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North American College


The North American College, located in Rome, Italy, began as a residence for seminarians training for the diocesan priesthood of the U.S. In time it developed three distinct divisions, each serving a different clientele: the seminary (admitting only individuals designated by their bishops), a residence for priests pursuing advanced studies, and an Institute for Continuing Theological Education.

Foundation and History. Promising seminarians for American dioceses had been sent to Rome by their bishops as early as 1790, but they had no separate seminary until the present institution was established by Pope Pius IX, Dec. 8, 1859, on the recommendation of Abp. Gaetano bedini. Bedini foresaw that such a seminary would not only strengthen the theological education of the American clergy but would also bind the Church in the U.S. more closely to the Holy See. The college was housed in a former Visitandine convent on Via dell'Umiltà, near the Fontana di Treve. The Holy See loaned the property to the American bishops until 1948 when Pope Pius XII, as an "act of deference" to the U.S. hierarchy, presented it to them outright. The seminarians attended classes at the Urban College of Propaganda Fide from 1859 to 1932, when the college became affiliated with the Gregorian University.

For a quarter century after its inauguration, the American College was financially insecure. Nevertheless it quickly became the American Catholic headquarters in Rome, and its rectors assumed a role of increasing influence as spokesmen for the American Church. During Vatican Council I (186970), 18 archbishops and bishops from the United Stated lived and held conferences in the college. On Sept. 20, 1870, papal Rome surrendered to the invading armies of the king of Italy. A few days before the final siege 13 students from the American College proffered their services to the papal army. Pius IX gratefully refused, reminding them that they were called to a nobler warfare.

Anticlerical policies of the Kingdom of Italy directly affected the North American College. In March 1884, the Italian government moved to confiscate the college buildings, still owned by the Congregation of Propaganda Fide. Informed of this threat, Cardinal John McCloskey of New York, immediately sought the aid of the U.S. government. President Chester A. Arthur, by his prompt personal intervention, averted the peril.

On Oct. 25, 1884, Pope Leo XIII, by the brief Ubi Primum, decreed the long-delayed canonical establishment of the American College, and bestowed on it "pontifical" status. Increased registration obliged the college superiors to add a new wing to the property in 1901. Two years before, the handsome Villa Santa Caterina at Castel Gandolfo had been purchased as a summer residence.

World War I vexed but did not impede the College. World War II forced it to close. In May 1940, when it became apparent that Italy would enter the struggle, the students were sent home to finish their studies. During much of the war the college proper and the Villa Santa Caterina harbored exiled children of Italian colonials.

When the college finally reopened on Sept. 4, 1948, the students commuted to classes from the Villa Santa Caterina pending the rehabilitation of the Umiltà property. Meanwhile work began on a new college near St. Peter's Basilica, in a section of the Janiculum Hill under the jurisdiction of Vatican City. Upon its completion Pius XII came in person to dedicate the new edifice on Oct. 14, 1953. The new structure, designed by Count Enrico Galeazzi, sometime governor of Vatican City, was built to house 300 occupants. Count Galeazzi is buried in the college crypt.

The Graduate Division. In 1931 with the Apostolic Constitution Deus Scientiarum Dominius Pope Pius XI laid the foundation for reform of programs leading to advanced degrees in ecclesiastical faculties. Two years later in 1933 the graduate division of the North American College was opened at the Casa San Giovanni on the Janiculum Hill for students already ordained. The title to this property, originally part of the 26-acre Villa Gabrielli owned by the province of Rome, had been acquired in 1924 jointly by Propaganda Fide and the U.S. hierarchy. When the seminarians moved to the new college in 1953, priests in various graduate programs occupied the old site, renamed Casa Santa Maria dell'Umiltà.

The American Bishops Office for U.S. visitors to the Vatican is also located at the Via dell'Umiltà address. It provides a service to American travelers seeking tickets for papal audiences and information about liturgical celebrations.

The Institute for Continuing Theological Education. The third division of the North American College began in 1970 as a response to the call of Vatican Council II for renewal and updating of pastoral ministers. Open to a limited number of priests each year, the institute invites lecturers and professors from the United States and the Roman theological faculties to offer classes. The institute began at Casa di Santa Maria dell'Umiltà, but was moved in 1984 to the college complex on Janiculum.

Administration. The American College is under the direction of both the Congregation for Catholic Education, representing the Holy See, and a episcopal Board of Governors, representing the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The pope appoints the rector from a list a list of three names proposed by the board. The following men have held this post: Bernard Smith, O.S.B. (185960), temporary; William George McCloskey (186068); Francis Silas Marean Chatard (186878); Louis Edward Hostlot, né Hasslocher (187884); Augustine Joseph Schulte (188485), temporary; Denis Joseph O'Connell (188595); William Henry O'Connell (18951901); Thomas Francis Kennedy (190117); Charles Aloysius O'Hern (191725); Eugene Francis Burke, Jr. (192535); Ralph Leo Hayes (193544); James Gerald Kealy (194546); Martin John O'Connor (194664); Francis F. Reh (196468); James A. Hickey (196974); Harold P. Darcy (197479); Charles M. Murphy (197984); Lawrence M. Purcell (198489); Edwin F. O'Brien (199094); Timothy M. Dolan (19942001); and Kevin C. McCoy (2001).

The first class in 1859 numbered 12 students from eight American dioceses. It included the grandson of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, and Michael A. Corrigan, the future archbishop of New York. From its opening to the year 2000, close to 5000 students enrolled in the seminary and graduate divisions. Twenty-two have been named cardinals.

Bibliography: m. v. doherty, House on Humility Street (New York 1942). r. f. mcnamara, American College in Rome, 18551955 (Rochester, N. Y. 1956).

[r. f. mcnamara/

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