In a brief letter to priests of the San Jose diocese dated Feb. 10, Bishop Patrick McGrath announced that he had "decided to transfer current seminarians and send our future seminarians to the University of Saint Mary of the Lake Mundelein Seminary of the Archdiocese of Chicago."
The letter does not mention St. Patrick's Seminary and University in
Menlo Park, about a half-hour drive from San Jose, but it describes
where the 11 San Jose seminarians currently enrolled there — and future
ones — will study after the end of the current academic year, marked by
graduation May 17.
The San Jose diocese's exit from St. Patrick's comes less than four months after the Society of the Priests of St. Sulpice's surprise announcement that it would be severing its 118-year relationship with the seminary, effective June 30.
Known as Sulpicians,
the international community of diocesan priests had co-founded the
seminary with the San Francisco archdiocese in 1898 and administered and
helped staff it since then.
The San Francisco archdiocese owns the
facility and its expansive grounds.
"As you know, some time ago, I established a commission to study and
recommend to me which seminary would best serve our local Church in the
preparation of our seminarians for ordination to the priesthood,"
McGrath's letter begins, adding: "The commission has recently completed
The bishop then states that Mundelein "which has an excellent program
of spiritual, academic and pastoral preparation" would be the
The letter's timing left a weekend between the announcement and the
Feb. 13 annual campus gathering of bishops and vocations directors from
dioceses which place students at St. Patrick's.
Asked if McGrath and San Jose vocations director Fr. Joseph Kim
would be attending the Feb. 13 meeting, a diocesan spokesman said, "They
always do." He said the timing was "just coincidental."
According to the official, the study commission was formed in 2014
with a "diverse make-up — including lay, religious, priests, Hispanic,
"The departure of the Sulpicians was one of the factors that the
commission considered in making its recommendation to the bishop," he
said, but noted, "The report is a confidential document."
The San Jose
move "should not be seen as a reflection upon the quality of seminary
leadership or administration," he added.
The spokesman told NCR that San Francisco Archbishop
Salvatore Cordileone, U.S. Sulpician Provincial Fr. John Kemper, and St.
Patrick's President-Rector Sulpician Fr. Gladstone Stevens "were
informed of this decision at the same time it was shared with the clergy
and religious of the diocese."
No other bishops were given a heads-up about the pending decision's announcement, the spokesman told NCR.
"Feedback has been minimal thus far," he said. "Some surprise, but all generally supportive."
Stevens declined comment.
Cordileone was not available for immediate comment, San Francisco
communications director Mike Brown said in a Feb. 13 email, adding, "The
letter from Bishop McGrath to his presbyterate is the information that
was shared with us. No direct impact has been assessed."
According to St. Patrick's website,
eight California dioceses plus the San Francisco archdiocese sponsor
students at St. Patrick's, as do the dioceses of Honolulu and Reno.
Only the San Francisco archdiocese has as many students at St.
Patrick's as San Jose. No religious order seminarians currently attend.
Over the weekend, NCR attempted to contact vocations
directors and/or communications directors in the sponsoring dioceses for
reactions to the San Jose decision. Five had responded by Feb 13.
Staying with St. Patrick's or not
In an email sent after the Feb. 13 bishops-vocations director meeting
at St. Patrick's, Honolulu Bishop Larry Silva wrote, "While I am
disappointed that San Jose has decided to withdraw its seminarians from
St. Patrick's Seminary, I have decided to keep our seminarians there."
A St. Patrick's trustee, Silva lauded the seminary staff and faculty
for "working very hard — and successfully I found out today — at
assuring a solid and bright future for the seminary. Not only is the
search for new faculty and a new rector moving along, but I think they
have a great vision for the future and the continual improvement of
"Transitions are not easy, but I am confident that the current
faculty is doing all it can to not be 'lame ducks,' " the bishop added.
"If they were in a 'lights out' mode, I am sure they would not be
dedicating so much time to assuring, to the best of their ability, that
the seminary will thrive in the future."
Silva called decisions on a diocese's priestly formation "extremely
important for any bishop" in that "it will affect not only the present
seminarians but the future of the diocese for generations."
Monterey, Calif., diocesan vocations director Fr. Roy Shelly said his
diocese currently has 14 men in various stages of seminary training.
Three remain at St. Patrick's, one of whom will graduate in May and is
scheduled to be ordained in June.
"The diocese of Monterey stopped sending men to Menlo Park
three years ago," Shelly said in an email. "Under the current
circumstance, we do not intend to send men again to St. Patrick's for
the foreseeable future."
Monterey has one seminarian studying at Mt. Angel Seminary in Saint
Benedict, Ore., one at Assumption Seminary in San Antonio, Texas, and
nine at St. John's Seminary in Camarillo, Calif.
Fr. Frank Epperson, director of seminarians for the Santa Rosa,
Calif., diocese, said, "The decision of the San Jose diocese will have
no bearing on our decision-making process. Over the past few years we
have found many good things beginning to happen at St. Patrick's under
the leadership of Archbishop Cordileone, and thus we plan to continue
our support of and attendance at the seminary."
Santa Rosa has two seminarians at St. Patrick's and plans to send another there in the fall, Epperson said.
The Santa Rosa diocese also has one seminarian studying at the
Pontifical North American College in Rome and four enrolled at St.
Gregory the Great Seminary in Seward, Neb.
The Fresno, Calif., diocese's vocations director, Fr. Daniel
Avila, said the diocese has "23 men in formation," one of whom attends
The Fresno diocese, Avila added, "is attentively following the
developments at St. Patrick's. We have our annual meeting with the
faculty there this Monday [Feb. 13] and hope to have a clearer picture
Asked how San Jose seminarians were reacting to the decision,
a diocesan official said, "The seminarians, who were informed of this
decision prior to its communication to others, seemed to understand and
to accept the decision."
Total St. Patrick's enrollment stands at 63, including men serving
pastoral-year assignments off campus. Student head-count reached a
recent-history high mark of 114 for the 2012-13 school year, but it had
dropped to 93 for the 2013-14 term.
By contrast, Mt. Angel enrolls 159 seminarians from 23 dioceses and
five religious communities, according to its website. It also has 35 lay
A Sulpician, who asked not to be identified and is familiar with St.
Patrick's situation, said enrollments are down in many U.S. seminaries,
but described the St. Patrick's decline as "striking."
Asked if the archdiocese had projected enrollment figures for the
coming school year, San Francisco spokesman Brown said, "The sending
bishops are presently in their annual process of making decisions about
sending seminarians for the term beginning this fall. Too early to
In his email, Silva stated, "The seminarians of the diocese of San
Jose currently represent 17 percent of the student body, so their
departure will be quite significant. But the hope is that other dioceses
will join the seminary once they see that there is a quality faculty to
take the place of the Sulpicians."
Leadership after the Sulpicians
In the Oct. 21 notice that the Sulpicians would be leaving St.
Patrick's, Kemper said the society had "recently been informed that we
are no longer invited to provide Sulpician administrative leadership to
St. Patrick's. As a consequence, we will not be able to serve the
seminary according to the Sulpician tradition."
Tension between the Sulpicians and the archdiocese over St. Patrick's
administration is not new.
In September 2013, Cordileone, then-San Jose
Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Daly and then-archdiocesan vicar for
administration Fr. James Tarantino met with then-President-Rector
Sulpician Fr. James McKearney, leaving McKearney no option but to
resign, according to McKearney at the time.
McKearney's termination caught many off guard. Neither the U.S.
Sulpician provincialate nor the St. Patrick's board of trustees had been
Daly was named interim president-rector. Five months later, Stevens
assumed the position.
Daly was appointed bishop of the Spokane, Wash.,
diocese in March 2015.
Daly now heads a search committee to find a new leader for St. Patrick's.
As of Feb. 14, no response to NCR
requests for comment from Daly on the San Jose development had been
received. A St. Patrick's graduate and trustee, Daly was director of
vocations for the San Francisco archdiocese from 2002 to 2011.
"The search for rector is ongoing, and several additional new
candidates have recently been added," Brown said in the email. "We
anticipate the position being filled within a month or two."
As for faculty positions to be vacated by the six Sulpicians
currently serving at St. Patrick's, Brown said, "The Sulpician faculty
leaving this summer created three full-time positions available and
these positions have all now been filled. An additional two full-time
teaching faculty will likely be hired."
The Sulpicians' announced departure generated deep concern and
conversation in Bay Area Catholic circles. More than 2,000 priests and
some 40 bishops were educated by the Society at St. Patrick' s and its
related college seminary, St. Joseph's, which is now closed.
"They made the decision," Daly told Catholic San Francisco,
the archdiocesan newspaper, at the time of the announced Sulpician
complete exit. "There was no discussion with the board of trustees. They
had made up their mind" the day before a scheduled trustee meeting and
had voted to withdraw. "So there was no collaboration in the decision."
The Sulpicians' decision, Daly reportedly said, came as the seminary
board of trustees was seeking to negotiate a change in the governance
structure to a more "collaborative" model similar to Assumption Seminary
in the San Antonio archdiocese where Sulpicians contribute staff.
"There are misconceptions about the program at St Patrick's Seminary," Daly told Catholic San Francisco. "Some see it as too conservative. The seminary is a solid program of priestly formation."
One St. Patrick alumnus, now the pastor of Danville's St. Isidore
Parish in the Oakland diocese, shared his appreciation for the
Sulpicians in the Oct. 30, 2016, parish bulletin, praising them for
providing "us a vision of Church which was wide and inclusive, not
narrow and blinkered."
In the bulletin message, Fr. Gerard Moran also charged that "the
Sulpicians have been on a collision course with Archbishop Cordileone
since his appointment to San Francisco."
Moran criticized what he called Cordileone's "obsessive compulsive
micromanagement" and appealed to previous San Francisco archbishops to
"use their influence in Rome to see the Sulpician decision is not
Cordileone was bishop of Oakland for three years before being named to San Francisco in July 2012.