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St. Peter's Seminary

St. Peter's Seminary
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History

In 1912, Michael Francis Fallon, the Bishop of the Diocese of London, dissatisfied with how his seminarians were being treated at the Grand Séminaire in Montreal, decided to educate them in London by establishing his own seminary. He was fortunate that the Rectory next door to St. Peter’s Cathedral was spacious, that pedagogical skills in theology and other subjects were vested in local priests, and that diocesan clergy and laity wholeheartedly supported his efforts.

He was able to obtain pledges to fund the building of a seminary on land donated by local businessman Philip Pocock – the Sunshine Park property on Huron Street, which was then just north of the city limits.

The First World War delayed his building plans, but in 1923 Fallon engaged the Windsor architectural firm of Pennington and Boyd to design and oversee the construction of his seminary. Sod was turned in the snow in February 1925, and the “monastic Gothic” building rose slowly over the next 13 months.

It was officially opened in September 1926 in “Catholic Week”, during which the refurbishing of St. Peter’s Cathedral and St. Mary’s Church and the opening of Brescia Hall were also celebrated. The seminary chapel and cloister were completed and opened in June 1930.

Before the Sunshine Park building was completed, the seminary’s first home was in the Cathedral Rectory, and the education of seminarians was closely connected to the life of St. Peter’s Cathedral.  Cathedral rectors and priests lectured to them in theology, tutored them in liturgy, and guided their pastoral training.

In 1923, Fallon opened a School of Philosophy a few blocks east of the Cathedral on Queens Avenue. It provided the equivalent of a Bachelor’s degree to those men intending to enter the priesthood. When the seminary building was completed in 1926, students in both philosophy and theology and their priestly teachers moved there in time for September classes.

St. Peter’s Seminary was built to house 88 students and 12 faculty members, and incorporated classrooms, library, temporary chapel, administrative offices, facilities for sports and recreation (both in the Seminary and its spacious grounds), and a separate wing for housekeeping staff.

Throughout most of the next few decades, the seminary was guided by two giants: Rector Monsignor Andrew Parnell Mahoney, and spiritual director, Father Leonard Forristal. The lean years of the Depression were followed by a growth of spiritual vocations in the 1940s, by an educational response to increased lay involvement in the Church in the 1950s, and to the whirlwinds of change prompted by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.

The seminary acquired an auditorium, recreation hall, and new library in the 1950s. Faculty - both ordained and lay - expanded to address issues of social justice, growth in missionary outreach, and changing pastoral needs, including greater involvement in parish ministry.

The 1970s and 1980s saw a transformation in seminary leadership; students took a greater role in decision-making, and a Group System was developed, with students divided into groups under faculty advisors. These groups lived in separate sections of the residence, with their own lounge for relaxation, discussion, and group celebrations of the Eucharist. The system promoted collegiality among students in different years and in different programs, and survives (with some variation) today.

Philosophy students were now free to take courses at both King’s and Brescia Colleges, and Theology students to enroll in courses at Huron College. Lay student enrollment increased with the introduction of the Master of Divinity degree. The seminary mandate had expanded from just preparing men for the priesthood to also forming the laity for service in the Church. 

In 1986, St. Peter’s Seminary received its first accreditation by the Association of Theological Schools, an achievement that introduced a new culture of planning and professionalism into seminary life. It has maintained this status ever since.

The years leading up to the new millennium saw both a reduction in the number of students preparing for the priesthood and strong lay enrollment. The latter reflected growing opportunities for employment in parishes and the helping professions.

The seminary library was expanded in 1995, and Aquinas House, on the seminary grounds was refurbished. A Master in Theological Studies program was instituted, and the first candidates studying for the Permanent Diaconate were welcomed in 2000.

The St. Peter’s Seminary Foundation was created in 2003 to take a dynamic role in fundraising and development. The Institute for Catholic Formation was established at the seminary in 2008 to serve the needs of those in parish ministry and to foster lay and ecclesial formation.

St. Peter’s Seminary Library forged new technological links to King’s University College and the University of Western Ontario and opened a new climate-controlled space for the Michael R. Prieur Archives.

In 2012, St. Peter’s Seminary celebrated one hundred years of service to the Diocese of London and the Canadian Church.