The Catholic University of America

 Robert L. Anello Defense

Final Examination of Rev. Robert L. Anello, M.S.A.

for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

March 30, 2011 at 1:00 p.m., Caldwell Room 125




Joseph M. White, Ph.D.


Minor Setback or Major Disaster: The Rise and Demise of Minor Seminaries in the United States, 1958-1983

The sixteenth-century Council of Trent mandated a new approach for training Catholic diocesan priests, beginning not before the age of twelve and in a new type of institution: the seminary.  The ideal that subsequently developed assumed six years of training in a “minor seminary,” corresponding to the four high school years and two years of undergraduate liberal arts studies, plus six years of studies at a “major seminary.”  In the United States by the 1950s, seminarians preparing for the priesthood were plentiful, and Catholics’ projected population growth stimulated the construction of new seminaries.  By the 1980s, minor seminary enrollments had declined over eighty percent, and most minor seminaries had either closed or become residence halls affiliated with another Catholic educational institution.

This dissertation presents the attitudes and values of Catholic parents and their sons related to Church vocations, the demographic climate influencing youthful candidates to pursue a vocation as a Catholic priest, and the pedagogical methods used in minor (i.e., high school/college) seminaries to educate those candidates.  It examines five seminaries that closed and three that survived.  Based on the foregoing data and history, it postulates causes for the near-total downfall of the minor seminary from its former prominence as an integral component of Catholic priesthood formation.