CHICAGO (ChurchMilitant.com) - The advisory board of St. Joseph College Seminary is advocating to keep the undergraduate seminary open.
In January, Cdl. Blase Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, shocked Chicagoans by announcing he was closing the newly renovated St. Joseph College Seminary on the campus of Loyola University. Cupich cited the low enrollment numbers as the cause and said seminarians wishing to continue their studies could transfer to St. John Vianney College Seminary at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Cupich's mission to "Renew My Church" has been renamed "Ruin My Church" by local Catholics who have been outspoken over his lack of transparency and apparent disregard for the spiritual life of the Church and Catholics. That sentiment has been echoed in a recent statement by the St. Joseph College Seminary Advisory Board.
In a letter delivered to Cupich dated March 11 obtained by Chicago 5, they noted that Cupich did not consult the seminary in the decision to close the seminary. This is a direct contradiction to the comment made by the archdiocese of Chicago's "Renew My Church" spokesman, Fr. Jason Malave. He told the Chicago Tribune that closings are based on "months of conversations."
The Board called the decision to close the seminary "unexpected and disturbing," adding, "Naturally, as a Board, we expected more from you than just an 11-minute announcement with no advance warning or dialogue."
The complete lack of transparency surrounding this decision (neither the Board nor the Rector were consulted) seems symptomatic of many issues currently affecting the church. Aside from the horrible impact this decision will have on the Seminarians and our church in the future, we feel compelled to tell you that this unfortunate approach to decision-making is driving people away — not encouraging opening and healing to a broken church. Your unidentified "advisors" who apparently recommended this abrupt action could not have considered the effects of this unfortunate decision. When veiled in complete secrecy, how can we, as a Board of Advisors with years of dedicated service and millions of dollars raised conclude anything other than this was a decision bereft of objective criteria and prayerful discernment? While talk about "transparency and accountability" is a noble goal, here there was neither.
The Board explained they too were disappointed in the enrollment but had been focusing on the quality of the candidates over quantity and explained their scholarship for high school students "was just beginning to bear significant fruit."
When St. Joseph College Seminary closes, the archdiocese of Chicago will have no undergraduate support for men discerning a vocation to the priesthood.
Church Militant spoke with a former St. Joseph College seminarian James Egan, who left the seminary because of the "toxic environment" that was pervasive at that time. He said it was badly structured, badly run and the formation by corrupt clergy and the sexual predation was the reason many seminarians left.
Egan and fellow seminarian Roman Krasnitsky co-founded the Archangel Foundation, a non-profit aimed at providing help and support to victims of clerical sex abuse.
Both Egan and Krasnitsky were enrolled in St. Joseph College Seminary from 2013 to 2015. Egan said the seminary was a terrible experience that left both of them with "an awareness of a network of sexual predators still active in the Church."
The revelations of Theodore McCarrick's predation in 2018 showing the "global and ongoing network of predators and accomplices — especially in the archdiocese of Chicago" — were the reason they started the Archangel Foundation.
"The entire atmosphere changed," Egan said. "This is ongoing. It's not just a matter of a few bad eggs, it's a network."
With that realization, they "decided to reach out to the survivors we knew personally" to help them in any way they could.
Egan doesn't buy Cdl. Cupich's argument that enrollment numbers aren't high enough. He said St. Joseph was built to hold only 60 seminarians and added if it was full of that many students, it'd be "pretty uncomfortable."
Egan also thought the decision to close St. Joseph was not fiscally smart. In 2012, the seminary planned and executed a $20 million renovation. The Advisory Board's letter noted the momentous occasion was a source of joy and hope for all those who contributed to the project.
"Each of us who was there could see the place where seminarians for the next 100 years would stay, pray, grow and eventually become disciples of Jesus," they wrote.
"It's very, very suspicious," Egan said. He wondered if it was because of the liability, asking, "Are they trying to hide documents by closing it down?"
Egan explained that in their work with survivors of clerical sexual abuses they learned, "This is not something that happened decades ago. It's happening right now!"
"There are predators in active ministry," he added.
Despite the problems, Egan said a college seminary seems like a "worthwhile endeavor." One that is well-run would be a good place for young men who are discerning a vocation to the priesthood to "unpack" that vocation, get a degree and mature in age.
The Board noted that they have received numerous questions, negative comments and expressions of concern for the future of the archdiocese of Chicago. The Board also blasted Cupich for his lack of respect for all those who have helped to support the seminary and archdiocese, saying:
Your total disregard for the Board of Advisors, our Rector-President and others in the archdiocese who have made significant financial contributions to the college seminary over many decades, together with the lack of any apparent consultation in making this decision, speaks volumes abou tthe value, or lack of it, that you place on us, as financial supporters and Board members, and on the long history of Niles College and St. Joseph College Seminary."
The Board said they "strongly disagree with this major decision" and added, "We await your response with prayerful anticipation."
Chicago 5 confirmed that Cupich has received the letter.