LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Northern Ireland’s only Catholic seminary is closing down after 185 years.

St. Malachy’s Seminary in Belfast was founded in 1833, only four years after the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829, which removed most of the restrictions on the Catholic Church in what was then the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

“The closure of the diocesan seminary is a sad moment for all, not least for all those who have worked closely alongside the formation team and who have contributed immensely to the formation of the seminarians. However, in arriving at this difficult decision, the diocese and the seminary formation team have focused on what is in the best interests of the seminarians who are currently in formation,” said a statement from the Diocese of Down and Connor, which covers the Belfast area.

The diocese cited the closure of the Department of Scholastic Philosophy at Belfast’s Queen’s University, where the seminarians studied, as well as the Queen’s University’s “progressive discontinuation of modules in scholastic philosophy.”

The statement said the decision to close the seminary was taken “with a certain sadness yet with trust in the providence of God, and with much satisfaction over what has been achieved through the diocesan seminary over the years.”

“The diocese pays tribute to the many academic professors and tutors, catering and domestic staff within the seminary, ancillary staff, pastoral support personnel, priests and laity within parishes, and all those who have tirelessly offered and faithfully dedicated their time and expertise to the ongoing formation of priests for the diocese and the wider Church,” the statement concluded.

The closure of the seminary leaves the national seminary of Maynooth as the only seminary on the island of Ireland. The Pontifical Irish College of Rome is the only other seminary for Irish students.