The President of Ireland’s national seminary has warned that it will have to change if it is to survive, adding that he is working with the seminary’s trustees to introduce a number of far-reaching changes to its model of formation and structures.
Reverend Professor Michael Mullaney - who took up his post St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, in September – told The Tablet that he is working with the trustees, who include the four archbishops and up to 13 diocesan bishops, on developing a new model of training for seminarians.
“Maynooth has to change – the seminary has to change. You have to be flexible, otherwise we are going to sink,” Fr Mullaney stressed. “Maynooth cannot just be self-preserving…We can’t be fixed in what was or what worked before – that is not the way forward.”
In August 2016, Maynooth was engulfed by a scandal involving seminarians and the gay dating app Grindr. The story came to light when Archbishop Diarmuid Martin admitted he had removed Dublin’s seminarians from Maynooth and sent them to study at the Irish College in Rome. He expressed concerns over “strange goings-on” and a “poisonous” atmosphere at the Co Kildare college.
Professor Mullany is considering a plan which would see future trainee priests spend a large part of each of their six years of training based in parishes away from the college with a more community-based input from “a good pastor/parish priest formator and with a team of lay people around him” so that seminarians are formed both in the parish and in the seminary and “the two are in very close contact”.
Other changes in the pipeline could see a bespoke formation house built on campus to cater for a smaller numbers of trainee priests.
“In the future, the seminary will be more autonomous as a house of formation based in Maynooth with its own rector and seminary staff and students, whether that is five, ten or fifteen.”
Following an international conference on priestly formation in Maynooth last November, the Irish Church, in line with the Vatican, is now emphasising quality not quantity in its candidates for the priesthood.
“It is not the numbers we should be concerned about, it is getting the admissions process right and admitting the best,” the President of Maynooth stressed.
Already some changes are in train with the introduction of a pre-seminary propaedeutic year which Fr Mullaney said “will help candidates discern if priesthood is the right thing for them.”
Nine of those who began their studies for the priesthood in the autumn are currently undertaking this year at locations in Ireland and Spain.
Asked about the future of Maynooth in light of the smaller seminary numbers, Professor Mullaney said: “The simple answer is we are managing a transition in the seminary because we don’t know where the landing point with numbers is going to be.”
At the moment, there are 36 resident seminarians in Maynooth and 25 non-resident seminarians, this latter cohort is another new facet of the changing structures at Maynooth because in the past all seminarians were fully resident.
PICTURE: St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, a seminary near Dublin, is pictured in this undated photo ©CNS