Minor Setback or Major Disaster: The Rise and Demise of Minor Seminaries in the United States, 1958-1983
The sixteenth-century Council of Trent mandated a new training approach for the Catholic priesthood, beginning not before the age of twelve, and in a new type of institution: the "seminary." The ideal that subsequently developed assumed six years of training in a "minor seminary," corresponding to the four high school years and two years of undergraduate liberal arts studies, plus six years of studies at a "major seminary." By the 1950s, U.S. seminarians preparing for the priesthood were plentiful, motivating a construction boom in seminaries. Yet by the 1980s, minor seminary enrollments had declined over eighty percent, and most minor seminaries had either closed or become residence halls affiliated with another Catholic educational institution.This dissertation analyzes the religious values of Catholic parents and their male progeny, the demographic climate which influenced youthful candidates to pursue a vocation as a Catholic priest, and the pedagogical methods used in minor seminaries to train those candidates. It examines five seminaries that closed and three seminaries that survived. Based on that information, it postulates causes for the near-total downfall of the minor seminary from its former prominence as an integral component of Catholic priestly formation.