Rome seminaries send student priests home

Coronavirus emergency sees temporary closure of Rome's English-speaking seminaries.

Italy's total shutdown as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in the closure of Catholic seminaries and pontifical universities in Rome, with many student priests returning to their homes and dioceses.

The Pontifical North American College (NAC) seminary on the Janiculum Hill has sent its students back to the US, according to the Catholic News Agency (CNA) which quoted the college's rector Fr Peter Harman as saying the decision had been made in consultation with the seminary’s board of governors. Harman told CNA that about 20 students would remain at the seminary, with the faculty, as they are unable to get home or would not have a place to self-quarantine.

The Venerable English College (VEC) on Via di Monserrato is closed until further notice, and its students have gone back to the UK. The vice rector Fr John Flynn told Wanted in Rome by email that the college is awaiting directives from the British and Italian governments, saying: "we hope to have everyone back as soon as is safe and possible."

The Pontifical Scots College, on the Via Cassia, is also closed. The college's rector, Fr Daniel Fitzpatrick, told Wanted in Rome by email: "We made the decision to send the seminarians home over two weeks ago when it was first announced that the schools and universities were to close." Fitzpatrick said that the college felt that the seminarians would be "safer dispersed than all together in the college", adding that a couple of the staff members have stayed behind at the college whose community is praying "for an end to this sad situation."

Canon Philip Gillespie, rector of the Pontifical Beda College, told Wanted in Rome by email that as soon as the first decree was issued on 9 March, the seminarians were offered the choice to remain at the college or return to their respective dioceses/countries. Under the guidance of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, the Beda is located on the Aventine Hill and is for English-speaking seminarians aged upwards of 30. Gillespie said that about half of the students chose to go home and that there are presently 15 seminarians and five members of the teaching/formation staff resident at the college. "We are maintaining the academic timetable through the use of Skype, Zoom and other on-line platforms", Gillespie said.

The office of the Pontifical Irish College, on the Coelian hill, has been closed since 13 March, along with public access to Sunday Mass, until further notice. The college's formation director John Coughlan told Wanted in Rome by email that the community is abiding by the government's decree, as well as the various communiques from the Vatican and the Diocese of Rome, saying: "Those seminarians, and others, who had the option to leave Rome have done so some weeks ago. Approximately half of the residents of the College remain in Rome, including all of the Irish staff members." 

Image credit: Catholic News Agency (CNA). File photo of seminarians from Rome's North American College praying the rosary in St Peter's Square, 13 March 2016.