Numbers of Catholic Priests are declining. Is it time to re-introduce the Junior Seminaries?

Over recent years there has been a dramatic reduction in the numbers of catholic priests in Britain. The situation has reached crisis point, with many local parishes here in Liverpool closing due to the lack of priests. Given that the official position of the church is that priests must be celibate, and that female clergy are not allowed, it is hard to see the way forward. I would seem logical that the search for new vocations should be directed to the catholic youth. However, fewer teenage boys today have the same enthusiasm as previous generations did for investigating the possibility of becoming a priest. In this article I am going to look into the idea of increasing vocations by bringing back junior seminaries.

First of all, what is a seminary? A seminary is a place where men are trained to become priests over a number of years. At the moment, seminaries exist only for men, not for boys, but in the past it was very different. Until the mid 20th century, junior seminaries were an important way in which the Catholic Church ensured they produced enough priests.

I gathered research from my grandfather, who attended a junior seminary from the age of eleven. There were many junior seminaries dotted around the country, such as the Monfort Fathers’ seminary in Romsey just above Southampton. This particular seminary (attended by my grandfather) was founded by St Louis-Marie de Grignon de Monfort, a French missionary and priest.

My grandfather was enticed into going to the junior seminary in Romsey because a missionary came to his school to give a talk about life as a priest. He was drawn in by the idea of going to Africa and his familywas proud to have a son training to become a priest. But when he got there, he was very homesick; life in the seminary seemed very institutionalised and formal to the children, and they were given little freedom. Boys there learned about their faith and spent a lot of time praying, but that’s not to say they didn’t get a proper education. The children also learnt about normal school subjects, and had to do the same exams as everybody else.

Not all the boys who attended the junior seminaries went on to the senior seminaries, but it was a very effective method of ensuring a steady supply of priests.

My grandfather personally thinks that junior seminaries shouldn’t be brought back, because although they may raise priest numbers, and although he enjoyed it eventually, 11 years old is no age to be making a life-changing decision; people should make their choices about becoming a priest when they are older and have seen more of the world, he believes. In any case, young people have so many life choices available to them, that reintroducing seminaries wouldn’t have such a profound effect as in the past.

Reporter: Hugh from Year 9