St. Johns Seminary Squeezola: The 2007 Sale of Property to BC

As you may recall, in Seminary Squeezola, we reported on how Boston College is encroaching on the limited space left for St. John’s Seminary.  BC has just taken back several rooms (a music room and faculty dining room) they had let the seminary use, a largely symbolic move of BC flexing muscles which provides no significant space benefits to BC but which causes a hassle for St Johns Seminary.

 It is representative of what many see as the final phase of BC taking over the rest of the seminary space; BUT, with the seminary prospering and the Vatican’s own 2006 apostolic visit to the seminary having recommended it stay open and no more property be sold, a lot of people do not wish to just accept that fate and let the proverbial BC “bulldozer” roll over them. 

The seminary post generated some of the most passionate comments we have seen to date on the blog.  Today we update you with a little of the historical context that helps ground the discussion.  

As many readers know, the sale of St. John’s Seminary land and buildings by the Archdiocese of Boston in 2004 and 2007 when the archdiocese needed money  is what started this whole problem, and it was massively compounded by the decision from the archdiocese to reject recommendations made by the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education after their Apostolic Visitation of U.S. Seminaries that “in order to ensure the integrity of the seminary… no more property [on the campus] should be sold.”   How do we know the Apostolic Visitation said this?  It’s right out there in the public domain at Boston.com.  Just read a summary of the 2007 story at Whispers in the Loggia, read this article in the Boston Globe with paid subscription (“Critic slames archdiocese land sale as betrayal“), or simply click here for the letter by the then-rector of St. Johns Seminary posted at Boston.com. (For those readers who like shorter posts, apologies in advance that today is not one of them).

The sale of the remaining seminary land in 2007 so upset the then-outgoing rector that he resigned immediately.  Here are excerpts of his lengthy letter to the Board of Trustees before they voted on the move to sell the land and property.

Several days ago, Cardinal Sean met with me to explain the broad lines of the proposal that is now offered to the Board of Trustees. He explained its overall motivation thus: “‘It is is designed to assure the financial stability and viability of the seminary and of the archdiocese.”

I do not consider myself competent to speak about the financial stability and viability of the archdiocese, but I do consider myself competent to speak about those of St. John’s Seminary, and that is my intention today.

There are three points to be considered in voting for this proposal.

• The proposal is mistaken in judging that the seminary is not fiscally stable and viable and it is mistaken in judging that the seminary needs financial assistance.

• It is mistaken in its expectation that the terms of the proposal will assist the seminary. On the contrary, and this is the third point:

• The terms of the proposal will, in my judgment, bring about the demise of the seminary.

I. The fiscal stability and viability of the seminary

In the first place, the proposal assumes that the seminary is not fiscally stable and viable. I would point out, however, that for two years now, since the end of FY05, the seminary has received no appropriation from RCAB, yet is alive and well. During the 8 March 2005 trustee meeting, one member of the Budget and Finance committee observed that” these are the strongest financials in the history of the seminary.” 

Unlike Blessed John XXIII Seminary, St. John’s was not allowed to conduct its own advancement program and plans to hire a Director of Advancement were sacrificed in order to ”balance the budget.”

Recalling several items from recent history will help clarify our understanding of the current fiscal status of the seminary.

In 2004, RCAB was under heavy pressure to pay additional sex abuse claims, and was without the resources to do so. RCAB approached both John XXIII Seminary in Weston and St. John’s Seminary for assistance. The approach was totally rebuffed by the trustees of John XXIII. As the trustees will recall, the corporate members of the Board of St. John’s, following the favorable vote of the trustees, responded benevolently and ceded title to several seminary assets to RCAB who subsequently added some of its own assets, and these were sold to BC for $85 million. Of the 48 acre package of land and buildings sold to Be, about two thirds were assets from the seminary. Thus assets of approximately $56 million were transferred from the seminary to RCAB so that it could pay its claimants. At that time, the Cardinal pledged that $30 million would be given to the seminary so that an endowment could be begun. As it happened, RCAB received a smaller payment from its insurance companies than it expected, such that it could give the seminary only $21 million and a promissory note for $4.8 million (that will come due in 2011).

Thus, $56 million was transferred from the seminary to RCAB, and $21 million with a promissory note for $4.8 million were returned to the seminary. This represents a net loss to the seminary of $30.2 million, and this in favor of RCAB. Thus the question must be asked whether the financial instability is that of the seminary or of RCAB.

II. The proposal will not assist, but impede, the functioning and growth of the seminary

That the authors of the proposal know little about a seminary, whether its intrinsic nature, or its role within the particular Church, or its governance is an inescapable conclusion. Nor have they ever solicited the recommendations or judgment about the proposal from those who do, including trustees (who are responsible for the seminary) and sending bishops (who should be included in policy decisions). The proposal argues that in order to assure the “financial stability and viability of the seminary” further alienation of property is necessary. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the expert evaluation of the Apostolic Visitation team which visited us as part of the nationwide evaluation of seminaries, their report clearly states: “Neighboring Boston College has purchased large tracts of former archdiocesan land near St. John’s. Tn order to insure the integrity of the seminary, the Visitors recommended that no more property should be sold.” Their report refers specifically to “the Seminary’s excellent library.” …

What is clear to me is that if the authors knew the nature of a seminary and its relation to the life of the particular Church, they would know that the seminary is often referred to as the heart of the particular Church – numerous times in this way by Pope John Paul II. If they realized the impact and difference made by sound theological and pastoral formation, they would begin to understand something of the difference between St. John’s Seminary and the neighboring WJST and BC.

It strikes me as extremely ironic that the proposal should come at this point in time. As the current rector concludes his term of office and a new rector assumes that role in governance, the leadership will be at a grave disadvantage to deal with changes to the seminary as it has developed over the past four years. It is even more ironic in that the Cardinal has recently received a draft of the post-Apostolic Visitation letter from the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education. From the Visitation carried out in St. John’s in February 2006, its findings are singularly positive and laudatory. Its opening paragraph speaks of St. John’s as an “excellent seminary.” The trustees will recall that I read significant portions of that draft at our March meeting. …

Collaboration with WJST or BC is not in the interest of St. John’s. We exist to form in the faith candidates for the priesthood who will be good shepherds and fathers of the flock entrusted to their care and we have done that well. The Visitation report has determined that “the doctrine on the priesthood presented by the seminary is solidly based on the Church’s Magisterium; this is evident in all course syllabi. The pastoral and spiritual programs, too, reflect a sound doctrine of the priesthood. Faculty and staff readily accept this teaching.” In contrast, WJST exists in the model of a research university where opinions of every kind are propagated without adequate identification of the binding articles of faith…If we are urged to reduce expenses by mutual collaboration, this would induce asphyxiation, with the remedy worse than the affliction (if there were an affliction that needed to be remedied)…

The Visitation team also reported that “The prayerful atmosphere of St. John’s Seminary is one of its most outstanding and noticeable qualities … there is a strong emphasis on fostering an authentic priesty spirituality in all areas of formation.” Already, as a result of the sale of seminary assets to BC in 2004, the negative impact on the environment of the seminary has been observed. Based on the increase of vehicular and pedestrian traffic outside chapel, residences, and classrooms, of people entering the seminary to use its facilities and using its remaining grounds as a public park, based on these already intrusive changes, it is evident that the impact of further sale of property would be more detrimental and burdensome to long established practices necessary for maintaining an atmosphere of prayer. For SJS to continue its path of development and growth, it must also be able to accommodate guests attending events such as the lectures of Cardinals Dulles and Stafford and the annual Lessons and Carols which introduce the public and potential benefactors to SJS, gatherings of presbyteral alumni which the Cardinal has applauded and encouraged, or the many retreats and meetings of Vocation Directors and potential vocations whose increasing numbers have also been reported to the Board in the past two years.

To sell Peterson Hall and the library with their contiguous land would destroy the value of what that property has meant in the history of the archdiocese. It would simply become Boston College.  The sale of the kitchen and heating plant will leave St. John’s in perpetual dependence on BC. But more than a building, there needs to be a relationship with the archdiocese. That relationship has been cultivated in increased use for archdiocesan functions and its office of Vocations. In recent months, the Seminary capacity was exceeded when Vocation Directors sponsored a “come and see” weekend, necessitating the use of additional rooms in Peterson Hall.

Harm to the credibility and stability of the archdiocese and the seminary will result from further sale of property and buildings. In fact, the Visitation Report states that “The seminary, therefore, needs to be supported, so that its mission continue to flourish.” St. John’s Seminary is about to be been granted affiliation with the Pontifical Lateran University of Rome and would become the only seminary in New England to offer ecclesiastical degrees which will be recognized as representing a high and integral standard both in North America and throughout Europe. ..

To quote the report again: “The Visitors unanimously recommended that St. John’s Seminary be kept open, despite the financial pressure to sell it. They hoped that Your Eminence would make a strong, clear statement that its future is secure.” The fatal flawof the proposal before you is that it fails to consider that a seminary is more than property. The distinction between the financial state of the seminary and that of RCAB is blurred. The board’s vote on the proposal cannot be made without knowing whether there is a more comprehensive, future plan. Is there another property? Are we thinking of a new, better location for St. John’s Seminary? Unless there is such a plan already in the developmental stage for Boston’s Archdiocesan and the region’s seminary, approving this proposal counters everything that is stated in our mission. Acceptance of this defective proposal represents an outright rejection not only of the advice of the Holy See and the support of regional bishops, but also the expressed intentions of our Cardinal Archbishop which we have all been privileged to share over the past several years.

The critical question is not to sell or not sell property. The question is: will we project a whole new archdiocesan seminary? Unless we have a suitable structure on which we can rely, even if it means having to leave this historically significant setting, unless there is a suitable alternative so that St. John’s can continue to provide priestly formation in line with the teaching of the Church, we are giving up on SJS and this becomes an ill-fated project. As the archdiocese prepares for its bicentennial there could be nothing but shame and embarrassment if we appear to forsake our own mandate, mission, and values for 30 pieces of silver.

Taking our lead from the archdiocesan pledge for transparency in finances and from the archdiocesan presbyterate, we would do well to ask that any plan for the future of SJS be proposed in a way that engenders “trust … with transparency, consultation, communication, integrity, follow-through, and many other desirable qualities … ” all of which are found lacking here (A Church Continually Being Reborn, Archdiocese of Boston Pastoral Planning Report, Spring 2007).http://www.sjs.edu/history/

 

Sorry for the length folks.  It seemed to us that pieces of this are relevant to the situation faced today with the latest moves from BC, and we could not do justice to the message via more extensive edits. 

The building sale went through, despite the admonitions of the former rector.  Today, St. John’s Seminary is prospering as the seminary trains and forms seminarians, offers religious education for adults, trains catechists, hosts many conferences and liturgies, gathers priests for reunions, provides a strong pro-life presence for the archdiocese and builds up the faith.  There is a huge amount of greatness there–excellent faculty, strong leadership, a solid group of seminarians and much promise ahead. Why not keep a pretty good thing going despite the existing limitations and continue supporting the seminary for the greater good of the archdiocese and Catholic Church in Boston?  Let us know what you think.

In the meantime, if someone reading this has the ears of Cardinal O’Malley and/or Fr. Leahy and can tell them that they should both protect St. John’s from further BC encroachment, this blog thinks that would be a really good thing.  More next time.

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9 Responses to St. Johns Seminary Squeezola: The 2007 Sale of Property to BC

  1. Fr. K says:

    Excellent post; not only does it highlight the seminary’s need for protection from BC, it also reminds us and cautions us that the seminary is a distinct entity within the Archdiocese, requiring protection from the Archdiocese as well.

    The financial problems of the RCAB, IMHO, spring from a “perfect storm” of issues:

    (1) Cardinal Law’s myopic grandiosity – he spent every dime he received (after his predecessor, Cardinal Medeiros had spent his entire regnum rebuilding after hisCardinal Cushing had been likewise profligate) always with the assumption that the source of funds would never dry up. He also foisted the infamous “Jubilee” debt-forgiveness upon the Archdiocese (which Bishop Lennon vociferously, but unilaterally, opposed) which eliminated the entire balance of accounts receivable in the revolving loan fund;

    (2) The “scandal” – which caused everybody to rethink and (most) to decrease their giving to the Church, while at the same time prompting hundreds of millions of dollars in payoffs to Garabedian et. al.;

    (3) The international fiscal meltdown – which significantly devalued investments across the board;

    (4) The continued hemorrhaging caused by artificially propping up unsustainable schools, hospitals and parishes;

    (5) The debt service required for the loans taken out to maintain the Archdiocesan solvency; and

    (6) The subsequent “fire sale” of magnificent properties around the Commonwealth, including St. John Seminary.

    What is particularly striking to me is the lengths to which this administration is willing to go to continue to “look good” (one is reminded of the old Billy Crystal Fernando Llamas impression on Saturday Night Live – “It is better to look good than to be good, dahling.”) The chicanery involving the sale of St. John Seminary property – documented here as having been donated to the Archdiocese by the Seminary out of true charity – is made more maddening by the fact that even as the RCAB maintained mendaciously that it was selling its own land to Boston College, it reneged on its promise of paying back to the seminary the funds it had been lent. Now, to add insult to injury, the seminary is being elbowed into a corner of the space that is historically and properly the place to form men in excellence for service to God’s people.

    Do the folks on Brooks Drive really – REALLY – wonder why the clergy (those who still bother to read the PR-onouncements of Terry Donilon) regard that which emanates from the Pastoral Center as merely fatuous self-serving drivel?

  2. Thank you for the positive feedback! There’s more coming on this topic shortly.

  3. PriestsForTransparency.com says:

    Any faithful Catholic should want a strong seminary at St. John’s. A good seminary environment with great faculty and staff can produce holy, healthy, and happy priests. They in turn can spiritually nourish and form the entire Church.

    Why then is Cardinal Sean not sending more priests to study for advanced degrees so that we have a strong faculty down the road? McDonough is on the record saying that we don’t have the money to send priests for further studies. Another way the “money men” are destroying the future of the Church. Cardinal O’Malley, Father Erikson and all the priests and bishops in the Central Administration are watching it and doing nothing. Tough to hang this one on McDonough – at least he is transparent about this. What’s going on with the priests in Central Administration??????

    O God, please raise LEADERS among our priests who have the discipline to pray for guidance, the wisdom to know what is right, and the courage to do what is right. Please help these priests stand up to the corruption and bad judgment and help Cardinal O’Malley to be the leader this local church needs him to be.

  4. Leila says:

    This is disturbing but not surprising. I am a graduate of BC (’89) and I haven’t been back to Boston since. I became a lapsed Catholic at BC, and not one of my friends from BC is still a practicing Catholic. Thank the Lord, I found my way “home” and I just lament what happened to my generation (and what happens at BC every day).

    Thanks for the informative post.

  5. Quality Guy says:

    since RCAB seems to be more and more Church of England in its practices, [ specificaly, accepting married Episcopal priests and families, financial matters,role of laity in management etc. ]why not merge SJS with the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge , then BC would have ‘won’ everything, land and buildings as well as liberalization of the aspiring new clergy ?

    or is this TOO cynical ???

    • Ignored Pastor says:

      Yes it is, at least regarding the “married priest” bit. When an Episcopal priest finds the Catholic faith, and is brilliant in his teaching and his preaching, and is adept in his pastoral ministry – why shouldn’t he be accepted and ordained as a Catholic priest.
      I know of no priest in the Archdiocese who thinks that such a move in any way takes away from the discipline of celibacy, no do I think that the priest in question is an advocate of the end of celibacy.

  6. [...] College is encroaching on the limited space left for St. John’s Seminary. In our second episode, St. Johns Seminary Squeezola: The 2007 Sale of Property to BC, we gave some of the history of the 2004 and 2007 sales, and how the archdiocese–and [...]

  7. Joan Moran says:

    Selling St. John’s Seminary is the saddest event in the history of the Archdiocese of Boston including the abuse scandal. You hit the nail right on the head when you said it was about “looking good”..I think they also want to please the Boston Globe which is so silly beccause no one reads it any more.

  8. [...] College is encroaching on the limited space left for St. John’s Seminary. In our second episode, The 2007 Sale of Property to BC, we gave some of the history of the 2004 and 2007 sales, and how the archdiocese–and specifically [...]

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