Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 23, 2002
Seminary celebrates 75 years
Sulpician Fathers guide St. Joseph's Seminary as it continues to grow
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
St. Joseph Seminary has changed considerably during its 75 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 41 students from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and British Columbia studying at St. Joseph's, which shares a facility with Newman Theological College at the north end of Edmonton on St. Albert trail. The students at Newman number 266 on-campus and 186 off-campus.
Since the seminary first opened its doors, more than 500 men who have studied at St. Joseph have been ordained priests, while many others went on to serve the Church in other ministries.
Sulpician Father Louis-Paul Gauvreau, the seminary's newly-appointed rector, is happy to be at St. Joseph because it's one of the best seminaries in Canada. One of the seminaries finest features, he said, is that seminarians study together with lay men and women, which greatly helps their formation.
"This is one of the few places in Canada where seminarians have this kind of contact with lay people."
Gauvreau will continue the work his predecessors have done in the past because it produced results. "I don't have to invent anything," he said. "There is a good formation program in place and that's what we need to prepare good priests for the Church of today."
One of his immediate goals, though, is to increase the number of seminarians "because we need more priests."
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.
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 recently appointed secretary of the Vatican-based Council for Promoting Christian Unity and was also named a bishop. And Father Luc Bouchard, the last rector, was named bishop of St. Paul last year.
In 1957, St. Joseph's moved to its current St. Albert Trail location. Ten years later, Newman College began offering courses for the laity in the same facilities.
With the opening of the new St. Joseph Seminary, the number of young men presenting themselves for priestly formation rapidly increased, with a peak enrollment of 101 seminarians in 1961.
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.
Amidst the threatening storm, Pope John XIII 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 began to gradually take 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 evolve.
Newman Theological College received its charter from the Alberta Legislature in 1969, empowering it to confer academic degrees, diplomas and certificates in the field of theology and religious sciences.
St. Joseph's Seminary remained as a training centre for diocesan priests, but Newman handled its academic and degree-granting functions. Other changes included the hiring of lay men and women as college and seminary 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 more than a decade now, the bishops of Western Canada have taken part in the running of the seminary through the Board of Regents.
After a sharp decline in numbers in the late 1960s, enrollment at St. Joseph's went up to 50 seminarians in the late 1990s and has never gone below 40 since then. 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.
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 on seminary formation in 1994 by Vatican representatives.
Moreover, the institution gained respect among Western bishops, who in 1995 threw their confidence behind the seminary with promises of financial support.
The future looks bright at St. Joseph but there are still many challenges, says Sulpician Father Marco Antonio Forero, a member of the seminary's formation team and a professor of patristic theology since January.
One goal is to give seminarians more spiritual formation to meet the increasing spiritual needs of the people. "People are hungry and thirsty for God and we need to prepare priests that are able to quench that thirst," he said.
Another objective is to have the philosophy program right at the seminary, said Forero. At the moment, priesthood candidates who need philosophy must take it at Concordia College.
The community of St. Joseph's and Newman College will celebrate the seminary's 75th anniversary with a number of activities Sept. 24-26. These include at least two Eucharist liturgies at the seminary's chapel, a wine and cheese party and a lecture by Jesuit Archbishop Joseph Pittau, secretary of the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education, on the challenges facing priests in the third millennium. Pittau's lecture will be held Sept. 25 at 2 p.m.
The celebrations will conclude later that day with a solemn Eucharist presided by Archbishop Thomas Collins at St. Joseph's Basilica. A banquet will follow at 7:30 p.m. the basilica's O'Leary Hall.