St. Philip’s Seminary
St Philip’s Seminary was founded in 1984 for a very compelling reason. As a new and growing community, the Toronto Oratory was blessed with a number of vocations, but these novices required intellectual formation. The local institutions did not provide what we were looking for. Our members needed both intellectual training and Oratorian formation. Since some of us already had academic training, as did various friends of ours outside the community, we decided to put together a program of intellectual formation for our own students, a program influenced by the traditional Dominican course of studies. Since then, almost all of our members have received their intellectual formation for ordination within the Oratory’s own Seminary.
In 1986, at the request of Cardinal Carter, then archbishop of Toronto, we expanded the work of the Seminary to include the philosophical training of students for the Archdiocese. This work allowed us to serve the local church while at the same time deepening and developing our life together as Oratorians. Instead of leaving the house each day to go to the university to teach, we stayed at home, still available for pastoral work and spiritual direction.
It quickly became clear that the Archdiocese, unfortunately, did not have sufficient numbers of vocations to support the program on their own. We were asked to open the Seminary to other students. Since that time, we have attracted candidates from dioceses and religious communities around the world.
With the growth of the Seminary, it became necessary to obtain official status for courses and degrees we offered. By an Act of Parliament in 1990, in consultation with the Ministry of Colleges and Universities of the Province of Ontario, St Philip’s Seminary was established as a degree-granting institution in its own right. This act granted the Seminary the right to confer Bachelor’s degrees on those studying philosophy and Master’s degrees on those studying theology. The Seminary offers three different Bachelor’s degrees in philosophy, providing significant flexibility for students from a variety of academic and linguistic backgrounds. Until 2013, with the enactment of the Bologna Accord, the Seminary was also affiliated with the Pontifical University of the Lateran and its degrees recognized as equivalent to theirs.
The work of the seminary continues to diversify. In the late 1980’s we began a summer program of theological studies focusing upon the sort of apologetics useful for teachers and catechists. Recently we have begun to offer some of this material as part of a program of continuing education for Catholic schoolteachers offered in conjunction with the Toronto Catholic Teachers’ Guild.
The Seminary was established upon two fundamental principles: first, that seminarians need philosophy of a high intellectual calibre, which is at the same time explicitly directed towards the subsequent study of theology; and second, that seminarians, most especially at the beginning of their formation, need the support of a program focused upon the development of a deep understanding and love of the priestly vocation. The fruitfulness of this approach is attested by the large proportion of Saint Philip’s students who in fact persevere to ordination, now at least 195.
All of our students are officially sponsored seminarians committed to a seminary environment—living, studying and praying in community. Most of our seminarians live at St Philip’s Seminary—seminarians from other Oratorian communities, various dioceses, the Missionaries of the Poor, the Congregation of the Disciples of the Lord, the Chaldean Eparchy, and the Norbertine Abbey of St Michael’s in California, to name just a few. Those studying for the Archdiocese of Toronto live at Serra House, the archdiocesan house of discernment. We also are blessed to have had a number of seminarians from Redemptoris Mater Missionary Seminary, hosted by the Archdiocesan Seminary of St Augustine’s. Whether they live here, at Serra House, or at Redemptoris Mater Seminary, all of these students come together for classes at Saint Philip’s.
The Seminary is distinguished by its coexistence with an Oratory running two inner-city parishes: Holy Family and St Vincent de Paul. These two parishes are extremely active and diverse, giving the seminarians invaluable first-hand experience of parish life. Locating a seminary in an Oratory and parish setting addresses one of the great challenges in forming seminarians and in assisting them to discern their vocation: to instill in them a sense of the priesthood and its practical demands and blessings. Many seminarians experience the life of a priest in a parish only after a significant part of their academic training is concluded, or briefly and occasionally in pastoral practica; neither solution seems ideal. At St Philip’s Seminary the real life of a parish priest is always present before the eyes of the seminarians.
Our seminary’s presence within an Oratory setting has been an appealing feature for Oratorian communities around the world. Many have sent us students to complete their philosophical training, being able at the same time to live within an Oratorian community and with other Oratorian novices.
We not only provide the greater part of the intellectual formation of the seminarians, but also of their spiritual and human formation: through regular conferences and spiritual direction and by means of the students’ involvement in our pastoral work in both parishes. Then, of course, there are the relationships built up through daily, familiar interaction with others, which Newman considered an Oratorian characteristic, naming it “personal influence.” The circulation of all these elements—intellectual, spiritual, pastoral and personal—makes a stimulating and fruitful environment, not only for the students, we believe, but also for the Oratory.