HUNTINGTON, New York, April 2
BY: Andrew Wroblewski
Tucked away in the woodlands of Lloyd Harbor, some might call the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception a secret.
But for 89 years, spanning across roughly 200 acres with luscious landscapes, glorious chapels and pockets of history around just about every corner, if the seminary is a secret, it’s one of the biggest that Huntington has ever had.
Founded in 1926, the American Roman Catholic seminary stopped training priests as of 2012, but it still stands today under ownership of the Diocese of Rockville Centre as a hub for Catholic education – including offering master’s degrees, hosting concerts and other public events, and serving as an absolutely beautiful location for all those interested in a guided tour.
“We’re alive and well,” Beverly Malone, who works in the development office of the seminary, said during a November interview. “We want to open the doors… People shouldn’t think we’re a mystery.”
Decades ago, the founding members opened the original doors of the institute on Sept. 18, 1926 after the third Bishop of Brooklyn, Thomas E. Molloy, purchased the former home of the Conklin family on West Neck Road in Lloyd Harbor in 1924 through the Diocese of Brooklyn, according to a published history of the seminary, “Seminary of the Immaculate Conception: The Icon of the Heart of the Church of Long Island,” which was released by publisher Editions du Signe in 2010.
An extension of St. John’s Seminary in Brooklyn, the institute was the very first incarnation of the seminary, sprouted up in the form of the Diocesan Institute of Philosophy. It hosted 25 students, had its first rector in Father Thomas A. Sharkey, and employed two full-time faculty members, the Irish-born Patrick J. Barry and Brooklyn-born Francis X. Downing.
From that point on, the institute set its goals on preparing men for priesthood through a two-year program of spirituality.
In May of 1928, after concerns of limited-spacing accommodations at St. John’s arose, the Diocese of Brooklyn purchased the land next to the institute and began a two-year long campaign to build what today stands as the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception. On Sept. 28, 1930, the building was dedicated and formally opened before a crowd of more than 25,000 people.
With the success of the Huntington-based seminary – 85 men made up its original class –the St. John’s Seminary was closed in August 1932.
Molloy, founder of the Huntington seminary, died on Nov. 26, 1956, five years after he was given the honorable title of archbishop by Pope Pius XII.
One year after Molloy’s death, in April 1957, due to the tremendous growth of the Catholic following, the Diocese of Brooklyn was split by Pope Pius XII, creating the Diocese of Rockville Centre. The former remained to manage the counties of Kings and Queens while the Diocese of Rockville Centre took over Nassau and Suffolk.
In turn, the Huntington seminary was taken over by the new dioceses and continued to educate men in the traditional six-year course for both the Brooklyn and Rockville Centre dioceses.
After a 1960s campaign to expand the role of Catholic education – led by the Dioceses of Brooklyn with Bishop Bryan J. McEntegart – the Huntington seminary reacted by changing its program from six years to four and limiting its academic component to the study of theology in order to better adapt to the changing needs of Catholic ministry within the church.
More changes followed in 1973 as Father Emil A. Wcela became the sixth rector of the seminary and the first-ever rector to be priest alumnus of the seminary. Then, in 1974, the seminary began admitting students who were not preparing for priestly ordination in an attempt to prepare men and women for positions in religious education. The students were worked into a program that led to a Master of Religious Education degree, which was recognized by the Regents of the University of the State of New York.
Similarly, in 1982, a Master of Arts in Theology degree was offered by the seminary, and a Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies program was introduced in 2004.
Fast forward to the 21st century: the seminary celebrated its 75th anniversary on Sept. 28, 2005, when Monsignor Francis Schneider, then rector, headed a committee tasked with overseeing and organizing the momentous calendar of events set on celebrating the day.
After decades of educating men to become priests, the seminary’s officials announced in November 2011 that they would cease educating seminarians at the Huntington property. In a move made in conjunction with the Diocese of Brooklyn and Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, the Diocese of Rockville Centre merged its seminary program at Saint Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y. – as it still remains today.
The Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, however, does still work today in educating the public through theological courses.
Also, as Malone also said, the building’s caretakers welcome visitors. To schedule a tour or retreat, learn more about its history and keep up to date with the events it has to offer, visit http://www.icseminary.edu.
On April 12, the seminary will play host to choir, La Escolania del Monasterio del Escorial, for a free celebration and concert. The chaplet is set to begin at 3 p.m., with the concert beginning at 3:15 p.m. Good will offerings are appreciated.
Originally published: Long Islander News: The Record
(Thursday, April 2, 2015; A21)