January 24, 2011
Life at St. Joseph Seminary can be seen in this photo taken in the era immediately after the Second Vatican Council.

WCR FILE PHOTO

Life at St. Joseph Seminary can be seen in this photo taken in the era immediately after the Second Vatican Council.

RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

St. Joseph Seminary has changed considerably during its 84 years of operation. Founded in 1927 to train priests for the Edmonton Archdiocese, it's now the seminary of choice for Western Canadian dioceses.

This year, there are 27 seminarians from across Western Canada studying at St. Joseph, located just a few metres south of Newman Theological College.

Since the seminary first opened its doors, hundreds of men who have studied at St. Joseph have been ordained priests; while many others went on to serve the Church in other ministries.

St. Joseph began modestly with 27 students in 1927 in a building near 99th Avenue and 110th Street that had been an Oblate seminary for its previous 13 years. During its 30 years in central Edmonton, the seminary ordained more than 300 men to the priesthood.

RECTORS MOVED ON

St. Joseph's first rector, Msgr. James McGuigan, later became a cardinal and archbishop of Toronto, while the second rector, Father M.C. O'Neil, later became archbishop of Regina.

Another rector, Father Marc Ouellet, was appointed cardinal a few years ago. And Father Luc Bouchard, also a former rector, was named bishop of St. Paul in 2001.

In 1957, St. Joseph Seminary moved to a red brick building at Mark Messier Trail, just south of St. Albert. Ten years later, Newman Theological College began offering courses for laity in the same facilities. Now both institutions have separate facilities on the grounds of the Catholic Pastoral Centre.

With the opening of the new seminary, the number of young men presenting themselves for priestly formation rapidly increased, with a peak enrollment of 101 seminarians in 1961.

POST-VATICAN II FALLOUT

This was not to last. Due to changes in society, numerous priests and religious abandoned their vocation. Religious indifference and disbelief was felt all over.

The original St. Joseph Seminary was located near downtown Edmonton.

WCR FILE PHOTO

The original St. Joseph Seminary was located near downtown Edmonton.

Amidst the threatening storm, Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council with the aim of "opening wide the windows" to renew the Church in the modern world, which eventually led to more lay participation and a renewed interest in ecumenism, biblical studies, catechetics and liturgy.

Affected by the vision of the Church brought forth by Vatican II, the faculty began to assess the place and the role of St. Joseph Seminary in Western Canada. A revision of the seminary's spiritual, academic and formation programs gradually took place.

In 1968, the philosophy program was discontinued and admission to the theology program now required an undergraduate university degree. Priesthood candidates from other Christian denominations began to be admitted. As well, the seminary opened its doors to lay people and religious for the study of theology.

Soon, the idea of creating a theological college that would favour the renewal called for by Vatican II began to develop.

Newman Theological College received its charter from the Alberta Legislature in 1969, empowering it to confer academic degrees, diplomas and certificates in theology and religious sciences.

FORMATION CENTRE

St. Joseph Seminary remained as a formation centre for diocesan priests, but Newman handled its academic and degree-granting functions. Other changes included the hiring of laymen and women as professors.

As religious communities began using Newman for their formation programs, St. Joseph's started to become home for seminarians from across the West, as well as the United States. For about two decades now, the bishops of Western Canada have taken part in the running of the seminary through its Board of Regents.

After a sharp decline in numbers in the late 1960s, enrollment at St. Joseph went up to 50 seminarians in the late 1990s. This growth occurred despite a general decline of seminarians across Canada and the United States and led to the building in 1998 of a new seminary residence designed to favour communal living.

SULPICIAN FATHERS

One reason for this growth was the new orientation the seminary took in 1990 when the Sulpician Fathers, a society of priests devoted to training future priests, took over the formation program at St. Joseph. Under their leadership, St. Joseph received a favourable report card for its seminary formation by Vatican-appointed representatives who made an official visitation in 1994.

Moreover, the institution gained respect among Western bishops, who in 1995 threw their confidence behind the seminary with promises of financial support. Current rector Father Shayne Craig expects a large opening class next year thanks to the support of the bishops.