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Due to a decrease in the number of vocations and the loss of the seminary’s undergraduate college of liberal arts last year, the Archdiocese of Boston has decided to reduce the number of faculty members at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton. Four faculty members are being reassigned, and three have chosen to voluntarily leave the seminary staff.
The faculty members being reassigned are: Msgr. Richard G. Cunningham, Father Robert J. Congdon, Father Martin P. Connor and Father William F. Murphy.
Msgr. Cunningham, a canon law professor, has taught at the seminary for over 30 years. Father Congdon, who teaches sacramental theology and Spanish and was acting dean of the seminary college during the 2002-2003 academic year, has been on staff since 1992. Father Connor, who is a spiritual director, has worked at the seminary for the past 27 years, and Father Murphy, also a spiritual director, has been working at the seminary since 2000.
Those voluntarily resigning are: Father Robert W. Murray, Father William B. Palardy and Father Robin Ryan, CP.
Father Murray, director of pastoral formation, has been on staff since 2000. Father Palardy, dean of students and professor of patristic theology — the study of the writings and theology of the Fathers of the Church — has taught at the seminary since 1992. Father Ryan, a religious order priest, is director of the Master of Arts in Ministry Program for the laity and professor of systematic theology — the study of Church doctrine.
According to St. John’s Seminary rector, Father John A. Farren, OP, Father Murray will go on sabbatical at the end of the academic year and then be reassigned and Father Palardy will teach at the seminary in the fall of 2004 and go on sabbatical in the winter or spring of 2005. He said that Father Ryan, a Passionist priest, was originally reassigned by his order last year, but the archdiocese asked him to stay an extra year. Father Ryan plans to move to Chicago, where he will continue teaching.
Father Farren told The Pilot that Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley met with the seminary faculty members last month to inform them that the number of faculty members would have to be reduced. The archbishop explained that, based on the number of students enrolled at the seminary, the archdiocese could not afford to employ so many faculty members, stated Father Farren.
There are currently 19 faculty members at the seminary for approximately 60 seminarians — a nearly three-to-one ratio. Fifty-two seminarians live at the campus in Brighton.
The archbishop “told us that ratio of professors to students is a luxury that we cannot afford at this point,” said Father Farren. “No academic institution can really carry on with that ratio. It’s so high.”
Father Palardy, who has spent the last 12 years at the seminary, said he submitted his resignation for a “number of reasons,” but mainly because he would like to return to parish work. He hopes to be assigned to a parish by the summer of 2005.
"I'm looking forward to getting back into full-time ministry" because as a diocesan priest that is what you plan to do, he said.
Father Palardy characterized the past year as “difficult.” Due to a number of difficulties, which he declined to mention, he has “mixed feelings” about leaving his position because he has “enjoyed teaching and working with seminarians and colleagues.”
Father Christopher Coyne, spokesperson for the archdiocese and liturgy professor at St. John’s Seminary, explained that last year’s closure of the liberal arts college at the seminary contributed to the overstaffing problem. When the college closed, he said, there was an “influx” of professors from the college seminary to the theologate, which provides post graduate-level theological education.
Father Coyne noted that two faculty members who are being reassigned, Msgr. Cunningham and Father Connor, have a long history at St. John’s Seminary. He said both men have been strong models of the Catholic priesthood to seminarians.
"Many of those who are ordained now were served by their example and instruction," said Father Coyne. "The good work that they have done continues in the good work of the priests of this archdiocese and those who have gone to other dioceses."
Father Connor, who has spent the last 27 years working at the seminary and was one of four spiritual directors there, feels that the staff reduction “was probably necessary in some ways.” However, he feels that “it’s happening very quickly and [to] a lot of people at once.”
Father Connor said he will fondly remember teaching at the seminary.
"It's been a wonderful experience teaching and working with seminarians over the years," he said. "It's been a really privileged experience for me."
"I'll miss it," he continued. "But I'm ready to move on."
They, in turn, will be missed by those at the seminary, Father Farren said.
"We will certainly feel their absence, but we recognize that the Church has to face difficult realities today that are very different from those of even the recent past," he stated. "We will simply have to pull in our belts and get on with it."