Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Venerable high school seminary set to close.

Though the announcement came two weeks ago, it wasn't until today that I learned that Chicago's Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary, one of the United States' few remaining high school seminaries, will close at the end of this academic year. In an editorial dated September 23rd, the Chicago Tribune neatly summarizes Quigley's place in history as well as the reasons for its closing:
In 1905, when Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary was founded, its mission was to train future priests who would minister to the city as well as further the church's work in education, health care and social justice.

For years, the Catholic high school did just that, earning a reputation as an academic heavyweight that not only turned out priests and bishops, but also doctors, lawyers and politicians.

The archdiocese announced this week that the high school seminary would graduate its last class and close in June 2007. Quigley's enrollment has been shrinking, from a high of 1,300 students in the 1950's to an all-time low this year of 183 students. The school faces a deficit of $1 million.

Such a shame, but so understandable.

As with the 1990 decision to streamline Quigley's two campuses into one, the decision to close the school was not made lightly. To stave off closure nearly five years ago, Quigley hired recruiters who traveled to area elementary schools, public as well as Catholic, hoping to reel in new students. Fundraising stepped up. Alumni were asked to dig deeper to help their old school.

Those efforts weren't enough, in part because fewer young men feel called into the priesthood at a very young age. "You just don't have 13- to 14-year-old boys making that type of decision about the rest of their lives," said Auxiliary Bishop Francis Kane, a 1961 Quigley graduate.

According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, nearly 16,000 students attended 171 such high schools across the country in the 1967-68 school year. Today, only five other high school seminaries remain, with a total enrollment of just 763 students. Those schools are struggling for their survival too.
Understandably, Quigley students and their parents are upset about the school's expected closure. Some of their opinions, as well as the Archdiocese's response, are reported in this article in the Chicago Sun-Times. How the Church should deal with high school-age boys who are considering the priesthood - few though they may be - is a genuine concern. The Archdiocese is apparently trying to respond to the needs of young men in this situation with a proposed program that would offer them scholarships to attend other Catholic high schools in Chicago as well as the opportunity to take part in a loosely-structured discernment program. It's unclear how well such a program would work in practice, given that any young man who tells his high school classmates (not to mention his family) that he's thinking of becoming a priest will probably encounter negative reactions. As one Quigley student quoted in the Sun-Times article says, "At other schools people will look at you funny if you even consider the priesthood, but at Quigley everyone is open to it."

Personally, I'm ambivalent about Quigley's imminent demise. I understand and accept that economic and social realities dictated the school's closure. I also tend toward the view that young men who are considering the priesthood should have as "normal" an experience of high school and college as possible, in the hope that their experiences will help them become emotionally mature, well-adjusted and well-integrated adults. At the same time, I wonder how many vocation-minded high schoolers have the strength to persevere in the face of peer pressure, assorted temptations and a culture that doesn't value permanent commitments (especially religious ones). Considerations such as these aside, the closing of Quigley also represents the loss of an institution that has made its mark on Chicago irrespective of how many of its alumni have chosen secular careers over religious ones. However I might feel about the place of high school seminaries today, as a person who loves ancient things I mourn the loss of an old and storied institution. Ave atque vale. AMDG.


At 10/03/2006 7:52 PM, Blogger Jason said...

Being a graduate of a high school seminary (Our Lady, Queen of the Angels in San Fernando, CA), I relate somewhat to their experience. I graduated in '91, and the school closed, I believe, at the end of the '94 academic year.

In addition to falling enrollment and low numbers of men who actually continued to ordination, the closure of OLQA was hastened by the '94 Northridge earthquake, which devasted neighboring Bishop Alemany high school. The two schools shared the OLQA campus for the rest of that year, and the following year Alemany assumed possession of the buildings.

My old dorm is now a science lab. Hmmm...

While I treasure my memories from Q of A, I agree with you Joe that young men today can benefit from a "normal" rather than a cloistered high school experience, which is what I had. This creates a challenge for vocations promotion, to be sure, but not one that's insurmountable.


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