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: $24.99 | Kindle: $9.99

REVIEWS

George Mangiaracina, Catholic Books Review, February 28, 2020 [see the review]

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]


 

TESTIMONIALS

“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, NY


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, IA


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, AK


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. — Most Reverend David L. Toups, S.T.D., Bishop of Beaumont, TX


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, Fr. 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. — Very Rev. Peter Samuel Kucer, MSA, President-Rector 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.

 

 

The “Hand of God” at Work in Adult Catholic Priestly Formation: Holy Apostles College & Seminary, 1956-1995

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):

Read Online for free via Google Books .
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

Everywhen

Everywhen

Everywhen: God, Symmetry, and Time by Dr. Thomas P. Sheahen Have you been told that science and religion are incompatible? Do you think you have to give one up to be consistent? You don't. In this book, MIT-trained physicist Thomas Sheahen explains how you can: trust...

read more
Eugenio Zolli: Prophet for a New World

Eugenio Zolli: Prophet for a New World

Eugenio Zolli: Prophet for a New World by Judith Cabaud Eugenio Zolli, Chief Rabbi of Trieste, then of Rome, during the Second World War, exegete and professor at the University of Padua, is a prophet for our time, charged with asking a single question: Why? This...

read more
The Biblical Qur’an: A Christian Investigation

The Biblical Qur’an: A Christian Investigation

The Biblical Qur'an: A Christian Investigation by Michael Healy Can Christians interpret the Qur’an Christocentricly, as we have always done with the Old Testament? How would such a reading of the Qur’an modify our understanding of Christian and Muslim history? Can it...

read more
Philosophy begins in Wonder

Philosophy begins in Wonder

Philosophy Begins in Wonder by Stephen D. Schwarz with Kiki Latimer This book is the compilation of over fifty years of teaching Ethics, Metaphysics, Epistemology, Philosophy of the Person, and Virtue Ethics in the classroom setting. Philosophy Begins in Wonder offers...

read more
The Gender Link to the Human Soul by Kimberly Bruce

The Gender Link to the Human Soul by Kimberly Bruce

The Gender Link to the Human Soul by Kimberly Bruce The Gender Link to the Human Soul establishes gender as an element of the soul retained in this life and for all eternity. This is demonstrated in the brilliant philosophical insights of Thomas Aquinas and John Paul...

read more
The ABCQ of Conception

The ABCQ of Conception

The ABCQ of Conceiving Conception by Francis Etheredge This catechesis on conception by Francis Etheredge explains what is probably one of the greatest transformations in the whole of nature: the changing outward expression of human development that shows the presence...

read more
History of Peter

History of Peter

History of Peter by Roger Skrenes Peter is spoken of 195 times in the New Testament, twice as many times as all the other Apostles combined. Today when Peter is discussed, however, what is most often emphasized is the erratic or sinful side of his personality. Jesus...

read more
Peter and Wendy

Peter and Wendy

Peter and Wendy: Growing Up in Neverland by Dennis Billy, C.Ss.R. This book looks at J. M. Barrie's classic children's story Peter Pan to see what it can tell us about ourselves and our situation today. It discovers in this classic fairy-tale about the boy from...

read more
Weeds Among Wheat

Weeds Among Wheat

Weeds Among Wheat: L'Arche and the Tainted Legacy of Jean Vanier by Dennis Billy, C.Ss.R. This book is about baking the bread of Christian community from the grains of our broken humanity. It is primarily concerned with distinguishing L'Arche's authentic spirituality...

read more
The Fallen Angel Model: Deeper into the Mysteries

The Fallen Angel Model: Deeper into the Mysteries

Presenting The Fallen Angel Model at the Robson Ranch LibraryThe Fallen Angel Model: Deeper into the Mysteries by Joe P. Provenzano, Ron D. Morgan, and Dan R. Provenzano Modern science tells us that our “physical” universe began in a highly ordered, but unstable,...

read more
Discovering the Fullness of Reality by Dr. David J. Keys

Discovering the Fullness of Reality by Dr. David J. Keys

Discovering the Fullness of Reality: How Partial Truths Obscure the Union of Faith and Science by Dr. David J. Keys “Is there a transcendent element to Human Life?” In pursuit of an answer, Keys presents to the reader both things of the world which exist, affirming...

read more
How to Listen & How to Speak by Dr. Peter Redpath

How to Listen & How to Speak by Dr. Peter Redpath

How to Listen & How to Speak: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants to Renew Commonsense and Uncommonsense Wisdom in the Contemporary World by Dr. Peter Redpath Mortimer Adler stood on the metaphysical and moral teachings of Aristotle and Saint Thomas Aquinas to...

read more
21 Centuries of Church History in 21 Pages by Albert Domm

21 Centuries of Church History in 21 Pages by Albert Domm

21 Centuries of Church History in 21 Pages by Albert Domm Focused on our Catholic faith, Albert Domm's 21 Centuries of Church History in 21 Pages engages the Catholic reader in a concise but rich history of our Church one full century at a time. A narrative flow, this...

read more
Words, Concepts, Reality: Aristotelian Logic for Teenagers

Words, Concepts, Reality: Aristotelian Logic for Teenagers

Words, Concepts, Reality: Aristotelian Logic for Teenagers By Thaddeus Kozinski, Ph.D. When we hear the word logic, we tend to think of arguments, premises and conclusions, claims and evidence for claims. But this is only half of it. Arguments are made of words, and...

read more
Teaching and Learning in the Age of COVID19

Teaching and Learning in the Age of COVID19

Teaching and Learning in the Age of COVID19: Faith-Based -- Online and Emergency Remote Ed. by Sebastian Mahfood, OP, Ph.D.,  Timothy Westbrook, Ph.D., and Victoria Dunnam, Ph.D. with a Foreword by Dr. Mary E. Lowe Over the past two decades, a generation of...

read more
Romans by Paul, authored by Richard L. Akins

Romans by Paul, authored by Richard L. Akins

Special congratulations to Rick for his being awarded third place in the 2020 Catholic Book Awards contest for best Catholic novel for Rebirth of Nicodemus.Romans by Paul: The Apostle's Defense of Catholic Doctrine by Richard L. Akins We are often challenged in our...

read more
Teaching Research Processes by William Badke

Teaching Research Processes by William Badke

Customers who buy Teaching Research Processes also bought Research Strategies. Get your copy today!Teaching Research Processes: The Faculty Role in the Development of Skilled Student Researchers, 2nd Edition by William Badke Today’s students struggle with the research...

read more
Soulful Organizational Leadership by Arthur William McVey

Soulful Organizational Leadership by Arthur William McVey

Soulful Organizational Leadership by Arthur William McVey In the "Postmodern" organizational era, the concept of soul, spirituality, rationality, telos, virtue, happiness, and meaning is becoming increasingly a mainstream component in scientific psychology. This...

read more
Wisdom Literature

Wisdom Literature

Wisdom Literature by Fr. Peter Samuel Kucer, MSA The seven books of wisdom include Job, the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Wisdom, and Sirach, all of which teach one thing in a universal and essentially poetic manner: wisdom. Wisdom is  a practical...

read more
Pentateuch by Very Rev. Peter Samuel Kucer, MSA

Pentateuch by Very Rev. Peter Samuel Kucer, MSA

Pentateuch: A Spiritual Interpretation by Fr. Peter Samuel Kucer, MSA This book gives a special emphasis to a spiritual interpretation of the Pentateuch in a manner that springs forth from and is based on the literal interpretation, in particular the actual words used...

read more
The Historical Books by Very Rev. Peter Samuel Kucer, MSA

The Historical Books by Very Rev. Peter Samuel Kucer, MSA

Historical Books by Fr. Peter Samuel Kucer, MSA This book introduces the historical books of the Old Testament as a way by which all, especially those aspiring to the priesthood, can become familiar with the Old Testament and the various spiritual ways, grounded in...

read more
Prophetic Literature by Very Rev. Peter Samuel Kucer, MSA

Prophetic Literature by Very Rev. Peter Samuel Kucer, MSA

Prophetic Literature by Fr. Peter Samuel Kucer, MSA This book engages the canonical prophetic literature of the Old Testament, demonstrating how it points to Christ and is fulfilled in Christ. Like Wisdom Literature, prophetic literature teaches perennial moral truths...

read more
Recent Catholic Philosophy: The Twentieth Century

Recent Catholic Philosophy: The Twentieth Century

Recent Catholic Philosophy: The Twentieth Century by Alan Vincelette This presentation of Catholic philosophy in the twentieth-century reveals a remarkable diversity of views. Dr. Vincelette presents this diversity in an expository manner without applying the kind of...

read more
Help Dante Help Italy

Help Dante Help Italy

Help Dante Help Italy A new translation by Daniel Fitzpatrick accompanied by the new sculptures of Timothy Schmalz Donate today!Canto 100 Revealed!The Inferno is now available in Paperback and Kindle! Click a link below to order your copy today! And, as you're...

read more
Mary and Bioethics: An Exploration

Mary and Bioethics: An Exploration

Mary and Bioethics: An Exploration by Francis Etheredge Whether it is the problem of pain, the messiness of our relationships or the confusion circulating about human identity, it is possible to think that we do not have anything to learn from the Virgin Mary, spouse...

read more
New Paths to God and the Soul by Roger Skrenes

New Paths to God and the Soul by Roger Skrenes

New Paths to God and the Soul by Roger Skrenes Much of what we receive through media of social communications does not concern itself with either God or the soul. So it is up to each of us to make ourselves aware of the pathways to God and the evidence for...

read more
A Study of the New Testament by Rev. John Paul Heil, S.S.D.

A Study of the New Testament by Rev. John Paul Heil, S.S.D.

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 Meaning of the Eucharist by Fr. Dennis Billy, C.Ss.R.

The Meaning of the Eucharist by Fr. Dennis Billy, C.Ss.R.

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 Eucharist and whose efforts came to...

read more
The Thomist Tradition: Avoiding Scylla and Charybdis

The Thomist Tradition: Avoiding Scylla and Charybdis

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 to a variety of...

read more
Eastern Civilization from a Catholic Viewpoint

Eastern Civilization from a Catholic Viewpoint

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, the reader is introduced to the various...

read more
East and South East Asian History

East and South East Asian History

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) and countries that make up South East...

read more
The Eclipse of God: Is Religion on the Way Out?

The Eclipse of God: Is Religion on the Way Out?

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 Godforsaken...

read more
Contemporary Sacred Art: Conversations on Art & Faith

Contemporary Sacred Art: Conversations on Art & Faith

COMING SOON! Contemporary Sacred Art: Conversations on Art & Faith by Dr. Michela Beatrice 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