred years, St. Mary's has been owned and operated by the Sulpician Fathers, a community of diocesan priests dedicated to the formation of priests. In 1805, St. Mary's was chartered as a university in Maryland, and in 1822, Pope Pius VII established the seminary the country's first faculty with the right to grant degrees in the name of the Holy See. To this day, the seminary continues to offer the pontifical STB,  Baccalaureate in Sacred Theology Degree and STL Licentiate in Sacred Theology. This privilege was first granted to St. Mary's in 1822 by Pope Pius VII at the request of the Most Reverend Ambrose MarĂ©chal, the third Archbishop of Baltimore. The original St. Mary's Seminary was first located on Paca Street in a historic neo-gothic chapel designed by Maximilian Godefroy. Still there today, it is open for visitors and is adjacent to the Mother Seton House where St. Elizabeth Ann Seton lived while in Baltimore.

1808: Mount St. Mary’s University, Emmitsburg, Maryland
The history of Mount St. Mary’s University begins in the creation of Maryland as a refuge of religious freedom. Catholic immigrants flock to the new colony and in 1789 the pope designated Baltimore the seat of the newly created U.S. diocese. John Hughes (pictured right) built  St. Joseph’s Church in Emmitsburg to serve the mostly Irish Catholic population and when the Rev. John DuBois, who fled France for the United States, he became pastor of Frederick, Md. In 1805, he laid  the cornerstone of Saint-Mary-on-the-Hill, uniting Emmitsburg’s Irish and English congregations. He bought the first parcel of land for what would become Mount St. Mary’s Seminary.

1833: St. Joseph's Seminary, Nyack, New York
On May 29,1833, a cornerstone was laid in Nyack, New York, a place selected by Bishop Dubois. The 165 acre farm was thirty miles from New York and cost $12,000, of which $4,000. was paid in cash. Plans were made for a house eighty feet square, costing $30,000. At that time there were nine churches in the diocese, twenty-four priests and a Catholic population of 150,000, of whom 25,000 were in New York City. Father John McGerry, president of Mount St. Mary's, Emmitsburg, was the first president of Nyack Seminary.

1841: St. John's College (Fordham University), Bronx, New York
Fordham University was originally founded as St. John's College in 1841 by the Irish-born coadjutor bishop (later archbishop) of the Diocese of New York, the Most Reverend John Joseph Hughes. The college was the first Catholic institution of higher education in the northeastern United States. Bishop Hughes purchased most of Rose Hill Manor and Estate in Fordham, the Bronx, at a little less than $30,000 for the purpose of establishing St. Joseph's Seminary in September 1840. "Rose Hill" was the name originally given to the site in 1787 by its owner, Robert Watts, a wealthy New York merchant, in honor of his family's ancestral home in Scotland. The seminary was paired with St. John's College, which opened at Rose Hill with a student body of six on June 21, 1841. The Reverend John McCloskey (later Archbishop of New York and eventually the first American Cardinal) was its first president, and the faculty were secular priests and lay instructors. The college went through a succession of four diocesan priests in five years as presidents, including Fr. James Roosevelt Bayley, a distant cousin of Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt and nephew of St. Elizabeth Seton. In 1845, the seminary church, Our Lady of Mercy, was built. The same year, Bishop Hughes convinced Jesuits from St. Mary's College in Maryland and St. Mary's College in Kentucky to staff the new school. The following year, St. John's College received its charter from the New York state legislature. Three months later, the first Jesuits began to arrive. Bishop Hughes deeded the college over but retained title to the seminary property of about nine acres. In 1847, Fordham's first school in Manhattan opened. The school became the independently chartered College of St. Francis Xavier in 1861. 
Interesting Fact:
In 1847, American poet Edgar Allan Poe arrived in the village of Fordham and began a friendship with the Jesuits that would last throughout his lifetime. In 1849, he published "The Bells," to which some traditions credit the college's church bells as the inspiration. 

1864: St. Joseph's Seminary, Troy, New York
Shortly before 1860, Archbishop Hughes had closed St. Joseph's Seminary, Fordham, having found it impracticable to recruit a competent staff of professors able and willing to conduct such an institution. The Sulpicians, to whom he then appealed, found themselves in no position to take this new charge upon themselves because their resources were taxed supplying the needs of seminaries already under their guidance, such as those of Montreal and Baltimore. It occurred to the Archbishop that the most practical way of providing priests for the growing diocese was the foundation of a provincial seminary to the Archbishop of New York and also the bishops of the province might send their ecclesiastical candidates.

1884: St. John's Seminary, Brighton, Mass.
Saint John's Seminary is located in the Brighton neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts and is a Catholic major seminary sponsored by the Archdiocese of Boston. The construction of the Boston Ecclesiastical Seminary began in 1881, and Archbishop John Joseph Williams entrusted the seminary to the Sulpician Fathers. The school was completed in 1884, and the first students began classes there on September 22, 1884. The Seminary's first rector was John Baptist Hogan. In 1892, the Seminary was incorporated under the laws of Massachusetts but in 1911, at the request of Archbishop William Henry O'Connell, the Sulpicians withdrew from the seminary.

1896: St. Joseph's Seminary & College (Dunwoodie), 
Yonkers, New York
St. Joseph's Seminary and College (pictured above), sometimes referred to as Dunwoodie, was founded by the Archdiocese of New York in 1896. Under Archbishop Michael Corrigan, it was originally staffed by Sulpicians and diocesan priests. The seminary's primary mission was to educate men studying for the priesthood. A plot of ground comprising sixty acres, known as Valentine Hill, half-way between Yonkers and Mount Vernon, was purchased for $64,146.77. The site was chosen because of it's proximity to New York. The laying of the cornerstone took place on May 17, 1891 by Archbishop Corrigan, in the presence of about eighty thousand persons.

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