Immaculate Conception Seminary Forms Men as Priests for Newark
While the formal founding of Immaculate Conception Seminary is dated Sept. 10, 1860, it had been envisioned as early as April 10, 1854, when Bishop James Roosevelt Bayley, first Bishop of Newark (1853-72) and later Archbishop of Baltimore (1872-77) purchased the Chegaray estate at Madison, with the intention of establishing “a college in which the young men of the diocese who give signs of a vocation to the priesthood will be trained.”
Two years passed before Seton Hall College actually opened at Madison on Sept. 1, 1856 with five students. One of these, Leo G. Thebaud, was ordained in 1867. However, during the Madison period (1856-60), Seton Hall functioned only as a preparatory and collegiate institution and did not offer professional courses in theology.
On April 2, 1860, 66 acres were acquired at South Orange and Seton Hall College was transferred there on
Christ the King Chapel of Immaculate Conception Seminary at Darlington, June 8, 1967.
Sept. 10, 1860. Fifty collegians studied in the college building, while divinity students resided in the Elphinstone mansion, later termed the seminary of the Immaculate Conception. No one knows how many seminarians enrolled that day in 1860, but on Feb. 5, 1862, Bishop Bayley reported that there were 10 ecclesiastical students in his seminary.
The first rector of the seminary was Rev. Bernard J. McQuaid, later Bishop of Rochester (1868-1909). He was assisted from 1860-61 by Rev. Prudentius Gehin as professor of philosophy. The next year, 1861-62, Father Gehin was replaced by Rev. Januarius de Concilio, who served as the first theology professor.
The relationship between Immaculate Conception Seminary and Seton Hall College found expression in the fact that Father McQuaid served the former as rector and the latter as president, as well as the fact that from the earliest years the seminary operated as the college graduate school. From 1866-1932, seminary students annually took the Master of Arts degree in virtue of the Seton Hall charter granted on March 8, 1861.
In 1863, a graceful Gothic chapel that still adorns the Seton Hall campus, was built for the seminary. In 1866-67, as a consequence of the fire that destroyed the original seminary building on Jan. 27, 1866, the seminary was provided with a handsome brownstone edifice, now known as President’s Hall.
The first two priests to complete their four years of theology at the Seminary, Rev. Michael Kane and Rev. James Dalton were ordained Jane 24, 1865. In Presidents’ Hall, the seminary community lived and studied from 1867-1927.
Until recent times, the seminary never had a faculty of more than seven (and often not more than four). There were 28 students in 1870, 22 in 1880, 22 again in 1900, and 59 in 1920.
The growth of the institution caused attention to be drawn to its needs for the future.
In 1919, the Bishop of Newark and the Seton Hall trustees began discussion of larger accommodations. In 1925, plans were authorized for a new edifice for 140 students on the South Orange campus.
However, on July 15, 1926, the Bishop was able to purchase the McMillin estate at Darlington and there, on Oct. 12, 1926, in connection with Bishop O’Connor’s Episcopal jubilee, the new campus was formally dedicated. The transfer of faculty and students from Seton Hall was became official on April 21, 1927. One month later, Bishop O’Connor died, leaving to his successor the development of the new property.
It was Archbishop Thomas J. Walsh (1928-52), who made this a reality. By 1933, there were 112 students taxing all the facilities of the McMillin structures. A diocesan-wide building campaign was launched in 1936 in which $1.8 million was pledged. On April 23, 1937, ground was broken for the chapel of Christ the King and the 300-room Walsh Residence Hall to the south of the original Darlington mansion, later known as O’Connor Hall.
On Sept. 24, 1938, 141 students entered into residence in the new complex which was dedicated on Dec. 8, 1938, in the presence of Amleto Cardinal Cicognani, later to become Papal Secretary of State.
It was in August of 1938, that a 35-member committee made its recommendations on the seminary’s academic structure. In accord with this report, the seminary’s first two years of study are integrated with the College of Arts and Sciences of Seton Hall University and lead to the degree of Bachelor of Arts. On Aug. 23, 1938, an affiliation was entered into, which became final on Dec. 23, 1947, whereby four years of theology at Darlington in affiliation with Catholic University of America led to the baccalaureate in theology.
In February of 1982, then-Archbishop Peter L. Gerety announced the re-affiliation of Immaculate Conception Seminary with Seton Hall University. He also announced the sale of the Seminary’s buildings and its 444 acres of property in Mahwah.
The seminary relocated to the campus of Seton Hall University in South Orange, where it was founded.
Archbishop Gerety, discussing relocation of the seminary, said, “the world is changing, education is changing, colleges are changing, Vatican II has happened. The Church has to respond. It’s in the university scene that the Church meets the world of today. The Church has to know the intellectual world in which we are immersed.”
“We’re not moving because of the financial needs of the Archdiocese,” the Archbishop said. “The basic reason is to put the seminary into a setting where it can be in touch more intimately with the world in which we live.”
In announcing the affiliation of the seminary and Seton Hall, both of which were under the sponsorship of the Archdiocese, Archbishop Gerety cited his personal conviction that the merger would strengthen both institutions. “Seton Hall’s Catholic character will be enhanced by the presence of seminary students and faculty,” he said, “while the seminary will benefit from exposure to scholars from a broad spectrum of academic disciplines.”
In 1984, the new Immaculate Conception Seminary and School of Theology opened in the fall. The Seminary moved into the newly built Milton and Rita Lewis Hall at the University.
In the intervening two decades, the Seminary has become a vital part of the University, and has taken advantage of the opportunities presented by operating within a major Catholic university.
Since its return to Seton Hall, Seminary enrollment has fluctuated, but in recent years it has increased. The hallmark of the last twenty years, and especially the last decade, has been growing diversity in the student body.
This is due, in part, to the increasing ethnic pluralism in the New Jersey dioceses and in other diocese from which the Seminary draws its students. Also, it is the result of new student populations from religious communities and from the Neo-catechumenal Way. While these seminarians study formation at Redemptoris Mater, Kearny, the Archdiocese’s missionary seminary, their academic preparation takes place at Immaculate Conception.
The ongoing change in students has challenged the Seminary to adapt in many ways.
In serving its varied constituencies, the Seminary maintains the integrity of a priestly formation program as a house of formation, serves other communities of men preparing for priesthood by providing the academic component of their formation, engages in the preparation of lay ministers, and opens the riches of theological education to all qualified persons.
Reprinted form The Catholic Advocate, Official Commemorative Edition, October 15, 2003.