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Seminary High Schools after Vatican II

THE AUGUST 9, 2007 issue of The Wanderer contained an article by James K. Fitzpatrick on the demise of seminary high schools after Vatican II.

Seminary high schools, also called “minor seminaries,” once played a major role in fostering priestly vocations. These institutions provided boys who felt inclined towards the priesthood with a spiritual and academic formation appropriate to their age, and prepared them for the higher studies that would come in the later stages of the seminary program.

Seminary high schools were a great success, and before Vatican II most priests started on their road towards ordination in such a school. I myself graduated from one in 1969, and I am forever grateful to God for what I received.

Mr. Fitzpatrick says that up until about 10 or 15 years ago, he was inclined to defend these institutions. An article in The Washington Post (!), however, changed his mind.

“Facts are facts,” Mr. Fitzpatrick says. Not one of his classmates from Cathedral High, a seminary high school in New York, went on to become a priest.

In the late 1960s, he notes, there were 122 high school seminaries in the U.S. with a total enrollment of about 16,000. Now there are just seven with a combined enrollment about 500.

Quigley Preparatory Seminary in Chicago, closed in June after 102 years in existence, has seen just one graduate ordained in the past 17 years .

Most men being ordained in U.S. seminaries these days, Mr. Fitzpatrick observes, are older, often in their 30s and 40s.

“What are we to conclude? Is this another unfortunate sign of the materialism and loss of Catholic identity in the modern world? Or is it more a situation where the Church has learned that it is better for young men to be a bit older and with more life experience before they begin their training for the priesthood and religious life.”

Did the graduates of these institutions, Mr. Fitzpatrick asks, go on to become “good priests”?

“The large wave of defections from the religious life in the 1960s and 1970s,” he answers, “included large numbers of religious who were in training from their early teenage years.”

Mr. Fitzpatrick ends his article with an anecdote about a religious brother he admired, but who abandoned his vocation. He then closes with the following sentence:

“He had been living as a member of the order since his early teens, through his high school, college, and young adult years.”

From this, readers are meant to infer that the pre-Vatican II system of seminary high schools was the cause for so many to abandon their vocations.

These comments prompted me to send Mr. Fitzpatrick the following letter:

* * *

Dear Mr. Fitzpatrick,

In your article on seminary high schools (Wanderer, 9 August 2007), you wonder why these institutions ceased to attract potential young vocations to the priesthood, and you claim that “there is no self-evident answer.”

Well, I can give you one: Vatican II destroyed the Catholic priesthood.

I studied at a seminary high school in Milwaukee during the years 1965-1969 and I witnessed this from the inside. As the changes in doctrine, discipline and worship began to touch each facet of Church life, I saw good and holy priests whom I admired turn into heretics, time-servers or disheartened apostates from the priestly state.

What idealistic young man would aspire to become part of such a mess?

My minor seminary, De Sales Prep, soon closed its doors, as did my seminary college, St. Francis. The massive new complex that housed both institutions (completed in 1963) was transformed into offices for the metastasized diocesan bureaucracy, exercise facilities for the Milwaukee Bucks and a retirement home for priests.

The major seminary, founded in 1848, shut down its academic program in July of this year. The few students who remain in the empty and downsized building take courses at a small religious order seminary nearby.

Before Vatican II all these institutions were thriving. One hundred and twenty-five boys entered with me as freshmen in the seminary high school. The Rector told us that after the twelve, hard years of study that would follow, just a small number of us would be ordained — “only” twenty-five.

To deny that Vatican II emptied these seminaries and destroyed the Catholic priesthood is to deny reality. From the time of St. Benedict (+543), religious institutions received boys, formed them spiritually, educated them and prepared them to be monks, priests and religious — a practice repeatedly commended by the popes.

But what flourished before the Council withered after it — nearly instantly — yet people like you refuse to read the writing on the wall.

I know the usual excuse Wanderer types make for the post-Vatican II mess: the Council was not properly “interpreted,” it restated all the traditional doctrines, etc.

However, as I quickly discovered in the seminary when I tried to use Vatican II’s statements against modernists, the documents are rife with double-talk, ambiguities and terminal logorrhea.

(If this were not so, by the way, the CDF statement on Lumen Gentium’s “subsists in” that you’ve been doing cartwheels over would not have been necessary. Forty years, and it still needs to be “clarified”?)

The Vatican II documents are classic modernist claptrap of the type St. Pius X condemned in Pascendi: Catholic-sounding on one page, doctrinally subversive on the next. This was method and intention of the periti [theologians] — Rahner, Schillebeeckx, de Lubac, Congar and, yes, Ratzinger — who massaged the language of the texts as they were being written.

If we wish to restore the Catholic priesthood, the only “light” in which we should “interpret” the Vatican II documents should be that of a bonfire — in which we burn every single copy.

Sincerely yours…