In a brief letter to priests of the San Jose diocese dated Feb. 10, Bishop Patrick McGrath announced that he had “decided to transfer current seminarians and send our future seminarians to the University of Saint Mary of the Lake Mundelein Seminary of the Archdiocese of Chicago.”
The letter does not mention St. Patrick’s Seminary and University in Menlo Park, about a half-hour drive from San Jose, but it describes where the 11 San Jose seminarians currently enrolled there — and future ones — will study after the end of the current academic year, marked by graduation May 17.
The San Jose diocese’s exit from St. Patrick’s comes less than four months after the Society of the Priests of St. Sulpice’s surprise announcement that it would be severing its 118-year relationship with the seminary, effective June 30.
Known as Sulpicians, the international community of diocesan priests had co-founded the seminary with the San Francisco archdiocese in 1898 and administered and helped staff it since then. The San Francisco archdiocese owns the facility and its expansive grounds.
The letter’s timing left a weekend between the announcement and the Feb. 13 annual campus gathering of bishops and vocations directors from dioceses which place students at St. Patrick’s.
Asked if McGrath and San Jose vocations director Fr. Joseph Kim would be attending the Feb. 13 meeting, a diocesan spokesman said, “They always do.” He said the timing was “just coincidental.”
“The departure of the Sulpicians was one of the factors that the commission considered in making its recommendation to the bishop,” he said, but noted, “The report is a confidential document.” The San Jose move “should not be seen as a reflection upon the quality of seminary leadership or administration,” he added.
According to St. Patrick’s website, eight California dioceses plus the San Francisco archdiocese sponsor students at St. Patrick’s, as do the dioceses of Honolulu and Reno.
Only the San Francisco archdiocese has as many students at St. Patrick’s as San Jose.
Leadership after the Sulpicians
In the Oct. 21 notice that the Sulpicians would be leaving St. Patrick’s, Kemper said the society had “recently been informed that we are no longer invited to provide Sulpician administrative leadership to St. Patrick’s. As a consequence, we will not be able to serve the seminary according to the Sulpician tradition.”
Tension between the Sulpicians and the archdiocese over St. Patrick’s administration is not new. In September 2013, Cordileone, then-San Jose Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Daly and then-archdiocesan vicar for administration Fr. James Tarantino met with then-President-Rector Sulpician Fr. James McKearney, leaving McKearney no option but to resign, according to McKearney at the time.
McKearney’s termination caught many off guard. Neither the U.S. Sulpician provincialate nor the St. Patrick’s board of trustees had been consulted.
Daly was named interim president-rector. Five months later, Stevens assumed the position. Daly was appointed bishop of the Spokane, Wash., diocese in March 2015.
Daly now heads a search committee to find a new leader for St. Patrick’s. A St. Patrick’s graduate and trustee, Daly was director of vocations for the San Francisco archdiocese from 2002 to 2011.
“The search for rector is ongoing, and several additional new candidates have recently been added,” Brown said in the email. “We anticipate the position being filled within a month or two.”
As for faculty positions to be vacated by the six Sulpicians currently serving at St. Patrick’s, Brown said, “The Sulpician faculty leaving this summer created three full-time positions available and these positions have all now been filled. An additional two full-time teaching faculty will likely be hired.”
The Sulpicians’ announced departure generated deep concern and conversation in Bay Area Catholic circles. More than 2,000 priests and some 40 bishops were educated by the Society at St. Patrick’ s and its related college seminary, St. Joseph’s, which is now closed.
“They made the decision,” Daly told Catholic San Francisco, the archdiocesan newspaper, at the time of the announced Sulpician complete exit. “There was no discussion with the board of trustees. They had made up their mind” the day before a scheduled trustee meeting and had voted to withdraw. “So there was no collaboration in the decision.”
The Sulpicians’ decision, Daly reportedly said, came as the seminary board of trustees was seeking to negotiate a change in the governance structure to a more “collaborative” model similar to Assumption Seminary in the San Antonio archdiocese where Sulpicians contribute staff.
“There are misconceptions about the program at St Patrick’s Seminary,” Daly told Catholic San Francisco. “Some see it as too conservative. The seminary is a solid program of priestly formation.”
One St. Patrick alumnus, now the pastor of Danville’s St. Isidore Parish in the Oakland diocese, shared his appreciation for the Sulpicians in the Oct. 30, 2016, parish bulletin, praising them for providing “us a vision of Church which was wide and inclusive, not narrow and blinkered.”
In the bulletin message, Fr. Gerard Moran also charged that “the Sulpicians have been on a collision course with Archbishop Cordileone since his appointment to San Francisco.”
Moran criticized what he called Cordileone’s “obsessive compulsive micromanagement” and appealed to previous San Francisco archbishops to “use their influence in Rome to see the Sulpician decision is not irrevocable.”
[Editor’s note: the above article is from the National Catholic Reporter. The publication was firmly condemned under the strictest terms by its local ordinary, Bishop Charles Helmsing, in 1968. In 2013, Bishop Robert Finn stated that the National Catholic Reporter “has taken an editorial stance that puts the publication at odds with the Church,” and asked the publication to remove the word “Catholic” from its name.]