Posted June 11, 2007
Chicago shutters one of nation's last Catholic seminaries
By Don Babwin
Associated Press Writer
CHICAGO -- For more than a century, Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary has quietly prepared teenage boys for the priesthood, largely unchanged as the city transformed around it from gritty industrial center to gleaming modern metropolis.
But another kind of change finally caught up with Quigley.
The 102-year-old seminary -- housed in a Gothic-style building that looks like it belongs on a square in Europe instead of in a tony Chicago shopping district -- will close its doors for good in two weeks because of a shrinking student body that has seen just one graduate ordained in the last 17 years.
It's the latest reminder that Catholic preparatory seminaries have all but vanished in the United States, and highlights the Church's struggle to find men willing to dedicate themselves to the priesthood.
"This is more or less the final nail in the coffin of the preparatory seminary," said R. Scott Appleby, a historian at the University of Notre Dame who has written extensively about the church.
"Historians of the Catholic Church will point to the closing of Quigley ... as a final landmark in a trend that has been building now for almost 50 years," he said.
As recently as the late 1960s, there were 122 high school seminaries in the U.S. with a combined student body of nearly 16,000, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.
Quigley, which counts New York Cardinal Edward Egan and Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory among its alumni, was bursting with about 1,300 students in the 1950s; it had just 183 at the beginning of this school year. When church officials announced in September that the school would close, they said it would be $1 million in debt by June.
Its closure will leave just seven preparatory seminaries with a combined enrollment of about 500 students in the United States.
The decline of high school seminaries illustrates a dramatic shift in the way the church finds priests -- and how it's had to scramble to do so.
Parishes increasingly are being served by priests from foreign countries, in large part because fewer American men are becoming priests. At the same time, the average age of new priests is older, with many men waiting until their 30s, 40s and beyond.
When 13 priests were ordained last month in Chicago, all but one was from another country; nine were in their 30s. The lone American was a 42-year-old former advertising executive.
The reasons for the shift begin with how dramatically things have changed since Quigley opened in 1905.
Like other seminaries, Quigley, which moved to its present home in 1918, thrived because large Catholic families, many Irish or Polish, often sent at least one of their sons there.
"In the old days you had an Irish family with three kids. One was going to be a priest, one was going to be a cop and one was going to be a fireman, and the mother was going to be the one who decided which was which," said Peter Makrinski, a longtime teacher and coach at Quigley.
That began to change in the 1960s and '70s. Archdiocese spokesman James Accurso said that seminaries fell out of favor among young people for the same reason marrying right out of high school did.
"A lot of things in life are delayed, young people get married later and I think they join the priesthood later," he said.
Morgan Mellske, an 18-year-old Quigley senior, said that, while some students are considering becoming priests, most are not.
"I don't even know what I want to do with the rest of my life," said Mellske. "People become priests in the middle of their life."
Appleby, the historian, said there's more to it.
"It's a culture that raises a collective eyebrow at the notion of a young man or a young woman would renounce sexuality or sexual self expression," he said. "There's a general skepticism about the emotional health of people who would do that voluntarily," particularly, he said, at such a young age.
Within the church itself, more people began questioning the wisdom of training teenagers to become priests and forego sex.
"Our understanding (of sexuality) is more developed today," explained the Rev. Donald Cozzens, a professor at John Carroll University in Cleveland and a former seminary rector who criticized mandatory celibacy in a book, "Freeing Celibacy."
Further, as families shrank, so did the pool of prospective seminarians.
"When they don't have more than one boy, parents are very reluctant to let that child go into the priesthood," said Sister Katarina Schuth, a teacher at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, who has studied seminaries for more than two decades.
Even families that continued to send their sons to Quigley made it clear they were doing so for a Catholic education and not to start them on a path to the priesthood.
"The parents, they want their sons to make money, they want their sons to get married," Makrinski said. "They'd say, 'I'd much rather see them get a job."'
In fact, while more than 3,000 young men have graduated from Quigley in the last 17 years, just one, a 1999 graduate, has been ordained.
But student John Anschuetz, 17, says the school serves a purpose every bit as important as turning out priests.
"Just because we don't become priests doesn't mean the school isn't accomplishing its goal," he said.
Quigley Preparatory Seminary: An Institution for its times
“The 102-year-old seminary -- housed in a Gothic-style building that looks like it belongs on a square in Europe instead of in a tony Chicago shopping district -- will close its doors for good in two weeks because of a shrinking student body that has seen just one graduate ordained in the last 17 years.”
. . ."Historians of the Catholic Church will point to the closing of Quigley . . . as a final landmark in a trend that has been building now for almost 50 years," said R. Scott Appleby, a historian at the University of Notre Dame.
When I read this by Don Babwin of the Associated Press, I stopped everything and paused to reflect on my days at Quigley.
In its glory days, young men from all parts of Chicago and its suburbs hopped streetcars, trains and busses that were crowded with early morning workers to get to Quigley. Quigley was not your ordinary seminary in a quiet, secluded, self-enclosed place. It stood in the midst of restaurants, boutiques, Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, and its flamboyant night life.
Nor was it populated with a homogeneous population. Many of the Poles, Irish, Germans, Italians, and Greeks in our class were first or second generation Americans.
Although we had teachers who were characters, you couldn’t fault Quigley for a poor education. Most of our teachers were down-to-earth, street savvy priests who had led their studies as students, and who were forever attending graduate courses to improve their learning. This is to say nothing of their good-natured spirit in the midst of adolescences who were forever playing devilish tricks on them.
Instead of the usual four subjects per semester, we took six subjects. At the end of three years, those who felt they didn’t have a vocation to the priesthood often entered first-year studies at Loyola University across the street.
Our Quigley days were part of the Church Triumphant. Vocations to the priesthood were so plentiful that seminaries made an effort to weed out students rather than carry them along. Priests and nuns could be seen everywhere, as could a high degree of respect for them. The Catholic school system, hospitals, orphanages and creative church programs thrived. Most important was the spirit of the times: a unified, confident church having a strong sense of mission.
After 102 years, Quigley Seminary is going out of existence, and with it many of the past traditions of the Church. My father would often say, “Nothing lasts forever,” echoing the Book of Ecclesiastes that reminds us, “There is a time for everything.”
I believe that those of us who went to Quigley at the time we did somehow fit into God’s plan for that time. We and Quigley Seminary were meant for those times. Now it’s time to learn how today’s new institutions and those who attend them fit into God’s plan for present times.