Seminarians have been evacuated from the Royal English College of St Alban in the Spanish city of Valladolid for the first time since World War II because of the coronavirus, and are returning to their home parishes in England, Wales, Ireland and Norway.
Spain’s oldest English institution trains men during their “propaedeutic” or foundation year. There were 11 men in formation when the decision to evacuate because of the coronavirus was taken.
The rector, Canon Paul Farrer, and vice-rector Fr Damian Cassidy O.Carm, have stayed behind at the 16th-century college and will continue to teach the men over the internet.
“The government started shutting all Spain’s schools and universities just before the full lockdown and we decided we wanted to get the men home before they closed the borders,” Canon Farrer said.
“We gathered them together and said, ‘Although this isn’t what any of us expected, the situations you’re returning to are now going to become part of your formation. This is what we’re being asked to live through. Keep your studies up online, but we expect you to do what you can in your local church as well.’
He said the men were being encouraged to help support their home parishes by ministering to people through social media and the telephone.
“All of the traditional ways seminarians work in parishes are out of the window so they’re having to find new ways to embrace the fullness of what ministry is. Not just providing services to which people may or may not come, but being genuinely missionary disciples,” he added.
Canon Farrer and Fr Cassidy, who held an Easter Sunday service in their enclosed gardens in the hopes that neighbours in nearby flats could join in from their balconies, said they had stayed behind to support their local community.
“We guessed we were going to be stuck on one side or the other of restrictions and decided to stay here because we didn’t know if the building might be needed for people who were ill or homeless,” Canon Farrer said.