The Society of the Priests of St. Sulpice was founded at Paris in 1642 by Father Jean Jacques olier, in response to the seminary legislation of the Council of trent. It is an association of diocesan priests, released by their bishops to the society primarily to "devote themselves to the discernment of vocations [and] to the initial and ongoing formation of priests." Although the basic principles governing the society were formulated by Olier, it was his successor, Alexandre Ragois de Bretonvilliers, who drafted the original constitutions that received ecclesiastical approval on Aug. 3, 1664. With later additions and revisions, the constitutions were approved temporarily by the Holy See in 1921; Pius XI approved them definitively on July 8, 1931. The Second Vatican Council occasioned another major reexamination of the Sulpician charism and approach to priestly formation in the light of the council documents and contemporary needs. This found expression in a major revision of the Sulpician Constitutions, published in 1982.
Early Growth. Determined to establish a seminary according to the mind of Trent, Olier and two (later three) companion priests took possession of a small house in the village of Vaugirard, a suburb of Paris, on Dec. 29, 1641. Within months the experiment had attracted favorable attention and by March 1642 seminarians were in residence; priests and students shared a common schedule of work, study, and prayer. Circumstances soon dictated the removal of the Vaugirard community to Paris. On Aug. 11, 1642, Olier became pastor of the parish of St. Sulpice in Faubourg St. Germain; four days later the entire community, 12 seminarians and 4 priests, joined him there (hence the name Priests of St. Sulpice). The seminarians, besides their normal duties, participated in all the activities of the parish; the more advanced students followed the theological courses at the Sorbonne.
As the number of students increased, two new buildings were added to the rectory, which had served as the original seminary. Olier gave special attention to candidates who expressed a desire to remain with him in seminary work. They made up the inner core of the seminary and were the nucleus of the Society of St. Sulpice. By a decree in November 1645, the society was granted official state recognition and accorded all the privileges enjoyed
by other religious societies within the realm. In 1652 Olier relinquished his pastoral office to devote the remainder of his life to the seminary. During these years he assigned priests of his community to four other seminaries: Nantes (1649), Viviers (1650), Le Puy (1652), and Clermont (1653). Olier died on April 2, 1657, at Issy, outside Paris, where later the Paris seminary was transferred, and where candidates for the society spent a year of novitiate before their formal acceptance into the society.
After Olier's death, both gallicanism and jansen ism disturbed seminary life, but the record of the society was remarkably preserved from blemish through the history of these troubled issues. The French Revolution broke over the society with the same destructive force it exerted on other religious societies. During this critical period the society was governed by Father Jacques André Émery, perhaps the greatest of Olier's successors, and the "restorer of the Society of St. Sulpice." Seminaries were closed; members of the society were scattered; and persecution was visited on those who remained. Not one of them took the oath to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, and 18 members died for the faith.
19th and 20th Centuries. During the 19th century, the society recovered from the reverses suffered during the Revolution, and continued to grow in both membership and number of seminaries, which totaled 26 in 1900. The 20th century began with the most insidious assault yet launched against the freedom of the Church in France. For the society, this came to a climax in 1904 with a circular written by the anticlerical minister J. L. Combes, declaring that Sulpicians were unfit to teach in seminaries. Despite oppression, the society continued its work quietly, and sometimes secretly, wherever possible. In the revival of religion following World War I, the society regained all that had been lost. By 1963 there were 330 Sulpician priests and 36 houses of clerical training in France. In addition, the French Sulpicians maintained a seminary in Hue, Vietnam, and two seminaries in Africa, one in Koumi, Upper Volta, and the other in Ouida, Dahomey.
Canadian Foundations. Olier had had a vital interest in the missionary efforts of the Church and had sent four of his disciples to Montreal in 1647. Somewhat later the Sulpicians undertook the administration of schools and seminaries, including the College de Montreal (1767), the Grand Seminaire de Montreal (1840), and the House of Philosophy in Montreal (1894). From the beginning, the work of the Canadian Sulpicians was characterized by diversity; it expanded to include parochial work, college teaching, and the administration of seminaries. In 1963 the Canadian province included more than 163 Sulpician priests and was responsible for three seminaries outside Canada: one in Fukuoka, Japan (1933), one in Manizales, Colombia (1950) and one in Bogota, Colombia (1961). In 1990 the Canadian province assumed responsibility for St. Joseph Seminary in Edmonton, Alberta, in collaboration with Newman Theological College.
U.S. Foundations. In 1790 Bishop John Carroll of Baltimore, Maryland, while in England for his consecration, negotiated with Father Émery for the opening of a seminary in his see city. Four Sulpicians led by Francis Charles nagot arrived in Baltimore on July 10, 1791. A house was purchased on what became 600 North Paca Street, classes were begun in October with students who had accompanied the priests from France. It was the beginning of St. Mary's Seminary, which despite early difficulties due to the scarcity of seminarians, saw 30 of its graduates ordained priests by Bishop Carroll by 1815. Because of the small number of students in the early years, many of the Sulpicians at that time were diverted from seminary work to parochial and missionary ministry in the United States. Gradually, however, the seminary prospered. In 1822 the Holy See empowered St. Mary's to grant pontifical degrees. The theology division was relocated to Roland Park in Baltimore in 1929.
In 1799, when the future of the original seminary looked dim, a college also called St. Mary's was built alongside the seminary to accept secular students. This was discontinued in 1852. Another college, Mount St. Mary's, was established in Emmitsburg, maryland, in 1808 by a Sulpician, John Dubois, in hope of supplying candidates for the theological school in Baltimore. In 1826 the Sulpicians withdrew from the institution, which has continued as Mount St. Mary's College and Seminary. In 1831, on ground donated by Charles Carroll of Carrollton, who witnessed the laying of the cornerstone, St. Charles College, a preparatory seminary, was built at Ellicott City, Maryland. Consumed by fire in 1911, the institution was rebuilt in Catonsville, Maryland. In 1884 St. John's Seminary, in Brighton, Massachusetts, was entrusted to the Sulpicians, and in 1896 they assumed charge of St. Joseph's Seminary, in Dunwoodie, New York. The society later disengaged itself from both seminaries, St. Joseph's in 1906, and St. John's in 1911.
New foundations continued to mark the society's history in the United States. In 1889 the Sulpicians were entrusted with Divinity College attached to the catholic university of america, and in 1919 they built the Sulpician Seminary of Washington, D.C., adjacent to the campus of Catholic University. This seminary was incorporated as the Theological College of the University in 1940 when the university assumed responsibility for all theology courses as well as for the Basselin Foundation, a philosophy program for seminarians on full scholarship. The society had moved to the Far West in 1898 in response to the invitation from the archbishop of San Francisco to take direction of St. Patrick's Seminary in
Menlo Park, California. The latter served as both a preparatory and major seminary until 1924 when St. Patrick's became the major seminary only, and the society accepted responsibility for the newly built preparatory seminary, St. Joseph's in Mountain View, California.
In Seattle, Washington, St. Edward's Seminary, built to serve as the seminary of the archdiocese, began as a preparatory seminary but eventually included the major seminary program as well, both under the direction of the society. In 1958 a new major seminary was erected on the same grounds as the St. Thomas Seminary of Seattle, while St. Edward's continued as the preparatory seminary. In 1946 the society accepted responsibility for conducting St. Stephen's Preparatory Seminary in Honolulu. Three years later, it agreed to direct, as well, the provincial theological seminary in Plymouth, Michigan, St. John's Provincial Seminary, serving the dioceses of the province of Detroit. In Kentucky the archbishop of Louisville entrusted its own St. Thomas Preparatory Seminary to the society in 1952. Post-Vatican II Developments. The decades following the close of the Second Vatican Council witnessed very positive developments in the society as well as some decidedly less positive. In the spirit of the council's ecumenical initiative, and encouraged by Cardinal Sheehan of Baltimore and the Right Reverend Harry Lee Doll, Episcopal bishop of Maryland, the Ecumenical Institute was founded at St. Mary's Seminary, Roland Park. It offered evening theology classes for Catholics, Protestants, and Jews, clergy and lay people.
As the need for greater ongoing formation of priests became increasingly evident, in 1971 the Vatican II Institute for Priests was founded under the sponsorship of the bishops of Region XII and was located on the seminary campus in Menlo Park, California. It provides a three-month sabbatical program for diocesan and religious priests from the United States and other countries as well. In 1976 Sulpicians in cooperation with the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley began a doctor of ministry program, which was then part of the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, and later moved to St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore. The degree program eventually gave way to a variety of programs allowing priests a choice of different designs and duration, and in 1996 St. Mary's completed a large continuing education center on its grounds not only for priests, but also lay men and women.
Another important development after the council was the commitment of the U.S. province, following the example of the French and Canadian provinces, to aid sister churches in mission areas by supplying trained formators for initial and ongoing formation of priests. Beginning in 1965, Sulpicians were sent to Argentina, Guatemala, Panama, and Samoa. In 1989, two Sulpicians were sent to the national seminary in Zambia in Central Africa, with a longer commitment in mind. Three years later more Sulpicians were sent forth, allowing a Sulpician presence in the Emmaus Spiritual Center, St. Augustine's Philosophy Seminary and St. Dominic's Theologate. Sulpicians also participated in leading seminars for rectors and spiritual directors, sponsored by the Congregation for Evangelization of Peoples in both West and East Africa. In 1995 the bishops of Zambia entrusted Emmaus Spirituality Center to the society, and since that time they have released several Zambian priests to join the society. Finally, while not specifically a mission operation, with the growth of the number of Hispanic Catholics in the United States and the consequent need for multicultural priestly formation, the society was happy to accept the invitation to send Sulpicians to join the faculty of Assumption Seminary in San Antonio, Texas, in 1994. Currently there are three Sulpicians there, including one as rector.
Since 1971 the society has accepted responsibility for three parishes with a priestly formation dimension: the first was established in the archdiocese of Seattle with the chapel of St. Thomas Seminary serving both as chapel for the seminarians and as parish church for the rapidly growing neighborhood. The second is St. John the Evangelist parish in San Francisco, California, a working-class parish with many immigrants, which serves also as a center for prospective seminarians who are discerning a possible priestly vocation. The third is Our Lady of the Angels at the Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville, Maryland, with over 2,000 people, where seminarians work in a pastoral placement under the direction of the Sulpician pastor.
The decline in the number of seminarians throughout the United States in the early 1970s resulted in the closing of many seminaries, and the return of many Sulpicians to their home dioceses. In 1969 the high school division of St. Charles College was closed, and the philosophy program at St. Mary's Seminary on Paca Street was merged with the first two college years at St. Charles College on the latter's campus, but under the name of St. Mary's College. The following year St. Thomas Preparatory Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, closed. In 1971 the Sulpicians withdrew from St. John's Provincial Seminary in Plymouth, Michigan. This period was painfully symbolized in 1975 by the demolishing of the historic buildings of the nation's first seminary on Paca Street, leaving the chapel, St. Elizabeth Seton's house, and the convent now operating as a spirituality center. That same year the society withdrew from the high school division of St. Joseph's College in Mountain View, California. St. Edward's Seminary in Seattle closed in 1976 sending the college students to the neighboring theologate building of St. Thomas Seminary, which itself closed in 1977. That same year St. Mary's Seminary College closed after eight years on the Catonsville, Maryland, campus. The earthquake in California in 1989 damaged the structures of St. Joseph's College in Mountain View beyond repair, eventually causing the bishop to close the seminary.
In 2000 there were three major seminaries under the Sulpician direction: St. Mary's in Baltimore; St. Patrick's in Menlo Park, California; and the Theological College of the Catholic University of America, all of which have their own pre-theology programs, in addition to Theological College's Basselin philosophy program. Furthermore, the society is making a significant contribution of formators in the major seminaries of San Antonio, Texas, and Zambia, Central Africa. The province also has responsibility for two parishes, one in Baltimore, and the other in San Francisco.
[c. j. noonan/
e. j. frazer]
"Sulpicians." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 17, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/sulpicians
"Sulpicians." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved January 17, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/sulpicians
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