St John's Seminary at Wonersh is to close next year, with existing seminarians to continue their formation at Allen Hall, Chelsea.
In a statement on the seminary website, Archbishop of Southwark John Wilson, chair of trustees and Bishop of Arundel and Brighton Richard Moth, vice-chair of trustees, say: “Following extensive consideration and discernment, especially over the past year, including communication with the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome, the trustees have regretfully come to the decision that St John’s Seminary cannot continue in its present form.
“The current and projected number of seminarians is too small to sustain a healthy formation community, and the building and staffing costs have simply become prohibitive.”
The seminary, whose motto is Spes messis in semine – the hope of the harvest is in the seed – currently has 17 students, from the Dioceses of Southwark, Arundel and Brighton, Clifton and Portsmouth. Of these, six are due to complete their formation next summer. There were no new admissions this year. Of the 11 remaining, five will be deacons in their final year.
A number of the Wonersh seminarians are already attending weekly lectures at the Pontifical Mater Ecclesiae College at St Mary’s University, Twickenham.
“The re-location of Wonersh seminarians to Allen Hall means that their formation will be uninterrupted while the Trustees continue to explore formation for the priesthood in a wider context in England and Wales,” the bishops said. “While it is proposed to consider all options for the future use of the St John’s Seminary buildings, St John’s Seminary will remain a legal entity so that consideration can be given to the ways in which the tradition of priestly formation established at Wonersh in 1891 will continue into the future.
“St John’s Seminary has a proud tradition of serving the Church for 130 years. There is great sadness that formation must now cease on this site.”
The seminary was actually founded in 1889 but was at Henfield in Sussex for two years.
Rector Mgr Gerald Ewing said: “Priestly formation will cease at Wonersh at the end of the academic year 20/21 – but until then, it is business as usual.”