Seminaries have been part and parcel of the life of the Catholic Church only since the 16th Century.
I say ‘only’ because this means that for the first 15 centuries of the Church’s existence, there were no seminaries. Priests did not train in seminaries. For the most part they learned by what was, in effect, an apprenticeship system – that is, they learned by working alongside an experienced priest. A tiny minority attended universities.
What does this mean? It means that the Catholic Church did without seminaries for the great part of its history and it can do without them again. It means that the Church in Ireland can do without St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, if needs be.
The key thing is that candidates for the priesthood are well trained. That means they are well trained intellectually, and also that they receive good moral and spiritual formation.
It’s probably useful enough for the purposes of this exercise to think about a seminary in the same way we think about a school. Obviously, the students in a seminary will be older than the students in a school, but schools, like seminaries, want to educate their students well, they want to help form their moral characters, and in the case of faith schools, provide them with some sort of spiritual formation also.
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