Moves towards a parish-based ‘apprenticeship’ model of priestly formation would mean the end of the national seminary at Maynooth, a former professor at the college has said.

Calling for prospective clergy to study theology in Trinity College Dublin rather than at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Boston College’s Prof. Oliver Rafferty SJ told The Irish Catholic that any parish-based formation model in Ireland would “almost inevitably” have to be focused on Dublin.

“It seems to me that the hierarchy ought to make arrangements with the Department of Theology at Trinity College,” he said. “I know that will strike terror into the hearts of some, but there is a vibrant theological faculty at Trinity, augmented a number of years ago by the Loyola Institute, which specifically aimed to bring Catholic theology into the department at Trinity.”

Fr Rafferty – a former Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Maynooth – comments come following observations from Killaloe’s Bishop Fintan Monahan that parish-based formation could be more practical than current formation methods and would give student priests valuable experience of working side-by-side with laypeople and experienced clergy. Such a model is one possibility up for consideration by a committee tasked with revising the programme of priestly formation in Ireland.

If Ireland’s bishops seriously want to try a parish-based model of priestly formation, it would inevitably mean that Maynooth would effectively “be finished as a training centre for parish seminarians”, Prof. Rafferty said.

“It’s clear that the bishops want to move away from the old idea of seminary formation, and once they do that, if that is what they have decided, then obviously the consequence that flows from that is abandoning Maynooth as a seminary,” he said, adding that while seminaries have worked well in the past as a way of training priests they may not be well-suited to contemporary challenges.

“As an institution for forming priests, I think seminaries may have seen their day,” he said.

Cautioning against emphasising pastoral formation to the detriment of academic formation, however, he said that seminarians need “rigorous exposure” to the academic aspects of theology.

“Apart from anything else, in a society where the laity are increasingly educated, it would be a paradox to say the least if you had in general laity who were better educated than the clergy,” he said.


Of course we know that Maynooth should be closed – even at this stage over the homosexual activity there.

But Father Rafferty also says that the seminary method is outdated.

He may be right?

It would be very healthy for seminarians to study both philosophy and theology in the company of lay students, Male and female.

They would be aso be exposed to wider philosophies and theologies than purely classical philosophy and theology.

Such 6 years of study would also help seminarians to explore their sexuality in a plural environment and make a better decision about celibacy.

The fact that would live in parishes would expose them to everyday issues and parish liturgy and sacraments.

But however, there remains one big issue to resolve – the issue of spirituality/prayer.

It is quite clear that seminarians were given no lasting spirituality and prayer life in Maynooth.

They have to learn to have a prayer and spiritual life that will last when they live alone in parishes.

One way to achieve this would be for priest and people in every parish that becomes a Basic Christian Community in which laity, priests and religious nourish each other spiritually.

They could pray daily together, worship daily and weekly together, engage on regular guided retreats and make pilgrimages together.

The monastic model is not suitable for secular priesthood.

It all has to be retaught.