The trustees of the Pontifical Irish College decided last week that the national seminary in Rome will no longer host men studying for the priesthood in Ireland, beginning in the 2020-2021 academic year.
The decision was taken because of the decline in Irish seminarians, according to the acting rector of the Irish College, Fr. Paul Finnerty.
Finnerty told CNA that during the last decade the average number of Irish seminarians received at the college has been nine. During this semester, which is now in its exam period, the college had five seminarians.
“I am looking forward to the next chapter in the college’s almost 400-year history and helping to shape its vision along with my colleagues,” Finnerty said about the decision.
The college has hosted priests from around the world, including from Ireland, who are doing postgraduate studies, and it will continue to do so.
It also hosts a sabbatical program for Irish priests and will continue to offer a semester abroad program, in place since 2016, for American seminarians.
In a June 12 statement on the website of the Irish College, Finnerty said “the formation of priests for mission in Ireland is one of the keys to the renewal and revitalisation of the Irish Church. I believe that the decisions taken by the Trustees today have this goal in mind.”
The Irish bishops affirmed the decision of the trustees not to receive seminarians in the 2020-2021 academic year during their summer meeting June 12.
According to a statement, the bishops “recognised that the College continues to provide an important service to the Church in Ireland and confirmed that they are open to the possibility of sending seminarians to the College in the future.”
During their meeting, the bishops also discussed the wider future of seminary provision for the Catholic Church in Ireland.
The bishops also “acknowledged the trustees’ commitment to explore new ways in which the College can be of service to the Church in Ireland,” including “both its historical ministry of priestly formation – initial and ongoing.”
“Bishops agreed that the broad, global, and universal viewpoint offered by a Roman experience has been enriching for many down through the centuries. This remains true today, and into the future,” the statement concluded.
In his own comments, Finnerty said “of course, formation in the Christian life is not the preserve of the seminary, nor indeed of any house of formation. Rather, formation begins in the family, it is sustained in the community of faith, and our prayer is that Christian discipleship will be renewed and revitalised using all of the resources available.”
“The Irish College is an almost 400-year-old resource for the Church in Ireland that is ready to play a key role in the renewal and revitalisation of the Irish mission.”
The Pontifical Irish College was founded in Rome in 1628. It moved to its current location on the Caelian Hill, close to the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, more than 90 years ago.
It is one of two national seminaries of the Catholic Church in Ireland.
One of the college’s significant alumni is Servant of God Ragheed Ganni, an Iraqi seminarian and then priest who lived at the college from 1996 to 2003 while studying at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (the Angelicum).
Fr. Ganni returned to Iraq to serve at a parish in Mosul in 2003, two years after his priestly ordination, and in 2007 he was martyred after offering Mass at his Chaldean Catholic parish.