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Louvain | 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

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