by Fr. Joe Nassal, C.PP.S., Provincial Director
In 1971, less than ten years after it opened, rumors flourished that Precious Blood Seminary would close. At a district meeting at the seminary on the Feast of St. Gaspar in 1971, these rumors were strongly denied and an animated discussion followed among the 41 members of the district about whether or not to admit non-seminary students to the high school.
“Most of the present faculty at Precious Blood believes that this would not really constitute any change in this school since we do in fact now have a sizable number of students who have no real intention of becoming religious,” Father Dennis Schaab, secretary for the district, wrote. “Precious Blood is working well as a school, as a developer of good Christian leaders, and as a house of formation for our Society today with many non-seminarians living here. To accept some more qualified students with no intention of entering our Society would be a change to our admission policy but not really a change in the school as it is now.”
On October 21, 1974, Alan Hartway, a member of the first graduating class at Precious Blood Seminary, became the first graduate to be a Definitively Incorporated member of the Kansas City Province. That same year, a committee chaired by Father James Sloan was appointed to evaluate the future of the seminary. Several members wrote articles in the Newsletter voicing their concerns. The discussions about both the philosophy and practicality of having a high school seminary amid the decreasing number of available members to serve as faculty and staff continued in the Province for several years.
Father Joseph Charron was elected Provincial on April 18, 1979. Fathers Vincent Hoying, Paul Sattler, Tom Albers, and William Dineen were elected to serve on the Provincial Council. The Province had 115 members, including 101 priests, 9 brothers, 2 deacons, and 3 incorporated seminarians.
The Provincial Council established a task force on future planning in 1981. The discussion about the viability of maintaining Precious Blood as a high school seminary for the community culminated in a questionnaire asking members to respond to two questions. In response to the first question, “Do you personally believe in and support the concept of a high school seminary?”; 51 members voted in favor, 15 not in favor, and 5 unsure. In response to the second question, “Is Precious Blood Seminary a viable way for us as a community to engender the spirit and add membership to the Province?” 45 voted in favor, 19 not in favor, and 5 unsure.
In preparation for the 1983 Provincial Assembly, members met in districts on the question of maintaining Precious Blood as a high school seminary. The Provincial, Father Joseph Charron, attended each of the meetings. Prior to the meetings, members received a report on staffing Precious Blood Seminary: statistics, finances, and options for formation. There was a growing consensus in the Province that some decision would have to be made at the April 1983 Assembly concerning the future of Precious Blood Seminary.
The question of continuing the apostolate of a high school seminary program was presented to the members at the 1983 Assembly by the Province’s task force on future planning. On Tuesday, April 5, 1983, the Province devoted the day to further discussion that included honest reflections by members serving or who had served at the seminary. On Wednesday morning, April 6, the Assembly voted 58 to 32 to close Precious Blood Seminary at the conclusion of the 1983 school year.
While the decision to close the seminary affected the entire Province, it was especially difficult for the brothers because many of them served at Precious Blood Seminary in various capacities as cooks, coaches, teachers, maintenance ministry, vocation office and support staff. On the morning after the vote to close the seminary, Brother Stephen Ohnmacht became the first brother elected to the Provincial Council as Fourth Councilor. Father Joseph Charron was re-elected Provincial, with Fathers Thomas Albers, William Dineen, and Joseph Uecker joining Brother Steve on the Council. A few months later at the 13th General Assembly in Rome that elected Father Anton Loipfinger moderator general, Father Uecker was elected vice-moderator. Father Charron, with the consent of his Council, appointed Father Paul Sattler to replace Father Uecker on the Provincial Council.
The Council appointed a task force to explore the future of the high school seminary facility. Since the vocation office had focused primarily on recruiting for the seminary, another task force was created to envision ways to invite and attract future members for the Province. The 1983 Assembly also established the task force on future planning as a standing committee of the Province. One of its major objectives was to propose and implement clustering of our parishes so our missionaries serving in various geographical areas of the Province would live closer to one another to facilitate more frequent gatherings and foster community, especially among those who lived alone and ministered in one-priest parishes.
Next Month: Matters of Justice and Peace