19 July 2018 Statement by Diocese of Down and Connor on Closure of St Malachy’s Diocesan Seminary, Belfast

Statement by Diocese of Down and Connor on the Closure of St Malachy’s Diocesan Seminary

19 July 2018

Valuing the unique legacy and historic contribution of St Malachy’s Seminary since its foundation in 1833, the positive benefits of a locally tailored programme of formation to meet the needs of seminarians, along with the academic possibilities for seminarians to study a range of degree pathways within the prestigious Queen’s University of Belfast setting, the diocese has continued to staff and resource this local seminary over the past 185 years.

The closure of the Department of Scholastic Philosophy at Queen’s University and, more recently, the progressive discontinuation of modules in scholastic philosophy on offer within QUB have placed a great strain on the required philosophical training of clerical students in Belfast as a prerequisite for theological studies. Consequently, after a period of consultation and discernment, it has been decided that St Malachy’s Seminary will cease forming students for the priesthood. From September 2018, all remaining seminarians will be relocated to other seminaries to continue their priestly formation.

The closure of the diocesan seminary is a sad moment for all, not least for all those who have worked closely alongside the formation team and who have contributed immensely to the formation of the seminarians. However, in arriving at this difficult decision, the diocese and the seminary formation team have focused on what is in the best interests of the seminarians who are currently in formation.

The diocese of Down and Connor is deeply indebted to all those who have contributed to St Malachy’s Seminary over the years. In particular, it thanks the current formation team under the direction of Fr Michael Spence, the Rector of the Seminary. The diocese also recognises the huge contribution of diocesan priests and the Jesuit Community in Belfast who, over the years, have shared their insight, expertise and provided ongoing spiritual direction and assisted with human development programmes for the seminarians.

Finally, this decision has been taken with a certain sadness yet with trust in the providence of God, and with much satisfaction over what has been achieved through the diocesan seminary over the years. The diocese pays tribute to the many academic professors and tutors, catering and domestic staff within the seminary, ancillary staff, pastoral support personnel, priests and laity within parishes, and all those who have tirelessly offered and faithfully dedicated their time and expertise to the ongoing formation of priests for the diocese and the wider Church.

The seminary facilities, currently located on the Cliftonville Road, will continue to be used for various diocesan purposes and services.

Historical Notes:

  • From its beginnings in 1833, four years after Catholic Emancipation, St Malachy’s College was founded by Bishop William Crolly both to provide Catholic education for children in Belfast and to become the local seminary for the diocese of Down and Connor.
  • In those early days, pupils preparing for the priesthood left the college after the completion of their secondary education, but when Bishop Dorrian became Bishop of the diocese in 1866 and appointed Dr Richard Marner as the first President of St Malachy’s College, courses in logic, metaphysics and ethics were introduced and all seminarians remained in the College to pursue their philosophical studies.
  • When Queen’s University of Belfast (QUB) was founded in 1908 and the Department of Scholastic Philosophy was established the following year, Bishop Tohill arranged for the clerical students to enrol also as students of QUB and to take degrees programmes with the first clerical students obtaining BA degrees in 1910.
  • From this time, the tradition was established for students for the priesthood for the diocese of Down and Connor to reside within the diocesan seminary located at St Malachy’s College, Antrim Road, Belfast, but taking their chosen degrees and studying scholastic philosophy in QUB before proceeding on to theological studies elsewhere.
  • In 1973, Bishop William Philbin took the courageous decision to construct a purpose-built residence adjacent to St Malachy’s College for clerical students comprising of study bedrooms with refectory accommodation and recreational facilities. On June 26th 1978, Bishop Philbin blessed and opened this new ‘wing’ for the clerical students, inaugurating a new chapter in the history of the local diocesan seminary. Indeed, St Malachy’s Seminary remained at that location near to St Malachy’s College until its more recent move to the former site of the Poor Clare Convent on the Cliftonville Road, Belfast in February 2013.