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Quigley Seminary: high school holds special niche for Chicago's Catholics.

We have to use the Christopher Columbus approach. We've got to keep telling them -- and ourselves -- that there's land ahead. And there is."

That's what Fr. John Daley, rector of Archbishop Quigley Seminary, one of only nine high school diocesan seminaries left in the United States, said about the 200 seminarians who gathered at the old Goithic slminary building just off Chicago's Gold Coast.

I had gone out of curiosity to witness the annual orientation day. I arrived skeptical and left still skeptical, but impressed.

Quigley Seminary occupies a special niche in the imagination of Chicago's Catholics. Founded Archbishop Quigley in 1905 (it was named for him following his death), it once boasted an enrollbment of more than 1,300. By 1961, another Quigley opened on the city's South Side and quickly filled to more than 1,000 stidetns (Quigley South closed two years ago). High school seminarians in their black suits and ties were once as visible as monks in their saffron robes in a National Geographic article on Tibet.

It was a profligate system. Discipline was strictl the curriculum was narrow; emphasis was too often on grades and youthful pharisaism. Students were dismissed for failing to decline a noun; others for innocent dating, still others were dropped because their surnames revealed a nationality that would upset the perceived ethnic balance among the clergy or because their parents had divorced.

"Tell these boys they do not have a vocation for Chicago," Cardinal Mundelein would instruct the rector as he drew lines through the "skis" and "skas" on the rosten. "Let me help you find another diocese," the rector told the young man whose parents had just divorced. (He found another vocation).

Yet, Quigley infused fierce loyalties. Ironically, those who left appear to have the strongest affection for the school. "We went through college and law school like a dose of salts," one said. "We were much better prepared than most students. We knew how to study."

"My sexual development stopped at the door," anothern said. "But Quigley kept me out of troublen during some important years. And somehow most of us managed to catch up."

Former Quigley students are everywhere. Key alumni virtually run both the state and the city. One class alone claims 40 lawyers and there are hundreds of teachers. "Whatever we do," present student Joseph Rose said, "we'll be successful. We won't regret this place."

Resigned priests gather for retreats at the old school. They seem to be more moved during visits than their brother priests who have remained active. One explanation is that the place is drenched in tradition, which active priests have gotten used to. Another, more serious view is that active priests harbor some resentment toward the school that imbued them with groupthink and then sent them off to rectories where essentially they lived alone.

It is a kind of spiritual Ivy League. Last year, grateful alumni gave $300,000 to the school. Plans are underway to inaugurate a foundation that will subsidize the annual deficit (about $500,000), provide scholarships (tuition is presently $2,700; real costs may be as high as $6,750) and perhaps even to fund equal education for females.

"Quiet, please, gentlemen," Fr. Bill Corcoran, dean of formation, said to the 200 casually dressed teenagers sitting on the floor. It was a very different group than the largely Irish and German kids that attended years ago. Forty percent are white; 40 percent Hispanic; 12 percent Asian and 8 percent African-American. It is better-integrated than most Catholic high schools.

The students had developed their own goals for the semester. Written on butcher paper, they were held up and read aloud. Some were as vague and lofty as a parish mission statement; others were anorexic thin.

For the past 10 years, an average of 5.5 Quigley grads annually completed the remaining eight years of education to ordination. Fr. Eugene Hemrick, director of research for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, says this is "about averge" for his time at Quigley in the 1950s.

If Hemrick is right, in 12 years Chicago wil ordain a dozen of the 73 new freshmen. "Bernardin won't ordain them," Corcoran said. "He will have retired," Yet, Chicago's archbishop. Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, will have to find substantial sfunds to keep the system going.

The major seminary, a magnificent ruin, located on thousands of acres of desirable real estate in Mundelein, Ill., needs $9 millio in repairs. (Nationwide, seminaries will require some $235 million in patch-ups just to remain up to code.)

"Quigley is a special place," senior seminarian Patrick O'Leary said. "It makes seminary life different." O'Leary was right. The school offers an exceptionally high-quality education -- the kind given at other Catholic high schools for close to twice the price. Faculty-student ratio is under 1-to-10, and there is overpsyched," one priest said. "It leads to blandness. They're all the same. When we were seminarians, we held our breath for 12 years. Then we got out and we grew. Our personalities had a chance to bloccom. Now, there are no more characters.

I talked to a dozen upperclassmen. They were good, thoughtful kids -- the kind you'd like to have date your daughter or preside at her wedding Mass. Research showed they had courage and were risk-takers. They were measurably different from their predecessors. Seventy-five percent wanted the school to go coed, 58 percent acknowledged they were still interested in priesthood -- a good percentage at any time. Perhaps they're not bland after all.

The seminars reflect the community they will serve less interested in church rules than in spiritual issues. Sixty-two percent attend Sunday Mass regularly (about twice the average for most Catholics); 63 percent are active in their parish, but 77 percent do not want to go to the Monday morning chapel prayers.

"The church isn't producing priests," one student said. "It has to reform. But I think it will come back up."

None of the students suggested that celibacy was weightless and only a handful suggested it was the preferred approach to serving God. One simply said: "We're going ahead. It will change."

Some priests still defend the system, claiming it take that long to form a genuine priest. Most look for some kind of change that would make it more efficient and cost-effective. Perhaps a shorter training period; perhaps introducing a seminary track at selected Catholic high schools; perhaps adopting a suggestion from Andrew Greeley (a Quigley grad) for a period of service following a shorter education.

Critics feel it's time to spend comparable funds on educating the laity. Chicago educates some 7,000 laypeople each year at its Center for the Development of Ministry at less cost than the Quigley experience.

We walked to the Oak Street Beach where the seminarians were swimming, playing ball and eating box lunches. Afterwards, they cleaned up. Good kids.

One can see why the Chicago church wants to keep them. They're priests in the bank. "We don't ordain any 18-year-olds," Bill Corcoran said. "We just prepare them for the next level" However, the majority of Chicago priests still have some Quigley blood and the tradition is strong.

I've been looking for models of church that will get us through the next 25 years. I'm not certain I found one at Quigley. But I found a great deal to be admired -- quality relationships, respect for diversity, teenagers trying to be the best they can be. Chances are, economic realities will force changes that might have been better-made for other reasons. But these young men will be missed.
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Author:Unsworth, Tim
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Oct 22, 1993
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