Archbishop Dolan and his brother bishops of the Diocese of Brooklyn and the Diocese of Rockville Centre Nov. 10 jointly signed a joint operating agreement creating a single program of priestly formation for their three dioceses at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie beginning in September 2012.
The bishops also announced the formation of a comprehensive new program for the ongoing theological and spiritual enrichment of priests and permanent deacons, and a centralization of lay ministry programs to support the New Evangelization.
“By embarking together on a single program of priestly formation, we three bishops have demonstrated our commitment to providing the best training and preparation we possibly can for our future priests,” said Archbishop Dolan in his remarks to the media at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington the evening the agreement was signed.
Archbishop Dolan, speaking on behalf of Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn and Bishop William Murphy of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, expressed the prelates’ “immense confidence” in Msgr. Peter Vaccari, the current rector of Immaculate Conception Seminary and a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, who it was announced will become rector of St. Joseph’s Seminary at the beginning of the next academic year.
Speaking of his own seminary experience, first as a student and then as rector of North American College in Rome, Archbishop Dolan said it provided him with the opportunity to meet and form friendships with seminarians from throughout the United States. He said he envisions the potential for similar bonds forming among the approximately 100 seminarians from the three downstate New York dioceses, and possibly other dioceses, who will take up their priestly formation at St. Joseph’s Seminary in September.
“We’re going to be providing them with the opportunity to form friendships and relationships that will stay with them for the rest of their lives,” the archbishop said.
With St. Joseph’s Seminary soon to begin serving men from all three dioceses studying for the priesthood, Bishop Murphy said he believes that seminarians studying there will benefit from an even higher quality of instruction and formation than currently exists at Dunwoodie or Immaculate Conception Seminary.
“In my judgment and expertise, the quality of programs we have today at Dunwoodie and Huntington, put together, will be an even greater program for the future,” Bishop Murphy said at the signing ceremony.
The single seminary for priestly formation is far from the only area of cooperation between the three dioceses specified in the agreement. Immaculate Conception Seminary, Huntington, will be home to a new institute dedicated to the ongoing spiritual and pastoral formation of priests. The Sacred Heart Institute for the Ongoing Formation of Clergy will have regular programs of theological and spiritual enrichment for priests and permanent deacons and will also include the new Verbum Domini (Word of the Lord) Preaching Institute, as well as formation programs for international priests and special workshops for new priests.
The seminary in Huntington will also have formation programs for the laity and a retreat center to prepare lay people to be active participants in Church life.
Over the next year and a half, the master of arts program in religious studies at St. Joseph’s Seminary Institute for Religious Studies will come under the umbrella of Immaculate Conception Seminary, which will make investments in distance learning technologies enabling courses to be taught across the campuses in Yonkers, Douglaston and Huntington.
The agreement follows several years of discussion and planning by the three dioceses. Archbishop Dolan, in his talk, credited his predecessor, Cardinal Egan, for initiating the effort.
The archbishop also noted that Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect for the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education, recently expressed support for the initiative during a meeting the two had in Rome.
It also builds upon the dioceses’ cooperative success at the Catholic Seminary Residence at Immaculate Conception Center in Douglaston, Queens. This fall, young men from the Archdiocese of New York joined others from the Diocese of Brooklyn and Diocese of Rockville Centre in formation on the college and pretheology levels. Nearly 80 seminarians from the three dioceses, as well as from the dioceses of Rochester, Syracuse and Scranton, Pa., reside there.
Bishop DiMarzio, in his remarks, said he has seen a marked improvement at the residence that goes beyond the increase in the number of men there. “Whenever I’ve been there, I’ve seen a real change in the atmosphere,” he said.
“It’s working out well,” said Father Luis Saldaña, a priest of the archdiocese who is vice rector at Cathedral Seminary Residence, told CNY. “The guys from all of the dioceses have mixed well. It’s important in the future to have friends, to have fraternity, beyond our limits.”
Father Saldana was one of a number of priests and seminarians from the archdiocese who traveled to the seminary in Huntington for the signing of the agreement.
Also present was Father Joseph Franco, pastor of Sacred Heart parish in the Bronx who represented the archdiocesan Priests’ Council, as well as Father Andrew King, dean of admissions at St. Joseph’s Seminary.
Father Franco told CNY that priests and seminarians of the archdiocese broke out in applause earlier in the day when Archbishop Dolan announced word of the impending agreement during his homily at Evening Prayer for a gathering of seminary alumni.
Speaking about the seminarians who were present for the announcement, Father Franco said, “You can see the friendship forming, even tonight. They’re excited. I love the idea that there will be different personalities, with the seminarians from Long Island, Brooklyn and Queens and the archdiocese.”
“To bring that together is itself an education,” he said.
Under the agreement, each of the dioceses will retain ownership of their respective institutions, but they have established joint episcopal oversight of the three formation programs known as St. Charles Borromeo Inter-Diocesan Partnership in Spiritual and Theological Formation for Clergy, Religious and Laity.
Father James Massa, a priest of the Brooklyn Diocese, is serving as coordinator of transition for the interdiocesan partnership. He told CNY in an interview that the collaboration to be carried out in the tri-diocesan partnership “is kind of unprecedented.”
“This is seeking to foster communion,” or, in essence, a sharing of gifts, Father Massa said.
“It’s really the bishops coming together and partnering in a significant area of church life, the training of leadership. It’s comprehensive, across the board—it’s priests, it’s deacons, it’s lay people,” he explained.
Father Massa said that he and the members of committees charged with making specific recommendations to the three bishops will look at various issues in the coming months, including how to blend curricula of St. Joseph’s Seminary and Immaculate Conception Seminary, formalizing admissions policies for theology and pretheology programs, setting up programs for international priests, working in the area of preaching, determining positions which need to be filled in the respective programs and coordinating their work with the various accrediting agencies.
“It’s huge,” Father Massa said of the work to be undertaken. “This was just the warm-ups.”
After the agreement was signed, Bishop Murphy presided at solemn benediction and prayer in the seminary chapel for the new interdiocesan seminary partnership in the seminary chapel. He was joined by Archbishop Dolan and Bishop DiMarzio and by the many clergy, seminarians, seminary staff members and others who were present.