BRIDGEPORT—Beginning in January, 2021, college seminarians and pre-theologians of the Diocese of Bridgeport will undertake their formation and studies at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia.
Bishop Frank J. Caggiano announced the change in seminary formation on September 16, in a letter he sent to all priests of the diocese.
“Given that fostering vocations and supporting our seminarians is a unique obligation that I possess as bishop and a successor of the apostles, I have made this decision because I am convinced that it will be to the great benefit of our seminarians and their future priesthood.”
The bishop made the decision following an in-depth review and analysis by ad hoc committee of curial officials who examined the long term viability of Saint John Fisher House of Discernment. The Presbyteral Council and the College of Consultors were also involved in the process.
“In order to fulfill my ministerial responsibility to provide men aspiring to the priesthood the best opportunity to be formed in the mind and heart of Christ, a few months ago I authorized the analysis,” the bishop said.
“After further analysis, I recently received the final recommendation that our collegiate seminarians and pre-theologians would be best served by attending the formation programs offered by St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia.”
The bishop said the study team was given the charge to examine every collegiate formation program east of the Mississippi River, and to provide him with a detailed oral summary of the strengths and weaknesses of seven programs of formation.
St. Charles Borromeo seminary was chosen because of its strong academic and formation program which serves 65 seminarians from 14 U.S. dioceses and six religious congregations. Likewise, 78 percent of college seminarians and 61 percent of its pre-theologians go on to major seminary formation.
The bishop said the larger number of seminarians and the cultural and racial diversity of its population (35 percent of all seminarians) along with St. Charles’ strong emphasis upon human and spiritual formation (seeking to form “Men of Communion” with Christ and His Church) were all factors in his final decision. He also appreciated the possibility that a pre-theologian can earn a master’s in philosophical studies.
The seminary also has a self-contained faculty comprising of two full-time spiritual directors, a full-time psychologist and counselor and 16 full-time priests.
The bishop praised St. John Fisher House of Discernment, which has provided nearly two generations of priests. However, he said the program faced increasingly difficult obstacles to fulfill its formational object lives.
He said the diminished number of candidates residing in the house has made fostering basic human formation challenging, since peer interaction is essential to such formation.
“There are also increasing difficulties to maintain a philosophy faculty available to train our men in collaboration with Sacred Heart University. Finally, the escalating cost of training our men in our own collegiate formation program cannot be discounted in the current financially challenged situation that we face as a Church,” he said in his letter to priests.
The bishop offered his gratitude to all those who have supported St. John Fisher and diocesan seminarians, both past and current.
“I am especially appreciative of all the work that the rectors have provided the seminarians who were entrusted to their care and for all our faculty, board members and donors who have supported our men during their time at Fisher.”
In a letter to donors, the bishop thanked them for their generosity said that there is an ongoing need for prayers and financial support as the seminarians continue their formation and seek “to grow in virtue and deepen their discernment.”
Funds that have been donated and were raised at St. John Fisher events such as the Rector’s Dinner will continue to support diocesan seminarians.
The bishop told donors that the decision to move the seminarians to a larger seminary program meets “the conditions we must consider for the appropriate human, spiritual and pastoral formation of the men who will one day minister in the diocese. We must consider both their lies as they enter formation and the challenges of proclaiming the Gospel today.”
All current seminarians have been made aware of the decision and will soon travel to St. Charles Borromeo Seminary to meet their new formators and community. “Please pray for them as they prepare to make this important transition,” the bishop said.
Founded in 1989 by Most Rev. Edward M. Egan, the third Bishop of Bridgeport, the St. John Fisher House of discernment was created to provide young men with a place in which they could deepen their relationship with Christ Jesus while discerning a vocation. Since its inception, nearly 100 men have been ordained who spent some time at Fisher during their priestly formation. During its 31 year existence, St. John Fisher House has been located on Daniels Farm Road in Trumbull and its current location of 894 Newfield Avenue in Stamford.