The national seminary at Maynooth is to clearly separate the seminary environment from the wider university community The Irish Catholic understands.
In a move that will be seen in some quarters as a nod to the past when seminary life was completely separated from the outside world, it is believed that the changes are part of the Apostolic Visitation’s attempt to ‘reform’ training structures for priests in Ireland.
Separation doors have already been installed on the main cloister to partition the seminarians’ living quarters from the rest of the campus to which only members of the seminary community now have keys.
A new distinctive entrance to the seminary has also been constructed at the back of the building.
It is understood that the changes were endorsed by the members of the Apostolic Visitation — led by Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan of New York — who expressed a wish that a distinctive community could be created in which the seminarians could be differentiated from other students on campus.
Msgr Hugh Connolly, president of St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, insisted that he could not speak about the Apostolic Visitation due to confidentiality.
However, he told The Irish Catholic that he is ”trying to get the balance right between the need for the seminary to be a distinctive, prayerful community and ensure that the seminarians have all the benefits that the Maynooth campus has to offer”.
Currently, the seminary shares a sprawling campus with the Pontifical University, the National University of Ireland Maynooth (NUIM) and dozens of administrative offices, including the headquarters of the Irish bishops’ conference.
Msgr Connolly insisted ”it is all about striking that balance. Seminarians are training to be diocesan priests living in the world, not members of a monastic community”.
He also confirmed that he is bringing forward proposals to the trustees of the college to create a separate dining room for the seminary community.
Currently the historic Pugin Hall — where the seminarians eat meals — is used by lay students and other visitors to the college and conferences on a daily basis. Msgr Connolly said that funding such a new dining room would be a challenge.
One seminarian who spoke to The Irish Catholic said the changes ”were very welcome” from the point of view of the students.
”There are obvious benefits to living on such a large campus with all the facilities and opportunities for recreation and involvement with clubs and societies,” he said.
However, ”seminarians are discerning their vocation and it is important that this can be done in a prayerful, reflective environment”.