SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY:
History of the Seminary
The origin and beginnings of Saint Francis of Assisi Theological Seminary reach back to the early years of the Twentieth Century.
The Reverend Carmel Henry Carfora, OFM, a Roman Catholic Franciscan priest from Italy had emigrated to the United States in order to work amongst the Italian immigrants in the New York, West Virginia and Ohio regions of the country. Father Carfora was an energetic and zealous servant of God, and was very devoted to his native countrymen. He worked continuously to meet their spiritual and material needs in the New World. As had many other ethnic missionaries before and after him, Father Carfora met with a great deal of indifference and even outright hostility from the clergy and the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, in regards to his work and to his people. The Polish and the various Slavic immigrants had experienced the same attitudes and actions on the part of a predominantly Irish and German, Roman Catholic hierarchy.
Ultimately Father Carfora felt the need to remove himself from this hostile ecclesiastical environment. A fellow Italian, Paolo Miraglia-Gullotti, had been consecrated by the independent Bishop, Joseph Rene Vilatte, for work amongst the Italian immigrants in America, and he gratefully accepted Father Carfora’s request to work alongside of him. Soon Father Carfora’s work began to expand throughout the Virginia and Ohio towns and countryside. The records of Father Carfora’s early ministry with Bishop Gullotti are not clear, but there has been speculation that in 1911, he may have been consecrated as a Bishop by Bishop Miraglia-Gullotti. What is clear and well established is the fact that by that year, Father Carfora was in charge of a fairly extensive network of parishes and missions in America, and that he had established an organization that was to later to become known as our North American Old Roman Catholic Church.
The Roman Catholic Church in America boasts of an aristocratic missionary in its early history, in the person of the Russian Prince, Demetrius Gallitzin, Apostle of the Alleghenies, a priest who evangelized the western part of Pennsylvania. So too does the North American Old Roman Catholic Church have a member of the aristocracy within its early American history.
An Austrian nobleman, by the name of Rudolph Francis Edward St Patrick Alphonsus Ghislain de Gramont Hamilton de Lorraine-Brabant, the Prince de Landas Berghes et de Rache, Duc de St Winock, was consecrated as a Bishop, in London, on June 29, 1913 by The Most Reverend Arnold Harris Mathew, Archbishop of the Old Roman Catholic Church in England. Bishop Berghes had previously served as a Captain in the Sudan on Lord Kitchner’s staff, and he retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. His familial pedigree however, became a formidable obstacle to his remaining a resident of England when the hostilities of the First World War broke out. The Prince deLandas Berghes was related to almost all of the royal families of Europe, and it would have been a great embarrassment to each of them, should he have been interned as an enemy alien. Thus in September 1914, the British Foreign Office arranged for his departure from England and for his emigration to the United States.
Bishop Berghes very soon took up the apostolate of the Old Roman Catholic Church in the United States, and thus began the official planting of the Church here in America. On October 4, 1916, Bishop Berghes consecrated “sub-conditione”, Father Carmel Henry Carfora as a Bishop. He united his work with that of Bishop Carfora, and the formal establishment of the North American Old Roman Catholic Church was the result, with Bishop de Landas Berghes as the first Archbishop and Metropolitan-Primate of our Church. In 1919 Archbishop Berghes retired from office and was reconciled to the Holy See. He entered the Augustinian Order and died at their monastery in Villanova, Pennsylvania on November 17, 1920.
Upon Archbishop Berghes’ resignation and retirement in 1919, Bishop Carfora entered into office as the second Metropolitan-Primate of the North American Old Roman Catholic Church. One of his first actions was to establish a seminary for the church. Many clergymen from the Roman Catholic Church and from the Episcopal Church as well as a few from the Byzantine tradition were entering the North American Old Roman Catholic Church, to staff our parishes and/or to establish new ones. Archbishop Carfora realized the great importance in having a competent clergy with a common educational background and training. The Church’s seminary was named after Archbishop Carfora’s patron in the Franciscan Order, Saint Francis of Assisi, and was located in his See City of Chicago. It was a residential seminary with a full program of theological studies and training, differing very little from the vast majority of Roman Catholic seminaries of the day. Archbishop Carfora considered the seminary so indispensable to the life of the Church, that he made it mandatory that every priest serving in the North American Old Roman Catholic Church had to attend there. This included even ordained Roman Catholic and Episcopal priests who had entered the Church after long careers in their former churches and with the formal seminary education that those churches prescribed. Archbishop Carfora felt that every priest of our Church needed to be formed in the spiritual and educational ethos of the North American Old Roman Catholic Church, and that they could only obtain it from the seminary, and thus former Roman Catholic and Episcopal priests were required to spend at least one year in our own Saint Francis of Assisi Seminary.
During the later years of the 1940’s, discussion was begun regarding a re-location for the seminary. The Franciscan Friars of our Church had been in charge of the Seminary from the earliest days, and thus when they discussed plans to relocate to California, it was decided that the Seminary would likewise follow, to insure a continuity with the Friars who conducted the program of studies. By 1949 a Franciscan Brother of the Third Order Regular who was in charge of the move, had finished the building of their new monastery in Bell Gardens, California, which was also to house the seminary. Thus the Seminary now entered a new phase of its mission, located on the Pacific coast rather than in the Mid-West. Unfortunately this phase was not to last for long. The location was not convenient for the vast majority of seminarians and there was also the beginning of a decline in the number of vocations. It soon became clear that the seminary was not going to be able to continue in its present location and form.
By 1958 and with the death of Archbishop Carfora, Saint Francis Seminary had ceased its existence as a residential program. The authorities of the North American Old Roman Catholic Church decided to enter into a new (but really an ancient form of clergy training), a Mentor System. Under this system each seminarian was assigned a priest-mentor who would be responsible for coordinating and supervising the education and training of his charge under the charge and direction of the Metropolitan-Primate. Every seminarian would continue to take written and oral examinations administered by the Board of Clerical Examiners, and would also undergo additional examinations by the Bishop before being advanced to Holy Orders. By the 1970’s this system had also expanded to include both distance learning and periodic regional class days.
The North American Old Roman Catholic Church during the 1970’s and 1980’s expanded its work into Canada and into New England. Both areas had an independent existence prior to affiliation with the Church, and thus each had its own seminary, St John Newman Seminary in Montreal and The Martyrs of Gorcum Theological Seminary in Boston. Upon affiliation with the North American Old Roman Catholic Church, both seminaries united with Saint Francis Seminary which was now headquartered in New York City, and began to serve as satellite campuses of Saint Francis. During the 1990’s the Church in Canada declared its independence from the North American Old Roman Catholic Church; and the schismatic actions of the majority of New York clergy led to the suppression of most of the work in that city. Thus only The Martyrs of Gorcum Theological Seminary in Boston was left to carry on the work of Saint Francis Seminary.
In 2005 the College of Bishops of The North American Old Roman Catholic Church decided to amend the corporate title of The Martyrs of Gorcum Theological Seminary, to Saint Francis of Assisi Theological Seminary, and thus carry on the work of our original program of priestly education and training under its original title, thereby insuring a continuity of name and mission. As of this writing, the Seminary is entering another phase of its existence, while entering a new form of distance learning, with its extensive use of the multi-media technology of today. We are proud to continue in the great tradition established by Archbishop Carfora, of providing quality education and training for our clergy, and combining all of the methods available to us: directed reading; distance learning; multi-media technology; the Internet; audio-visual materials; a Blackboard System; mentoring; regional class days; written and oral examination by the Board of Clerical Examiners and additional local examinations by the Bishop. Future plans are to include a residential component and expansion of the current multi-media technology components. We feel confident that in so doing, we are honoring the memory and efforts of Archbishop Carfora and all those who have preceded us in this holy endeavor.
(Material for this article was gleaned from a 1975 interview with an alumnus of the Seminary in Chicago and California)
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