Monday, November 08, 2010

A modern seminary

This weekend the Northern Cross, naturally, had quite a lot to say about the proposed closure of Ushaw college. As was noted in the Tablet of October 16th there is a group of people led by LMS treasurer Paul Waddington who are willing to finance priestly formation at Ushaw if it includes training in the Extraordinary Form. Personally I thought that the logic of Summorum Pontificum would lead to all seminaries doing this nowadays: it is hard to believe that a man might spend six years at a seminary and not be able to celebrate the Roman rite in all its forms. However not everyone sees it this way.

The FSSP have a seminary in the USA, Our Lady of Guadalupe seminary at Denton, Nebraska. No-one would sell them a seminary so they had to build one from scratch, which opened on its present site in 2000, and it now has 75 seminarians with more applications for places than they have room. What is life like there? Who are the seminarians? Is the training according to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council on priestly formation? Well if you would like to see there are three videos on Youtube which give an idea of life in the seminary. You will see testimonies from bishops about how happy they are with the training that young men receive there as well as from lay people too (including Hexham and Newcastle`s own Leo Darroch at the start of the second video: Leo is the President of Una Voce International, the international umbrella group for national Latin Mass societies).

The videos are well worth watching:


David O'Neill said...

First time I've seen all 3 clips together, astounding!
Can you imagine Ushaw ever being like that. I must ask Fr Elkin if it was ever so

1569 Rising said...


In many ways, yes. There was the same sense of serious purpose from both students and staff. Ushaw had that same aura of deep religious dedication that we see in the videos.

It would be a wonderful thing if Ushaw today could be rescued from dereliction by such men.

We can only hope and pray.

Terry Middleton

Leo Darroch said...

Father, you are perfectly correct in thinking that the logic of Summorum Pontificum would lead to all seminaries teaching both forms of the Roman rite. It is also quite reasonable to question why a man might spend six years at a seminary and not be able to celebrate the Roman rite in all its forms. I think we should also question why this is not happening should any seminarian want such training. Why are so many bishops still depriving their students of their right to be taught Latin, the official language of the Church, as required by canon law, and the traditional form of Mass which was never abrogated? Seminarians offer their lives to God who has called them with a vocation. They are entitled to the fullest possible formation that is allowed by the Church and should not be denied because of the personal preferences of bishops who are still rooted in ideas from the 1960s and 1970s.

Happily, things are changing. Pope Benedict XVI has exposed the long-standing myth that the 'old' Mass had been abolished, and the more enlightened bishops have grasped the opportunity to introduce both forms into their seminaries. This is happening in France, Mexico, and Australia. In one seminary, the archbishop, at his own insistence, has given the students instruction personally in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. This is an example of true leadership and his seminary is thriving.

We have all seen the devastating news that Ushaw is set to close because of lack of students. But why are there so few? And why are other seminaries in France, Mexico, and Australia thriving? Everyone knows why a seminary fails and everyone knows why one is successful. Why do young men flock to some seminaries and shun others? The answer is obvious. A failing seminary cannot be rescued overnight but it can be turned around quite quickly if the right conditions are in place and there is effective leadership. Ushaw, with its glorious history and tradition, must not be allowed to close because of failed policies. Such a catastrophic possibility must surely concentrate minds to find a solution. Apparently, everything has been tried - except the obvious; establish a more regulated seminary life, introduce the teaching of Latin and both forms of the Mass, and employ staff who are competent to do so. Or is this prospect so anathema to some that they would rather see it close? I have information from all over the world that this is what many young men desire - a complete priestly formation that not only forms them to serve in the modern world but also imbues them with a sense of history, continuity with their forebears, and a sense of belonging to a universal and supranational Church.

If someone had told me in my late teens that within 45 years I would be writing to plead for the restoration of the offical langage of the church and the traditional Latin Mass into Catholic seminaries I would have laughed in disbelief.

Ushaw Seminarian said...

Just a couple of points that I feel need to be answered in light of recent discussions:
Firstly - The Proposal to Close Ushaw is not because of the lack of seminarians but more the lack of money to efficiently the place.

Secondly - To the best of my knowledge nobody visiting Ushaw has ever asked my opinion on the formation that is provided, or what my views are on celebrating Mass in both forms. I think that all this speculation that has appeared recently, that the seminarians at St.Cuthbert's are not traditional, must stop! as nobody at all has actually spoken to us.

It may come as a shock to some of you but there are a number of seminarians who are familiar with and a love of the EF and wish to learn more. The problem is and always has been, is keeping ones head down and making it through formation in one piece to be able to celebrate both forms of the Mass.

There has also been a lot of talk about what will happen to the Library? - Stuff the Library!! - Mick Sharratt will keep looking after it for years to come and if worst comes to worst pack it all up and sell it to a Catholic University in the States – as there are none in England that should have it. How about actually thinking about the domestic staff, who work their guts out for very little thanks, and are more than likely to be made redundant at the worst possible time in terms of the current economic depression.

Get a grip people! Stop complaining about traditionalism and Pray For The Staff and Seminarians as this is not an easy time, with a lot of uncertainty ahead.
Remember Christ will not abandon his Church, and even if Ushaw is closed, the Church will still go on.

1569 Rising said...

Leo Darroch writes very succinctly where the problem lies, and draws on his international experience to set out where the future might be.
He is, of course, correct in wondering at the attitude of the governing body steeped in 1960's and 1970's thinking.

Ushaw Seminarian displays a complete lack of appreciation of the historic significance of the place in which he studies. His "Stuff the library" comment is so intellectually inept that it makes one despair and actually sets out a mindset similar to that which allowed the Junior House Chapel to decay, unloved and disregarded.

Does anyone know if there is any truth in the suggestion that some of the Northern Province Bishops have refused to send candidates to Ushaw in recent years?

Fr Michael Brown said...

I, for one, am very glad to hear from Ushaw Seminarian. I understand what he means about keeping his head down. I also understand why he might not be too concerned about the Big Library. In my day it was very much a museum of which you might get a tour once or twice in your time there. I was amazed a few years ago when I managed to borrow some books from the Big Library for a talk I was writing for the NE Catholic History Society. It always seemed a pity to me that it wasn`t more open to students at least as a place to work. When researching that paper I did have a look around the then Divines` Library which was in what had been the museum/Bede chapel and was disappointed to see the books hadn`t changed much since my time there,unless all the more up to date volumes were on loan.

I`m sure we will pray for the domestic staff and community at Ushaw at this difficult time. I also am praying that Paul Waddington`s scheme might come to something as are many others.

I hope Ushaw seminarian enjoyed the videos from Denton. That is what I wanted Ushaw to be like when I went in 1983. The reality was quite a shock.

Leo Darroch said...

I think Ushaw Seminarian is not correct when he says it is not the lack of seminarians that is causing the closure. Of course it is. There was no question of it being closed down when it had 400 students - 200 for the priesthood. It has been the rapid decline in numbers of seminarians that has forced the authorities to look for other sources of income; thus the beginning of the conference centre and associated projects.

Nobody has ever suggested that the seminarians themselves are not traditional; many of them are, and this does not only apply to Ushaw, it applies to all the English seminaries as many people well know. Therein lies another problem. Why on earth should seminarians in a Catholic seminary have to spend 6 years keeping their heads down in case their feelings for the age-old traditions of their Church are discovered? And, horror of horrors, what would happen if this feeling for tradition is discovered? The answer is obvious otherwise they would not have to keep their heads down. And this has been going on for more than 25 years. Is this what the good people of the northern dioceses are paying for in the priests training fund? This student wishes to learn more about the traditions of the Church and the older form of Mass, as do many of the students in our English seminaries, but it is being denied to them. And not only denied but they are in fear of this desire being discovered. Enough, I say. No wonder our seminaries are closing and young men are preferring to go to seminaries abroad.

Ushaw seminarian mentions the staff. I can tell him that those involved in trying to save Ushaw have the domestic staff very much in mind. If the college is saved from closure then it follows that the staff will retain their jobs. Let us hope that these things can be achieved but it will take a huge shift in attitudes from those currently in control. Ushaw can be invigorated but the wind of change needs to blow and a fresh start is required. This is desired not least by many seminarians themselves up and down the country.

David O'Neill said...

Reading Ushaw Seminarian is one thing & he is to be applauded for realising that the EF of Mass is legitimate. The question remains, however, is there or are there teaching staff at Ushaw who are willing & able to teach seminarians to celebrate Mass in both forms?

An English Pastor said...

I was at Ushaw in the 80’s and just into the 90’s. Of course Leo Darroch is correct: the number of students at Ushaw does affect the viability of the place; if there were more students more fees would be paid and more financial resources available for the retention of the college as a seminary –with all of its staff.
I do hope that the Ushaw Seminarian does not think past students or its supporters have not considered the lay staff. They were great friends to the students in my time and we had high regard for them and their work to support us, so their situation has not been overlooked. If the blogs have concentrated on the sadness of Ushaw closing with the attendant loss of a great historical heritage and many martyrs, it is because as priests, Ushaw is our ‘home land’ both in terms of our own formation and our martyrs; brother priests who gave up their lives for the Faith in this land and whose heritage was brought to Ushaw so many years ago.

As for the Big Library, certainly there will be somewhere else to house the incredible documents contained there –as well as the numerous relics of great saints stored in the college-, but how sad that they have to leave the home they are most suited to in their nature and historical relevance.
Sadly, Traditional leanings were not, I feel, well received at Ushaw in my time, and in that the college still teaches no Latin Course (which is required by Canon Law) and does not teach and celebrate both legitimate Forms of the Mass, I cannot help but worry that Ushaw ‘s aspirations are somewhat out of step with the Universal Church -and indeed with Vatican II which decreed (directed) the retention of Latin and Gregorian Chant in the Mass and which –bound as it was by Tradition as a vehicle for the transmission of Revelation on a par with the scriptures- changed no doctrinal teaching that sprang from the First Vatican Council, the Council of Trent or any other Council.
I do hope Ushaw can be saved, but also that the College itself saves Tradition and more effectively engages in the hermeneutic of continuity rather than of rupture.

David O'Neill said...

Ushaw Seminarian worries me by his comment about 'keeping your head down'. It almost sounds (I hope I'm wrong) that any seminarian wishing to learn the EF of Mass is looked on as some sort of oddity. Bearing in mind Summorum Pontificum, that puts the present teaching staff at Ushaw in a position not unlike refusing to hear Pope Benedict's words & wishes. As I said, I hope I'm wrong because no seminarian should have to be ashamed of wanting to learn to celebrate a truly legitimate form of the Roman Rite.
I recall a few years ago attending a CAFOD Mass at Ushaw College in my position as Provincial Grand Knight of the Knights of St Columba where the Mass was celebrated, not in the beautiful chapel but in a seminar room with the altar being a coffee table. The celebrant - the then President of the college - SAT right throughout Mass (including the consecration) & we - the congregation - sat in a circle around him. I knelt but felt distinctly uncomfortable as I was the only one doing so.
Now THAT is something Ushaw should be ashamed of & not the traditional leanings of seminarians.

Leo Darroch said...

What is emerging here is a very sorry tale of unhappy experiences at Ushaw. Ushaw seminarian says: "The problem is and always has been, is keeping ones head down and making it through formation in one piece to be able to celebrate both forms of the Mass."
This is rather a chilling statement about the environment at a priest training college, and one that would dismay anyone who has contributed to the priest training fund over the past 30 or 40 years. It is a statement that is supported by the two priests who have commented on this blog. I think we are entitled to ask what kind of formation is being taught if such an atmosphere of fear abounds. And to endure this fear for six years in order to become ordained is intolerable.

Some years ago I had intended to write a brief history of Hexham and Newcastle through the 20th century. I gathered together a great deal of data but then was sidetracked into work with the International Federation Una Voce. I have just looked again at information I had gathered about Ushaw College. On May 8th 1987 The Universe published a full page story on Ushaw and on the formation of priests. One student said: We want to be seen "for real". Another said: "The priest's role is now seen as that of co-ordinator of the parish gifts." Another summed up his idea of the priesthood "as to love and be loved as part of a loving community". In a full-page article on training priests, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the sacraments was never mentioned. Not once.

In March 2002 the diocesan bishop said: "We are now training people for priesthood of a very different style to what it was once conceived as. There is much more emphasis on their being leaders and facilitators."

Is this the basic problem at Ushaw? Quite obviously this kind of formation is simply not appealing to young men and this is why the seminary is failing and has to close. A drastic change of approach is desperately needed so that young men are trained in the sacrificial priesthood. A priest is meant to be an alter Christus, not a facilitator, not a co-ordinator of the parish gifts. Anyone can be a facilitator or a co-ordinator, but not everyone is called to the sacred priesthood. A facilitator cannot call down Jesus Christ to the altar. A facilitator cannot forgive sins. It seems to me that the whole approach at Ushaw has been disastrously wrong for decades and now the price is being paid. If we wish Ushaw to rise again it must return to its primary purpose of training priests and not facilitators. It is this renewed emphasis on the sacred priesthood that is once more filling the seminaries in France, the USA, and Australia. Why not Ushaw?

Anonymous said...

I can see in Leo Darrock’s latest entry quoting an article from the Universe in 1987, an accurate reflection of the formation given Ushaw when I was there from 1987-93. While I am certainly very sad that Ushaw as a descendant of Douai is likely to close, I do feel a new direction was probably needed. Spirituality sessions seemed to rely more upon Person-centred psychology than theology and the spiritual masters (we were once played Whitney Houston’s pop hit ‘The greatest love of all is learning to love yourself’); Pastoral Care was heavily based on Non-Directive Counselling which removes the possibility of bringing challenge to irregular lifestyles, and there was an emphasis on being formed as ‘facilitators of the parish gifts’ and ‘co-ordinators of parish ministries’ as ‘pals of the people’ rather as self-sacrificing, spiritual fathers who serve by taking responsibility before God for teaching, sanctifying and governing as co-workers with the Order of Bishops. I also felt the Church was presented not so much as needing to ‘discern the signs of the times’ (which implies a certain discriminatory approach) but as needing to learn from the times; almost to ‘disciple the times’, re-modelling the Church in line with secular thinking (thus arises the promotion of women’s ministries and a more democratic rather than hierarchical picture of the Church). Still, I find it hard to make criticisms of Ushaw in that the members of staff were sincere in their goal of serving the people by providing with well-formed priests, and I had much support from the members of staff that I approached when needing direction/encouragement.
All this is, of course, my own feelings. Other may disagree -after all, formation is ‘received according the mode of the receiver’, and we all, staff and students alike, brought our own ‘emotional and ideological filters’ to the seminary.

Fr Michael Brown said...

Father Anonymous, your description of priestly formation at Ushaw in the 80`s sounds very familiar to me.

Fr Dickson said...

Unfortunately Father, I can name about a dozen men who were at Ushaw in my time -including a member of staff- who left the priesthood within a few years of ordination. What this says about Ushaw's style of formation I do not know, but it is quite a sad reflection on something, don't you think?

Anonymous said...

See I was right Roller Boots must have been required!!!!!!!!!!!!