From six to one – the seminary question in the Netherlands

rector_BrugginkThe 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.

Huis%202%20klMost 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.”

sint-janscentrumOdd 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.

In Utrecht, the seminary returns

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.

Ariensinstituut%20kleinNow, 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.

BisdomUtrechtLocatieThere 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.

Hopeful news.

Archdiocese launches vocations app

In the runup towards the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, next Sunday, the Archdiocese of Utrecht’s vocations council announces the release of their Vocations app. It is is for now only available for Android users, and can be downloaded here.

The Dutch-language app is mainly informative, containing a list of frequently asked questions about the priesthood, vocations and discernment, as well as an interview with Fr. Patrick Kuipers, chairman of the vocations council.

About the app, which was designed and built by four students from the Saxion University of Applied Sciences in Enschede, Fr. Kuipers says:

“I hope that this app will lead more young people to think about the question if the priesthood is for them. There is, in any case, now an easily accessible, modern means, without obligation, to give some initial information about a vocation to the priesthood to interested people.”

Palm Sunday 2011: Impressions from a Passion

Yesterday I celebrated Palm Sunday in the Archdiocese of Utrecht, at the Emmanuel church in Zutphen. That church was host to a preparatory program, called ‘Passion’, for the World Youth Days in Madrid, in August. God willing, I will be able to go there, thanks, in large part, to the youth worker of the archdiocese, who was willing to waive to age limit. The reason that we (for it is not just me) are not joining our own diocese for the trip to Madrid is not very interesting for this blog, but it boils down to us having faith that Utrecht’s program will be a success.

The day offered various events, starting with Mass with the local parish, and continuing with presentations, practical information and workshops. Below are some photos I took during the day.

The cavernous interior of the Emmanuel church, with local parishioners and young people taking part in the WYD program.
Local priests and Auxiliary Bishop Herman Woorts (second from right) concelebrated Mass with Archbishop Wim Eijk (right).
The archbishop gives the homily
"Hoc est enim corpus meum"
Attendance was very good
Fr. Patrick Kuipers delves into the theme for the World Youth Days 2011 and the pope's letter about it
One of the workshop was an introduction to Spanish
The archbishop hosted a workshop in which he drew a comparison between the religious landscape of the Colossae, recipient of a letter of St. Paul, and our modern society
Elements that those religious landscapes share: worship of spirits and of nature, scientists and astrologers, the Greek and Roman pantheons, mysterious New Age-like religions, people who claim to be visionaries, the Jewish religion and the worship of angels.
Youth worker Hao Tran speaks about the practicalities of our trip to Spain
Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament

Saturday’s ordination

Vatican flags are out at the entrance of the cathedral of St. Catherine in Utrecht

On Saturday I had the pleasure of being present at the presbyteral ordination of Father Anton ten Klooster and Father Wouter de Paepe in Utrecht. Travelling down there with a friend meant getting up quite early, but I always think that an occasion of such value for the Church in the Netherlands is worth getting up early for. New priests were also ordained in Haarlem, Den Bosch and Roermond. 

Archbishop Eijk lays his hands on Anton ten Klooster, ordaining him to the priesthood

It was a long Mass, as is usual for such occasions, celebrated by Archbishop Wim Eijk in concelebration with Father Patrick Kuipers and Father Norbert Schnell, the current and former rectors of the Ariënskonvikt, as well as the priests working in the parishes where both new priests also already work. Many other priests of the archdiocese, as well as the two auxiliary bishops, were also present in the sanctuary. 

The congregation was large, filling up the entire cathedral. That is sadly a rare occurrence, but it was comforting to see that many people had come to witness the ordination of their future pastors. 

This is just the part of the cathedral in front of us. More people were in the back half.

The magnificent cathedral choir added much to the dignity and festivity of the Mass. Their contribution was beautiful. 

Another beautiful moment in any ordination Mass happens just after the reading from the Gospel (Mark 11: 27-33 that day). Father Kuipers asked both men to come forward and declare their presence and then formally asked the archbishop to ordain them for the heavy task of the priesthood. The archbishop then asked if they are worthy, to which the reply is hat, based upon the questioning of the people and the judgement of those responsible they have been found worthy. That moment, after six years of education and formation, and many more years of discernment, is the moment a man knows that he his indeed called to the priesthood: the Church confirms it, and the bishop formally elects them for the order of the priesthood. 

After the homily, the future priests are formally asked to make the necessary vows – to shepherd the flock of the Lord, to preach the Gospel and explain the Catholic faith with dignity and wisdom, to celebrate the mysteries of Christ with dedication and loyalty, especially in the sacrifice of the Eucharist and sacrament of reconciliation, to pray for God’s mercy over the people entrusted to them by following the Lord’s commandment to ceaselessly pray, and to join closer to Christ every day – and promises – of loyalty and respect to the bishop and his successors. Then the intercession of all the saints is requested through the Litany of All Saints. During that the archbishop kneels in front of altar, while the future priests lie facedown on the ground behind him – a gesture of total submission to God. Then the bishop silently places his hands on the head of the future priests and then prays that God may ordain them in a lengthy prayer. After that, both men are dressed in stole and chasuble, the outward apparel of the priest. 

During that whole process it is so clear, through the words and the rituals, that this is more than a matter between people. The Holy Spirit is at work then, and through the consecration of the bishop the spirit descends over two men, elevating them to the priesthood, to act as alter Christus among His people. 

During this Mass, the choir sang Here I am, Lord, a song I didn’t know and the style of which is usually not really my taste, but emotionally it was perfect at that place in the liturgy. The video below is the best version I could find which was not a solo version of the song. 

 

Once in full priestly regalia and taken into the ranks of their brother priests, the two new priests’ hands are anointed and they receive the gifts which they will sacrifice to the Lord for the rest of their lives: the bread and wine which may now be consecrated through their hands. 

Mass then continues as usual with the Liturgy of the Eucharist, albeit extra solemn and festive of course. The new priests’ joy and gratitude must’ve been visible to those around them: it certainly was to everyone as they processed out: especially Father Wouter sported a large smile. 

The reception, where everyone had the chance to congratulate the new priests was in a church down the street: a protestant church which nonetheless housed an icon of St. Nicholas…