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American College Louvain — Requiescat in Pace | davelovell.net
Nov 222010

The Amer­i­can bish­ops have announced that the Amer­i­can Col­lege in Lou­vain will close its doors this June end­ing 154 years of sem­i­nary for­ma­tion con­ducted in con­junc­tion with the Kalt­holeike Uni­ver­siteit de Lou­vain (est. 1425).

The news of this has hit me much harder than I thought it would. The new right wing of the church tossed me out years ago, and I thought I had made my peace with it all — pos­si­bly I had kept some dor­mant hope for the church based in part on the fact that the Amer­i­can Col­lege still existed. Oh well.

I first began my grad­u­ate stud­ies in Leu­ven (the flem­ish for Lou­vain) as a sem­i­nar­ian liv­ing at the Col­lege. I had wanted to go there due to some very influ­en­tial Prof’s I had stud­ied with at St. Ambrose when I was in under­grad sem­i­nary (btw — they closed that sem­i­nary too…). I remem­ber walk­ing the halls and notic­ing the Native Amer­i­can details carved into the stone cor­nices; I was told that when the col­lege first opened it was to train Euro­peans for mis­sion­ary work in North Amer­ica. It went full cir­cle in the mid 19th cen­tury when the US bish­ops pur­chased it as one of two national sem­i­nar­ies located in Europe.

The Uni­ver­sity is leg­endary; from Eras­mus to Ful­ton Sheen, and my first months were spent in hor­ror as my first set of oral exams approached. I sur­vived them, and began to feel a part of the place. There was a nat­ural rivalry with our peers in the other national sem­i­nary in Europe; the North Amer­i­can Col­lege in Rome. I spent my first Christ­mas in Europe there, with class­mates from Ambrose, and we talked about the dif­fer­ences in our expe­ri­ences. Leu­ven had a much higher course load and Rome had the pope… The say­ing was that the church sent you to Rome to make you a bishop, to Leu­ven to make you a theologian.

In those years, we didn’t really know bet­ter — it seemed to us that the church needed both. I think we were right, but events have made a liar of me.

I had heard over the years, that the Col­lege was hav­ing a hard time, that the num­bers were down — but I also learned that the sem­i­nary in Rome was full to overflowing…wth? About that time I had invited Ray Collins to town to speak at the parish and Vandy, he was then at CUA, but had been one of my NT prof’s at Leu­ven. I asked him about the low num­bers at Leu­ven… “It’s pretty sim­ple, they closed most of the “lib­eral” under­grad sem­i­nar­ies and now we aren’t pro­duc­ing any­one who can han­dle the work!”

Over the last 30 years the US bish­ops have sys­tem­at­i­cally closed the sem­i­nar­ies that were aca­d­e­m­i­cally rig­or­ous enough to pre­pare peo­ple for Leu­ven, and glo­ried in the cor­rect­ness of the ones that didn’t, thereby guar­an­tee­ing the end of The Amer­i­can College.

Some­how intel­li­gence, intel­lec­tu­al­ism, inquiry and loyal dis­sent have become sin. And the Amer­i­can church hier­ar­chy has sys­tem­at­i­cally worked to purge itself of this prob­lem. They have done such a great job that most of the tiny num­ber of recently ordained priests their sys­tem has got­ten through to ordi­na­tion are exactly what they wanted — intel­lec­tu­ally neutered and com­pletely clerical.

The church I loved said it wanted the best, the smartest, the thinkers — peo­ple smart enough to be as open-minded as Jesus. Now the church seems only to want those who will stay in line — the church has become IBM circa 1956.

The Amer­i­can Col­lege of Lou­vain gave the Amer­i­can church some of its great­est think­ing lead­ers and assured the church of a loyal voice of dis­sent when it’s cler­i­cal hubris started to show. The cra­dle of those voices will close this June — no one will notice, and that may be the worst part.

Tot Ziens Sedes Sapientiae

 Posted by at 4:40 pm  Tagged with:

  12 Responses to “American College Louvain — Requiescat in Pace”

  1. Dave,
    Yes more than sad and more than a shock at first but the social struc­ture of the church I believe like much of soci­ety is col­laps­ing under its own weight. At first I could not under­stand why say 10 or 20 of the “over­flow” from Rome couldn’t be sent up to be poor coun­try mice in leu­ven and get “per­haps” [that is a real flem­ish proffes­so­r­ial per­haps] not a bet­ter view and edu­ca­tion [ that would just be impos­si­ble in poor lou­vain] but maybe a more hum­ble formation.….i guess that was not very hum­ble of me. Then I began to think it would “per­haps” not be good to con­tinue to risk let­ting oth­ers move the Amer­i­can Col­lege back any more into a place it never was or would never belong in. I guess we just can’t float the big boat any­more at least not float it north of the Tiber. I believe of course the CHURCH can and will sur­vive with a few of those there fish­ing boats out­fit­ted with men and women who know they are sin­ners but find Christ’s call and mes­sage to those on the edge of and out­side the struc­ture so appeal­ing. Mark Leonard A.C. 1980 Maybe the col­lege can reopen some­day and send Bel­gian mis­sion­ar­ies to the states!!!

    • Thanks for the com­ment Mark, I do wish we could still allow all the boats to float, not to men­tion and incom­ing tide rais­ing them all… I will always be a lit­tle sad in Junes of the future; I always liked think­ing about the boys strug­gling through all those oral exams!

      Be well!

      • Well, well, well!!!! Oh for the days of Leuven…long days and short nights, books and beers and well, other stuff. We shall miss our Alma Mater, but bet­ter that she be closed than tar­nished, which is what was hap­pen­ing. The profs at the KU Leu­ven were shocked at the trans­for­ma­tions at the AC…they won­dered alound what was hap­pen­ing to the AC of old, hos­pitable, open and a part of the Leu­ven and KU Leu­ven community.

        Oh well, at least we shall survive.

  2. I love Leu­ven. I am an Amer­i­can lay stu­dent here study­ing the­ol­ogy. I will miss the Amer­i­can Col­lege of Lou­vain. This year has been amaz­ing. I have so many sem­i­nar­ian friends that I will miss. We made such a great com­mu­nity and I am proud to say that I sang in the choir for the very last Mass at the Amer­i­can Col­lege. We were a com­mu­nity of lib­eral and con­ser­v­a­tive, rich and poor, all dif­fer­ent ages and cul­tures. We were proud to call this sem­i­nary our parish. It is the great­est crime of the USCCB in the 21st cen­tury to close this sem­i­nary. Shame. But yes, it will con­tinue in spirit and one day I believe it will again be resurrected.

  3. I am a priest of a dio­cese that was instru­men­tal in re-opening the AC after World War II. I agree with every­thing expressed in this arti­cle. Leu­ven was my spir­i­tual and intel­lec­tual home while I bat­tled it out at that polit­i­cal sem­i­nary south of the Alps. How sad it is that a uni­ver­sity like KU Leu­ven is being denied of future gen­er­a­tions of priests. I was very blessed to have a rig­or­ous under­grad­u­ate pro­gram at a col­lege which was for­merly a feeder for Leu­ven. And now the bish­ops are shed­ding croc­o­dile tears as they close up 100 Naam­ses­traat, whin­ing that there aren’t enough sem­i­nar­i­ans there, when it’s up to them to send men there! In want­ing only “cor­po­rate men” who par­rot a party line and whose con­cerns mainly involve buy­ing costly “Bor­romean” cha­sub­les and spout­ing for­ma­tion clichés, the bish­ops are only deny­ing the Church a future Aquinas or Eras­mus or Roger Bacon — some­one who truly can intel­lec­tu­ally sound the depths of the Catholic mys­tery and con­tribute to the culture.

  4. AC’74 I have been in Leu­ven more than 25 times over the last almost 4 decades, The AC changed enourmously–very cler­i­cal– as did the fac­ulty in the­ol­ogy. Per­haps the world has moved faster than Leu­ven. Look to the south–Africa, Asian, Latin America.

  5. Thanks Dave. A very sad story.…and there are no good rea­sons for the clos­ing. FYI I have just been elected pres­i­dent of the alumni orga­ni­za­tion. I will be orga­niz­ing a reunion in Leu­ven in the spring of 2012. I hope you can come!

  6. I’m very dis­ap­pointed to learn of the clos­ing of the Amer­i­can Col­lege in Leu­ven and read with con­sid­er­able inter­est the com­ments posted here con­cern­ing this devel­op­ment. Though I did not study at the AC, in the course of my years at the KUL (as stu­dent and later as researcher), I knew a num­ber of peope who did and recall how much their expe­ri­ence at the AC meant to them…

  7. I am sad­dened to hear of the clos­ing of the Amer­i­can Col­lege in Leu­ven. I had the oppor­tu­nity to visit there in late Decem­ber 1992, right after my dia­conal ordi­na­tion in Rome. I imme­di­ately fell in love with the place. The hos­pi­tal­ity was great (North Amer­i­can Col­lege sem­i­nar­i­ans could stay there for free and it was rec­i­p­ro­cal for AC stu­dents vis­it­ing Rome). It was obvi­ous that AC stu­dents were more pro­gres­sive the­o­log­i­cally, but we had great dia­logue over Bel­gian beer and choco­lates. The con­ver­sa­tions were always fun and cor­dial. It really will be a tragic loss, and I say this as an alum­nus of the AC’s younger sis­ter (the NAC in Rome). Per­haps this will only be tem­po­rary. Cer­tainly there are enough Leu­ven alumni to get a con­certed effort to get some stu­dents sent there, no?
    The AC taught me a lot. It will be missed.

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