Beliefnet
The Deacon's Bench

I was surprised and delighted to see a brief article in this morning’s New York Times about Cathedral Prep Seminary in Elmhurst, Queens. By day, it’s a high school for young men; by night, it is used by the diaconate for formation. This is where I studied to become a deacon — and where other classes are continuing to study, in preparation for ordination.

It’s the last of the “junior seminaries” still operating in the United States.

Take a look:

The 44 seniors who graduated this spring from Cathedral Preparatory Seminary in Elmhurst, Queens, looked like your average high school grads. Wearing blue caps and gowns, they gathered excitedly in the hallway, then walked down the aisle in the school gym past rows of proud parents.

But Cathedral Prep has a singular tradition. Founded in 1914, the school is the minor seminary for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, which serves 1.6 million Catholics in Brooklyn and Queens. It is the last free-standing high school seminary in the United States for boys who are considering becoming Catholic priests. Its graduates are a rare species.

During the heyday of the American priesthood in the late 1960s, nearly 16,000 students filled more than 100 high school seminaries. In 1963, Cathedral Prep expanded from its original building on Atlantic and Washington Avenues to two campuses. But in 1985, with enrollment declining around the country, Cathedral Prep consolidated into the newer building, next to the Queens Center Mall. The closing of Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary in Chicago last June left Cathedral the lone school of its kind.

Cathedral’s students are not required to become priests, only to be open to that possibility, an openness that they must confirm in a letter signed by both the student and his parents at the end of his sophomore year. Along with following a regular high school curriculum, students attend daily Mass, do apostolic service in their communities, have regular spiritual guidance sessions with priests, and take classes in religion and theology along with three years of Latin.

“This school,” says Msgr. Joseph Calise, the rector-principal, “is created to be sure that there is an atmosphere where any young man who, as he’s discovering his life choices and considering all of his options, if he wants to include the priesthood as one of the options — this is a place where he can do that safely and comfortably.”

Just two members of the class of 2008 are going on to the college seminary, the next step in the nine-year path between high school and ordination. The others are going to college.

“Really, if I’m going to measure our success, it’s how well the young men take their faith and bring it into whatever it is they are going to do in their later life,” Monsignor Calise said. “Are they going to be more spiritual policemen and firemen? Are they going to be, maybe, more moral lawyers or politicians? If they take some of the faith that we have tried to teach by living it here and use that in their decisions, that’s our measure of success.”

If you visit the link, there’s a terrific slide show of the school.

Photo by Angela Jiminez, for the New York Times

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