Trainee priests moving from seminaries to communities

Trainee priests in France are swapping their boarding school seminary isolation for community-based housing.

Many have already relocated from enclosed suburban retreats into city centres.

So far seminarians from the dioceses of Lille, Orleans, Nantes, Lyon, Rennes and Paris have relocated.

The change in living arrangements responds to Pope Francis’s wish for trainee priests to live less isolated lives.

The 13 seminarians in Lille will move later this year, Archbishop Laurent Ulrich says.

Two of the priests who teach will live with them. Two others will live a short walk away in a second house.

Ulrich says a document called Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis [the Gift of Priestly Vocation] is mainly responsible for the changes. It sets out the guidelines for priestly formation.

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy updated Fundamentalis in 2016.

It calls for “a true human, spiritual and pastoral maturity of priests,” Ulrich says.

Seminarians say they are pleased with the new living arrangements.

“Rue Princesse [our new home] offers us the challenge of a more evangelical life,” Maxime Labesse says. He is a third-year seminarian for the Archdiocese of Reims.

“This community life presages how we will be called to live as priests,” Lille seminarian Maxence Dubois says.

He hopes to form an even more fraternal community in the new seminary.

The change offers opportunities to bring theological, philosophical and spiritual formation together with pastoral experience.

Some French seminaries had already long established themselves in local communities before the recent changes to Fundamentalis were made.

Parisian seminaries, for example, began moving closer to the people in 1984.

Today there are eight houses attached to a parish in Paris, where several seminarians and two priests live.

In September 2010, Lyon’s Saint-Irénée provincial seminary left a building in Sainte-Foy-lès-Lyon to settle next to the Notre-Dame de Fourvière basilica.

“Ratio Fundamentalis makes things happen and forces us to rethink our pedagogy, with fewer lectures and more teamwork,” Eudist Father Laurent Tournier says. He has been the rector of the Orleans seminary for the past six months.

Although many changes are taking place, the original seminary buildings are still in use. In Lille, for instance, the original seminary building will continue to be a place of formation and to house diocesan services.

“There is no question of abandoning this building, even if reorganizations are under consideration” Ulrich says.

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