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