Minor Setback or Major Disaster? The Rise and Demise of Minor Seminaries in the United States, 1958-1983
by Fr. Robert Anello, MSA
Interested in how this happened?
“Catholic Ministry Formation Enrollment: Statistical Overview for 2017-2018,” Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, p.1)
Minor Setback or Major Disaster presents the history of minor seminaries from the concept’s inception following the sixteenth-century Council of Trent’s mandate for a new training method for the Catholic priesthood up to the present. It describes the function and purpose of the “minor seminary,” which initially corresponded to the four high school and two junior college years a young man preparing for the Catholic priesthood would participate prior to his six years at a “major seminary.” It focuses on the unprecedented growth in youthful vocations to the priesthood beginning in the mid-1950s, when teenage boys in the U.S. filled minor seminaries to overflowing, and the concomitant building boom in both minor and major seminary facilities. It describes in detail the seemingly inexplicable decline that began less than a decade later. The historical part of the study concludes in the late 1980s, by which time most minor seminaries – now high school and college seminaries – had closed. This study analyzes the external context of minor seminaries: Catholic boys’ and their parents’ values, and how those values influenced priesthood vocations. The internal context of minor seminaries examines the growth and development of minor seminary pedagogical practices. Supporting the analytical narrative are nineteen figures presenting demographic and enrollment data. Through eight case studies, it postulates causes for the near-total extinction of minor seminaries.
What differentiates this study from other studies on the subject of priestly and religious vocations is that there are no “others.” No critical history on this topic exists, which has given commentators over the past half century free license to speculate on causes for the decline in priesthood and religions vocations. As CARA Senior Research Associate Mary L. Gautier, Ph.D., describes it in the book’s Foreword, “Robert Anello systematically presents here an alternative scenario to the common assertion that Vatican II killed off vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Through careful examination of the existing available research of that time period, combined with the CARA statistics that document the trend, this book makes a compelling case that the seeds of the demise of minor seminaries were sown a generation before Vatican II and were already having an impact on vocations by the time Vatican II was set in motion.” Noted Church historian and Professor of History at Marquette University, Fr. Steven Avella, Ph.D., concurred with Dr. Gautier, observing, “This exhaustively researched book tells the fascinating story of a once-thriving system of priestly formation that had already began to fade just prior to Vatican II.”
Paperback: $35.00 | Kindle: $9.99
Fr. Scott Jones, Homiletics and Pastoral Review, December 18, 2018 [see the review]
Robert Wister, “Minor Setback or Major Disaster? The Rise and Demise of Minor Seminaries in the United States, 1958–1983 by Robert L. Anello,” The Catholic Historical Review, Volume 104, Number 3, Summer 2018: 559-561. [see the review]
“I hope that the completed work can bear fruit for seminary formation.” – Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
“Fr. Anello offers a helpful overview of the cultural, sociological, demographic and ecclesial trends which characterize the post-World War II landscape in the Church in the United States. He makes use of the data supplied by the good work of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) and other archival collections. Fr. Anello cites the impact of the G.I. Bill and the possibility of obtaining low interest loans for college. He identifies the isolation of the seminary environment at the minor seminary level, the decline in perseverance rates from entry into the minor seminary until admission to the major seminary which pre-dated Vatican II, the break-up of the “Catholic ghetto” mentality, changing attitudes toward priestly vocations in light of other purposeful secular options, and discussion among seminary educators following Vatican II on the nature of seminary formation at the minor seminary level, as factors which contributed to the decline of minor seminaries. The book deserves our attention!” — Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York
Being a seminarian during the peak years and on the faculty of a minor seminary during the declining years, the in-depth the analysis of how the dynamics within the church and in our culture affected enrollment was revealing. With forty plus years of perspective, Fr. Anello does a scholarly job analyzing how the failure to read the signs of the times within the church and in society affected minor seminaries. The book puts to rest some myths and gives important insights.Minor Setback or Major Disaster?gives new perspectives on minor seminaries during their peak years and declining years. This book can serve as a challenge for encouraging and fostering vocations today. — Most Reverend Martin J. Amos, Bishop of Davenport, Iowa
Rev. Robert Anello shows that though the Second Vatican Council was supportive of minor seminaries, changing demographics and changing attitudes among US Catholics, along with a host of other internal and external factors led to the demise of a system that once been vital for the nurturing of vocations among the Catholic youth. He asks what can be done to promote youthful vocations today and whether a revitalized approach that includes minor seminaries might make a valuable contribution even today. — Most Reverend Anthony B. Taylor, Bishop of Little Rock
Robert Anello systematically presents here an alternative scenario to the common assertion that Vatican II killed off vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Through careful examination of the existing available research of that time period, combined with the CARA statistics that document the trend, this book makes a compelling case that the seeds of the demise of minor seminaries were sown a generation before Vatican II and were already having an impact on vocations by the time Vatican II was set in motion. — Mary L. Gautier, Ph.D., CARA Senior Research Associate, Georgetown University from the Foreword to the book
This thorough and fascinating study offers valuable insights for anyone in the vocation’s ministry or who is a student of the history of Catholicism in America. The second half of the twentieth century offers us valuable insights for our current situation and strategies for the future. I do not foresee a resurgence of high school seminaries, but one thing is for sure, vocation promotion among our youth is of vital importance for the future of the ordained ministry. In my experience, young men are considering priesthood at an earlier age than they were even a decade ago – may we not fail to find viable ways to reach out to them and foster their vocations. — Very Rev. Msgr. David L. Toups, S.T.D., Rector/President, St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary
This exhaustively researched book tells the fascinating story of a once-thriving system of priestly formation that had already begun to fade just prior to Vatican II. — Fr. Steven M. Avella, Ph.D., Professor of History at Marquette University
In Minor Setback or Major Disaster: The Rise and Demise of Minor Seminaries in the United States, 1958-1983, Fr. Robert L. Anello systematically examines various historical factors that ended in the near extinction of minor seminaries. I recommend a careful read of this important contribution on seminary education.
In humility, Anello admits that his first assumption that the initial fall of minor seminaries was a post-Vatican II phenomenon was proven inaccurate by his research. That research demonstrates that the peak years for minor seminary enrollment took place while Vatican II was in session in 1963 and 1964. In addition, data indicates that in the 1950s, prior to Vatican Council II, there was a noticeable decline in the rate of perseverance of those studying for the priesthood.
Historical factors of the decline of minor seminaries prior to Vatican Council II include the following internal factors: naïve acceptance or overzealous rejection of accreditation through regional higher education associations and state agencies, the introduction of psychological evaluations of seminary applicants, the growing awareness that minor seminaries may impede states of human development, incidents of abuse at minor seminaries, the struggle to maintain high academic standards in the face of decreasing enrollments, the rise of late vocations, pursuing development plans with insufficient finances, loss of vision, mission and purpose.
External factors that Anello identifies include decrease of support from parents – notably fathers – of their sons becoming priests, the decline of the family size, identity crisis among priests, dissent to Humanae vitae, and a later lack of vocational promotion among the youth. — Fr. Peter Kucer, MSA, Chief Academic Officer at Holy Apostles College & Seminary, Cromwell, CT
Having informed my parents on the first day of kindergarten that I wanted to be a priest, I did not surprise them when in eighth grade I told them I wanted to enter the high school seminary. They, who had always been completely supportive of their only child becoming a priest, did surprise me by their adamant refusal, bolstered by the parish priest, who counseled attendance at a co-ed Catholic high school, followed by college seminary. And that was the path that was followed.
The reasons for the negative assessment were largely those reported on by Father Anello in his scholarly but intensely practical study of the rise and fall of minor seminaries: alienation from family; problematic psycho-sexual development; poor perseverance rate. Having taught at every level of Catholic education and having been involved with priestly formation for decades — as well as observing the social and cultural milieu of the moment — I think it is necessary to re-assess the need for some kind of “tertium quid” to foster youthful priestly vocations. All the surveys show that most seminarians experience “the call” in their tender years; that call needs to be nurtured and protected, especially in terms of preserving adolescents from harmful experimentation (or worse) with drugs, sex and alcohol, which are very hard to shake off in later years.
It seems to me that a worthwhile program would be to have a kind of “vocation track” in a regular Catholic high school, allowing young men the benefit of being exposed to the culture of their generation and living at home, all the while being supported in their vocational discernment and likewise serving as a leaven within the school community. This could be supplemented by more intensive weekend retreats and summer apostolic work.
Father Anello is to be congratulated for raising this topic and for providing the solid information from which to launch on a pastoral solution. Anecdotal and statistical data indicate that not a few priestly vocations are lost in those critical years of high school. Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman refers to young men embarking upon the priesthood as “giving the flower of their youth.” The Church’s garden cannot do without many such flowers. — Rev. Peter M. J. Stravinskas, Ph.D., S.T.D., Editor, The Catholic Response June 2018 issue of TCR (See the , page 60, for a follow up endorsement)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Fr. Robert L. Anello, M.S.A., a member of the Society of the Missionaries of the Holy Apostles, participated in priesthood formation at Holy Apostles College and Seminary prior to his ordination as a Catholic priest in 2007.
In 2011, Anello completed his doctoral studies in the history of the Catholic Church in United States at The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.
Fr. Anello is a retired human formation adviser and lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Fr. Robert Anello, MSA, has written a history of Holy Apostles College & Seminary entitled The “Hand of God” at Work in Adult Catholic Priestly Formation: Holy Apostles College & Seminary, 1956-1995, which is available in the following formats (En Route does not handle this title):
Download for a nominal price via Google PlayKindle.
Purchase a Paperback Copy via Amazon.com.
Fr. Eusèbe M. Ménard, O.F.M., was gifted with a visionary perspective regarding God’s call to adults for ministry in the Catholic Church, specifically, priestly vocations. In the mid-1940s, Ménard, then a recently-ordained priest, proposed an innovative idea for training men called to serve God through the priesthood: seminaries for “belated vocations.” As he defined it, a man with a belated vocation had not heard the call of God in his early years or, having heard it, did not or could not follow God’s call at that time. The events leading to the formation of the present college and seminary proved challenging and, at times, personally painful for those people who joined Ménard in this enterprise. Still, it appeared from the start that the “Hand of God” was truly at work in the concept, acquisition, and development of Holy Apostles. This study documents the founding and initial development of Holy Apostles and highlights several significant events from the first forty years of its service to the Catholic Church.
OTHER ACADEMIC BOOKS
Spiritual Direction: Principles and Praxis by Fr. Dominic Anaeto When Pope Benedict XVI called for the year of faith (October 11, 2012, until November 24, 2013), he invited the people of God to seek spiritual direction, for even the most devout Catholics...read more
Philosophy Fridays: Armchair Philosophy Sessions from a High School Physics Classroom by Matthew D’Antuono Aristotle began his great study on causes, which he called Metaphysics, with a simple connection to physics: "All men by nature desire to know. An...read more
Screen Addiction: Why You Can't Put That Phone Down by Sister Marysia Weber, RSM Have you ever had an irresistible urge to check your texts, social media posts or email updates when your cell phone rings, beeps or buzzes? Is the amount of time spent on...read more
Conception: An Icon of the Beginning by Francis Etheredge A book to plunge into the debate on the beginning of life like a life-boat dropping into the stormy seas filled with a variety of arguments both simple and more complex, drawing on reason, evidence...read more
The Institute for Theological Encounter with Science and Technology (ITEST) is an association of theologians, scientists and others committed to a world view in which faith and science collaborate in exploring the truth. ITEST explores truth theologically in the...read more
The Destructive Doctrines of Our Age by Gerard M. Verschuuren There are many doctrines around that try to change and mold our minds—doctrines such as relativism and secularism, to name just a couple, but this book discusses 13 more. These doctrines are...read more
John Paul Heil is a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Ordained in 1974, he studied at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, where he received his Doctorate in Sacred Scripture in 1979. After teaching at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis for 27 years, he...read more
The Fullness of Life by Martin Dybicz This complete and highly readable overview of the Catholic faith explains how living fully is found in knowing three things: that God is real, that He communicates with us, and that He wants us to respond. The author...read more
Walking the Parables of Jesus: A Journey into the Words, Life and Times of Jesus Christ, authored by Deacon Bob Evans
Walking the Parables of Jesus: A Journey into the Words, Life and Times of Jesus Christ by Deacon Bob Evans Walking the Parables of Jesus is a unique treatment of Jesus’ parables. Drawing on the work of many scholars, the author takes those who seek a...read more
Content Area Reading: A Practical Guide by Paula Witkowski and Dianne Swenson Koehnecke Paperback $35 | Kindle $9.99 We all want to be ‘great’ teachers, don’t we? But it’s not as easy as some might think. Dealing with a variety of learners: those who are...read more
COMING SOON! The Meaning of the Eucharist by Fr. Dennis Billy, C.Ss.R. This book highlights some of the major theological voices from the past century who contributed to a deepening of the Church’s understanding of the significance of the...read more
Broken Hearts in a Broken World by Gerard M. Verschuuren Brokenness has become endemic in our days. In poll after poll, the vast majority of respondents say that our country is fundamentally broken. Our political system is broken. Our economy is broken....read more
A Companion to Reading Newman's Grammar of Assent by Richard Geraghty In this book A Companion to Reading Newman’s Grammar of Assent, Richard Geraghty explains Newman’s truths by illustrating them as they pertain to contemporary Catholic issues. Through...read more
COMING SOON! On the End Times, or The First Return of Christ by Jacques Cabaud To pray the "Our Father" is to pray for the rebirth of humanity through the destruction of the world as we know it, the world in which the Evil One is free to reign,...read more
COMING SOON! Mary: the Rosary, the Relationship, and Dragons by Keith Berube Mary: The Rosary, the Relationship and Dragons reveals intriguing, little known aspects of the Rosary, gently catapulting the reader into a wondrous world of sweet,...read more
The Art of Accompaniment: Practical Steps for the Seminary Formator by Sister Marysia Weber, RSM The role of a seminary formator is to accompany the seminarian in the external forum and to discern with him, the seminary community, and larger Church...read more
The Wise Guy and the Fool: A Philosophical Odyssey from Modern Error to Truth, authored by Matthew D’Antuono
The Wise Guy and the Fool by Matthew D’Antuono This is not a textbook on philosophy. It is not an essay on philosophy. It is not a treatise on philosophy. This book is more like philosophical entertainment and illustration: a collection of philosophical...read more
Social Media Magisterium: A No-Nonsense Guide to the Proper Use of Media by Shaun McAfee The positive influence of the media, new and old, is seen through the expansion of Catholic networks that span over 150 countries, and more, allowing the gospel and Christian...read more
COMING SOON! Missionary Priests in the Homeland: Our Call to Receive by Dr. Sebastian Mahfood, OP, and Bishop Richard Henning International priests have served the Roman Catholic Church in the United States since its inception. With...read more
COMING SOON! The Thomist Tradition: Avoiding Scylla and Charybdis by Dr. Donald Boland As with every great philosopher and theologian, the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, though perhaps the clearest expressed of all, has inevitably been subject...read more
COMING SOON! Eastern Civilization from a Catholic Viewpoint by Fr. Peter Samuel Kucer, MSA, STD Eastern Civilization from a Catholic Viewpoint traces the history of East and South East Asia from ancient times to modern times. In the process,...read more
COMING SOON! East and South East Asian History by Fr. Peter Samuel Kucer, MSA East and South East Asian History studies the historical development of countries that make up East Asia (China, Taiwan, Japan, Mongolia, North Korea, South Korea)...read more
COMING SOON! Western Civilization from the End of the Renaissance to Modern Times by Fr. Peter Samuel Kucer, MSA This book presents the history of Western Civilization from the end of the Renaissance to Modern and the so-called Post-Modern...read more
COMING SOON! Western Civilization from Prehistorical Times to the Protestant Reformation by Fr. Peter Samuel Kucer, MSA Western Civilization owes a debt of gratitude to three ancient civilizations: Jewish, Greek, and Roman. The first half of...read more
The Eclipse of God: Is Religion on the Way Out? by Gerard Verschuuren This book was specifically written for all those who feel lost in a world dominated by ideologies that obscure God. It is hard to pinpoint one particular cause of how we feel in such...read more
COMING SOON! Contemporary Sacred: Conversations on Art & Faith by Dr. Michela Ferri In translation now from the Italian. Buy it in the original language here: What is the so-called “Contemporary Sacred Art”? In her book, Michela Beatrice Ferri...read more
The Obligation of Perfect and Perpetual Continence and Married Deacons in the Latin Church by Rev. Anthony McLaughlin, J.C.D. Through the reception of diaconate a man becomes a cleric. Canon 277 §1 states: “Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and...read more
COMING SOON! Check back when this book is published. TESTIMONIALS COMING SOON ABOUT THE AUTHOR Dr. Sebastian Mahfood, OP, is Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Holy Apostles College & Seminary in Cromwell, CT. He first...read more
A Fool’s Errand: A Brief, Informal Introduction to Philosophy for Young Catholics by Matthew D’Antuono What is the meaning of life? What is the nature of existence? Why am I here? What is real happiness? The big questions. Are there answers to these...read more
Voyage to Insight by Dr. Ronda Chervin En Route Books and Media has reprinted Ronda Chervin and Lois Janis’ book Voyage to Insight with fresh, exciting graphics. It can be read straight through or you can add your own insights into the book and even...read more
Economic Science and St. Thomas Aquinas: On Justice in the Distribution and Exchange of Wealth by Dr. Donald Boland This is a book on what is perhaps the most burning and urgent of social issues of our times, namely, the relationship between the science of...read more
Refractions of Light: 201 Answers on Apparitions, Visions and the Catholic Church by Kevin Symonds For the past several decades, there has been a notable rise in claims of apparitions, visions and messages from heaven. This growth has often led to...read more
Weeping with Jesus: The Journey from Grief to Hope by Dr. Ronda Chervin In the past the word grief was used only to describe the sorrow of loss through death. Nowadays pain coming from other kinds of losses such as rejection and divorce are also seen to...read more
Bereavement Miracles by Michael Frey The Bereavement Miracles program was designed to play a quintessential role in evangelizing the “spirit of mission” to individuals who are suffering from the death of a loved one by relating eternal realities in a...read more
In Praise of Life by Dr. Donald DeMarco This book illustrates how ten different factors can improve our appreciation of life: Evolution prepares it, Meaning justifies it, Love enhances it, Truth directs it, Freedom crowns it, Virtue strengthens it,...read more
How to Flourish in a Fallen World by Dr. Donald DeMarco How to Flourish in a Fallen World, by Donald DeMarco, engages the reader in an understanding of our common human nature and the problems it faces in a culture that actively pursues, to put it in Saint...read more
Feminine, Free and Faithful by Dr. Ronda Chervin Should women be feminine and forget about liberation? Or should they reject femininity as a euphemism for slavery? Women seeking fulfillment, says Chervin, aren’t faced with this either-or, but with the...read more
Catholic Realism: A Framework for the Refutation of Atheism and the Evangelization of Atheists by Dr. Sebastian Mahfood, OP, and Dr. Ronda Chervin
Catholic Realism: A Framework for the Refutation of Atheism and the Evangelization of Atheists by Dr. Sebastian Mahfood, OP, and Dr. Ronda Chervin Atheism is in revival. Many in the 21st Century lack a belief in a supernatural Creator. This requires an...read more
A Not-So-Elementary Christian Metaphysics, Volume 2: An Introduction to Ragamuffin Thomism by Dr. Peter Redpath Nothing short of a metaphysical disturbance and metaphysical revolution of the highest order can resolve the West’s and the world’s current...read more
A Not-So-Elementary Christian Metaphysics, Volume 1: Written in the Hope of Ending the Centuries-old Separation between Philosophy and Science and Science and Wisdom
A Not-So-Elementary Christian Metaphysics, Volume 1: Written in the Hope of Ending the Centuries-old Separation between Philosophy and Science and Science and Wisdom by Dr. Peter Redpath This book’s chief aim is novel and radical: to reunite philosophy,...read more
Spirituality for All Times: Readings from the Catholic Classics Spirituality for All Times is offered in the hope that it will inspire those who seek a deeper union with God. The authors have chosen to offer short selections to enable the reader to wade in...read more
The Jesus Code: In the Beginning was the Word by Roger Skrenes Jesus is the only person in the history of the world whose biography was known before he was born! He wanted everyone on earth to know of this miraculous Old Testament portrait of himself (Luke...read more
The Path of Spiritual Happiness by Dr. Heather M. Erb This book is a story of the unfolding triumph of Christian happiness as a philosophy of life. We begin with ancient Greek roots and principles provided us by Aristotle, ‘the master of those who know.’...read more
Mary, the Beloved by Keith Berube The Magisterium of the Catholic Church teaches that Mary, the Mother of God, is a grace-filled, flesh and blood woman, who unsurpassingly loves each of us by name. Mary, the Beloved, affirms that teaching, providing a...read more
Eyewitnesses: Biblical Foundations in Christian Spirituality – Ed. by Fr. John Horn, S.J. St. Paul prays with ardent desire that “the eyes of our understanding would be enlightened, that we might know what is the hope of the risen Jesus’ calling, and what...read more
The Way of Love: The Path of Inner Transformation by Dr. Ronda Chervin A reprint of Dr. Ronda's The Way of Love: The Battle for Inner Transformation, this new edition under a new subtitle puts back in front of the world the nature of human love alongside...read more
On the Third Part of the Secret of Fatima by Kevin J. Symonds For several decades, there has been much discussion on the famous third part of the secret of Fátima. Originally communicated to the three seers of Fátima in July, 1917, it was not written down...read more
The Moral Psychology of St. Thomas Aquinas: An Introduction to Ragamuffin Ethics by Dr. Peter Redpath Through a radical reinterpretation of classical philosophy as an organizational psychology, The Moral Psychology of St. Thomas: An Introduction to...read more
The Human Person: A Bioethical Word by Francis Etheredge Is bioethics a technical specialization or a profound expression of human being? Wonderfully answering this question, the book is beautifully enriched by eight Forewords. Beginning again and again,...read more
Faith and Reason: The Cradle of Truth by Dr. Gerard M. Verschuuren Of course, it’s a travesty, but a very widely held one. We all have heard how some people caricature religious believers. On weekdays, they are critical, want proofs, look for arguments,...read more