Loyola is in the final stages of purchasing the St. Joseph College Seminary building next to Campion Residence Hall in the midst of a campus housing crunch in which the school has struggled to have enough beds for growing class sizes, officials said.
In January, the Archdiocese of Chicago — a branch of the Catholic Church which covers much of the Chicago area, overseen by Cardinal Blase Cupich — announced the seminary would shut its doors at the end of the 2018-19 school year. It’s been in operation for 25 years and currently offers the opportunity for undergraduate students to study to become priests while earning a philosophy degree at Loyola.
The seminary building, located at 1120 W. Loyola Ave., is expected to have 65-70 beds for students next fall, according to Loyola’s CFO Wayne Magdziarz.
Magdziarz said talks to purchase the site began shortly after the archdiocese announced the seminary’s closure. He said the university is likely to close on the property in April, though the seminarians will finish out their final school year in the building.
He added there aren’t any major plans for renovation since the building — which was built in 2011 — is in good shape. However, summer 2020 could bring some changes to the first floor which currently has a small dining hall and game room, Magdziarz said. The chapel space in the seminary will continue to serve as a chapel after the transition to student housing.
The Archdiocese cited low enrollment, especially as men increasingly choose to enter the priesthood after college or work experience, as the reason for the seminary’s closing.
“With enrollment at 20 students, and the expectation of a small entering class, the need to steward Archdiocese resources led to the closure decision,” the press release announcing its closure said.
Seminarians who want to continue their studies will be transferred to St. John Vianney College Seminary at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Closing the seminary “was a matter of numbers,” Cupich told The Phoenix at a recent gathering on campus where he spoke on a panel about the future of Catholicism.
Cupich said the seminary’s rector approached him around Thanksgiving and said St. Joseph’s budget required it pull money out of its endowment to finance the seminary, which has about 20 students despite being built for 55.
“It just seemed to me that there was another way to support college-age vocations with the small numbers that we had by being good stewards of the resources that we have,” Cupich said. “So we are going to be using the resources that we have to support these college-age guys as they go to [University of] St. Thomas.”
St. Joseph’s rector-president, the Rev. Peter Snieg, didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment from The Phoenix. It’s unclear how large the seminary’s endowment is and how it’ll be used after the seminary closes.
The seminary isn’t the only property the Archdiocese has been in the process of selling this year.
In February, a report revealed the Archdiocese was selling the parking lot across from Holy Name Cathedral near Loyola’s Water Tower Campus and most of the expected windfall of roughly $100 million would go toward the hundreds of millions in debt the church has racked up from clergy sex abuse.
In March, reports revealed the scope of the systemic sexual misconduct in Illinois dioceses — nearly 400 Catholic priests, church staff and lay people have been accused of sexual misconduct in Illinois’ six dioceses.
However, Cupich said the decision to close the seminary wasn’t related to the issues surrounding sexual misconduct.
“No, we did not make a decision based on any obligations we had with regard to sex abuse, that’s totally false,” Cupich said.
The Archdiocese declined to provide further comment, including refusing to answer follow-up questions about whether the money from the sale of the seminary, or the endowment, would now help pay off the sex misconduct debt.
For Loyola’s 2019-20 school year, the additional beds in the seminary building would help cushion the school’s growing housing crisis. Due to increasingly incoming class sizes, the university has had to convert double rooms to house three people in a number of residence halls on campus.
Construction is underway for a new $47 million residence hall called St. Joseph Hall. The residence hall, located on North Winthrop Avenue, will provide over 400 beds to first and/or second-year students when it’s completed in 2020.