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The old debate about the number of seminaries in the Netherlands was restarted this week as the rectors of two of them – Fathers Jan Vries of Rolduc (Diocese of Roermond) and Gerard Bruggink (pictured at right) of the Tiltenberg (D. of Haarlem-Amsterdam) – both suggested that the Church in this country would be better served by having a single seminary for the entire Province, instead of the six that exist now.
Every Dutch diocese, except for Groningen-Leeuwarden, maintains its own seminary, although there is cooperation to a certain extent: professors and teachers often work at more than one seminary, and the one in the Diocese of Breda, Bovendonk, is specifically geared towards seminarians who begin their studies and formation later in life, next to a job. Groningen-Leeuwarden and Rotterdam send their seminarians, for their entire study or part of it, to Haarlem-Amsterdan, Utrecht or Bovendonk. In addition to this, the Neocatechumenal Way maintains two seminaries in the Netherlands and sends its students for several courses to either Rolduc or the Tiltenberg.
All in all, there are 76 fulltime seminarians studying at the several seminaries in the Netherlands, of whom 49 come from abroad. They are generally part of the Neocatechumenal Way. There are also another 11 parttime seminarians, who study next to their day job.
Most seminary rectors are in favour of merging the existing seminaries into one or two. Father Patrick Kuipers of the recently re-established Ariëns Institute (seminary building pictured at left), Archdiocese of Utrecht, says, “Personally, I am very much in favour of it. I think that the group of seminarians in the Netherlands is too small to be spread out over five or six institutes.” He thinks a group of 25 would be ideal, because that would form a true community. Father Norbert Schnell, of Bovendonk, relates that German colleagues say that 20 seminarians is the minimum required.
Fr. Bruggink wonders if it is even possible to maintain two seminarians, one according to the proper seminary model in which all education taking place in-house, and another following the convict model, in which some or all academic training takes place at a university of polytechnic. “I am very much in favour of maintaining the seminary format, if need be next to the convict form. Intellectual, pastoral and personal formation together with spiritual formation in one house, in one whole, is, I think, necessary for the future. I think that young people are attracted to that instead of the current fragmentation.”
There are practical considerations which all boil down to one thing: can the Dutch Church continue to support these five or six separate institutes into the future? The financial side of this is not the least, as the Church is not supported in any way but by the faithful. It is they who, ultimately need to support whatever structure of seminary education the bishops wish to maintain.
And, as all seminary rectors stress, it is with the bishops that the ball lies. Fr. Kuipers says, “I discussed it several times with Cardinal Eijk, who is responsible in the bishops’ conference for the seminaries. But that is all. The question is to what extent the bishops can let go of their own seminaries.” Fr. Vries of Rolduc simlarly states, “We can toss ideas about, but it’s the bishops who must hold the talks.”
Odd one out among the rectors is Fr. Filip De Rycke of the St. John’s Centre in Den Bosch. He admits that “sharing” teachers is a burden on people and that a larger group of students is better. But he also looks to Flanders, where all dioceses, apart from Bruges, joined forces. There is no outpouring of vocations there either, he states.
Deciding in favour of only one or two seminaries for the Church in the Netherlands would, in my opinion, have positive effects in several areas. It would allow for the formation of true communities which in turn would attract more prospective seminarians, and resources may be bundled: financially and in manpower (thus eliminating the concern that Fr. De Rycke mentions). Expertise is more effective when concentrated and communities form their members when they can actually be communities.
I hope that this question is picked up by the bishops, and that they are able to look at the bigger picture of the future of the Church in the Netherlands. We need priests and priests need the best formation and education on offer.
Breaking and unexpected news today as the Archdiocese of Utrecht announces that, after a four-year hiatus, it will once more be housing its own seminary within the borders of the archdiocese. In 2010, the Ariënskonvikt in the city of Utrecht closed its doors as part of a wider financial reform started by Archbishop Wim Eijk (at the time, he called it one of the hardest decisions he had to make as bishop). The seminarians of the archdiocese moved to the seminary of the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, and in Utrecht the former vice rector of the seminary Fr. Patrick Kuipers, continued to manage the affairs of seminarians and conducting projects related to vocations and formation.
Now, the seminarians are to come home to Utrecht, back to the old house they vacated four years ago, which now lies next door to the Faculty of Catholic Theology, which moved to the inner city a few years ago. Seminarians will receive their academic formation there. Fr. Kuipers will be the rector of the newly established institution.
There are several reasons for the return to Utrecht, of which the improved financial situation of the archdiocese if the most important. There is also a slow increase in seminarians, which, together with the limited space available, means that the new seminary is only open to seminarians from the archdiocese. In the past, Utrecht was also home to seminarians from the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden. Another reason to return to Utrecht was the peripheral location of the Tiltenberg, the seminary of Haarlem-Amsterdam, as seen from the archdiocese. The seminarians would be travelling long distances from there to the parishes in which they learned the trade, so to speak.
The Archdiocese of Utrecht currently has eight seminarians, who will all be housed in Utrecht,. These will be joined by four religious of congregation of the Misioneros de Cristo Maestro who will form their own community. Before he came to Utrecht, Cardinal Eijk established contacts with this congregation with an eye on establishing a community in the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, where he was bishop at the time.
“The Nuncio told me, and I couldn’t imagine it at first. I had planned on working in a parish again, in pastoral care, but now it was clear that all that, that path, was closed. And that was frightening at first.”
So Msgr. Herwig Gössl describes his first reaction to his appointment as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Bamberg. The 46-year-old seminary vice rector succeeds Bishop Werner Radspieler, who retired as auxiliary bishop in September last. Archbishop Ludwig Schick, pictured above with the new auxiliary bishop, said of the appointment, “Herwig Gössl will fulfill the duty of auxiliary bishop in good and fraternal cooperation with me.”
Both the bishop and the archbishop noted the appointment coinciding with today’s feast day of Saint Francis de Sales. Bishop-elect Gössl said he saw it as a “beautiful and encouraging sign, and at the same an incentive”, as the saint’s “goodness and faithfulness, humanity and joy, piety and selfishness are qualities befitting an auxiliary bishop”. Archbishop Schick noted, “Francis de Sales was active as a bishop in the time after the Reformation in modern Switzerland. He was a soft spoken man wh overcame resentment against the faith and the Church in his preaching, celebration of the sacrament and charity. That is also an important challenge for our time.”
And while the new bishop was looking forward to returning to the “ground work”, so to speak, of pastoral care in a parish, that is exactly what he is looking forward to in his new position as auxiliary bishop: meeting the people, Confirmations, pastoral visits, which he was less able to do in his time at the seminary.
A short overview of Bishop-elect Gössl’s previous work in the Church:
Born in Munich in 1967, raised in Nürnberg.
- Entered seminary in Bamberg in 1986.
- Studied in Bamberg and Innsbruck, followed by his ordination in 1993.
- 1993-1997: Priest in the parish of St. Hedwig in Bayreuth.
- 1997-2007: Parish priest in Hannberg and Weisendorf, where he became very popular.
- 2007: Appointed as vice regent to the seminary in Bamberg, followed in 2008 by a similar function in Würzburg, where he moved. Since both dioceses work closely together in the formation of their priests, Fr. Gössl combined his duties for both until this year.
- Fr. Gössl has for year been a member of the Feuerstein Konferenz, an ecumenical meeting place for Catholics, Evangelicals and Anglicans.
Bishop-elect Gössl’s consecration date has not yet been decided upon, but will have to take place no less than three months from today. He has been assigned the titular see of Balecium, located in Albania, and held until last November by Bishop (now Archbishop) Franz Lackner of Salzburg.
Dropping to 123, still 3 above the loose maximum, the cardinal electors today loose Cardinal Egan as one of their members. The former archbishop of New York turns 80 today, and so loses his vote in the conclave.
Born in 1932 as the third of four children in a family of Irish descent in Illinois, Edward Michael Egan received his education and formation for the priesthood at seminaries in the Archdiocese of Chicago, and later at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. In 1957, he received his ordination to the priesthood from his former rector at the North American College, Archbishop Martin O’Connor, then the first President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. Father Egan earned a Licentiate in Sacred Theology from the Gregorian and returned to Chicago to serve as curate of the cathedral, assistant chancellor of the archdiocese and secretary of the archbishop, Cardinal Meyer.
From 1960 to 1964, Fr. Egan again studied and taught and the North American College, after which he once more returned to serve as secretary, this time to Cardinal Cody. Taking on various important position in the archdiocese, he returned once more to Rome to teach and be a consultor for the Roman Rota and various Congregations. He was once of six canonists who reviewed the new Code of Canon Law before its publication in 1983.
Fr. Egan was appointed as auxiliary bishop of New York, with the titular see of Allegheny, in 1985, and in 1988 he moved to the Diocese of Bridgeport, to be its ordinary. In the early summer of 2000, Bishop Egan was appointed as archbishop of New York. As archbishop, Msgr. Egan concerned himself much with the education of future priests in the Archdiocese of New York. In February of 2001, Archbishop Egan was created a cardinal and given the title church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo. Soon afterwards, he was faced with the tragedy of 9/11, which saw the cardinal minister to the dead and dying amid the rubble of the World Trade Center.
Cardinal Egan was accused of concealing names of priests who had molested children, but was found not guilty. Much doubt about the cardinal’s role in dealing with abuse cases was cast last February, when he retracted an earlier apology about abuse cases in the Diocese of Bridgeport and repeatedly stated that nothing happened when he was bishop there.
Upon his resignation, in 2009, Cardinal Egan remained a member of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.
More than two years ago, the abuse crisis started to explode in Europe. One of the first, and still one of the most significant, steps taken by the Holy See was the organisation of a thorough inspection of the Church in Ireland. Soon afterwards, countries like Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands were forced to deal with the similar abuse cases from the past, but none of these countries has been subjected to a process like Ireland has. Here, the pope wrote an unprecedented letter to all the faithful of Ireland, bishops were fired and five foreign prelates from the Irish diaspora were appointed to lead the Visitation and the country’s four Metropolitan Archdioceses and the seminaries. Further visitators were appointed for the religious communities in Ireland.
Yesterday, the findings of the Visitation, which was inherently pastoral in nature, were published. Although it recognises the progress that has been made in recent years, it does call for further unification of the programs of formation, continued cooperation with state-appointed officials, and generally more control, both from the laity up as from the bishops, even Rome, down.
Like the letter that Pope Benedict wrote to the Irish Catholics in 2010, these findings may also be considered an example for the Church in other abuse-hit countries. Hence my decision to offer a Dutch translation.
Photo credit: Irish Episcopal Conference
On the Italian Zenit today, an interview with Ad Cardinal Simonis, emeritus Archbishop of Utrecht, on the post-conciliar period in the Netherlands. The title, In Olanda c’è stata una sbagliata interpretazione del Concilio (‘In Holland there was a wrong interpretation of the Council’) leaves little doubt about the gist of the interview.
Once the voice of orthodoxy at the pastoral council of Noordwijkerhout, the cardinal now looks back and summarises what went wrong:
“Yes, it’s true: there has been a wrong interpretation of the Council. Not reading the documents, but merely arguing, based on the so-called “spirit of the Council”, that is: anything goes, everything can change.”
Cardinal Simonis, who studied in Rome during the years of the Second Vatican Council, offers a misleadingly simple solution: “Catechesis, catechesis, catechesis,” especially for the youth. That is a sentiment that the bishops today share, but which has yet to reach anything approaching its full potential.
It is a bleak but accurate picture the cardinal paints: the Dutch, Catholics included, generally do not know the concept of sin, hence the virtual disappearance of the sacrament of Confession over the course of the recent decades. The cardinal’s message to Dutch seminarians is an urgent one:
“I tell them that they should first learn to think and reflect. And then to pray, pray, pray. Prayer is important, and it must be the foundation of human life, but in Holland we do not pray because we do not believe in a personal God but only in a vague entity.”
The cardinal concludes the interview with a reflection on his 27 years as cardinal, in which he tried to maintain “the spirit of service to the Church and the Lord”.
“I tried to live in this spirit as a cardinal for 27 years. Now I’m an old cardinal, I turned 80 and I can not elect the Pope, but I can still be elected! (Bursts into laughter) But do not worry, that will not happen!”
I think the cardinal is pretty realistic, but that does not mean there are no signs of hope. There are, but these must be cared for and cultivated. A first step towards that is indicated by the following quote from the interview:
“The truth is that in the Netherlands we need a total conversion.”
“I realise very well that a priest today is a walking question mark. I consciously wear a Roman collar. Older people are often surprised. Younger people recognise it mostly from movies. Because they can more easily recognise me as a priest, I can meet many people who entrust me with their questions.
Today we should, I think, in addition to the social engagement we have as Christians, dare to focus more on the vertical axis, on the spiritual: to bring people to God”.
Words from Belgian Father Filip Hacour in an interview for Kerk & Leven. Fr. Hacour is a group leader for seminarians at the John XXIII seminary in Louvain, and it seems that he gets that the priesthood is more than just being socially active in a parish.