LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Ireland’s national seminary in Rome will not accept new seminarians this fall, and its future as a college seminary for the island’s trainee priests is “under review.”

In a statement released on Friday, the Irish Bishops Conference said the nearly 400-year-old Pontifical Irish College will “explore new ways in which the College can be of service to the Church in Ireland.”

Located near St. John Lateran Basilica – the cathedral of Rome – the Irish College is a center of Irish culture in the Italian capital, for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

The Irish bishops’ statement said that the college “continues to provide an important service to the Church in Ireland and confirmed that they are open to the possibility of sending seminarians to the College in the future.”

They also acknowledged “the broad, global, and universal viewpoint offered by a Roman experience has been enriching for many down through the centuries.”

“This remains true today, and into the future,” the statement said.

The college will continue to provide a home for Irish priests pursuing postgraduate studies and those wishing to undertake a longer or shorter period of sabbatical renewal in Rome. The college will also continue to host a semester abroad program for seminarians from the United States which began in 2016.

The statement said the Irish bishops “continue to consider, in line with the new Ratio for Seminary Formation, future ways to prepare priests with the human, spiritual, theological and pastoral aptitudes needed to address the challenges of contemporary Ireland.”

The Ratio was formulated last year to reform the seminary process of the Irish Church.

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The bishops also said the Irish College might also contribute to “new forms of ministry in Ireland included the permanent diaconate, parish catechists, and parish pastoral workers.”

 The acting rector of the seminary, Father Paul Finnerty, said he “welcomed” the announcement.

“The formation of priests for mission in Ireland is one of the keys to the renewal and revitalisation of the Irish Church. I believe that the decisions taken by the Trustees today have this goal in mind,” he said on the college’s website. “The Irish College is an almost four-hundred year old resource for the Church in Ireland that is ready to play a key role in the renewal and revitalisation of the Irish mission.”

Finnerty said he was supportive of the suggestion that the Irish College help prepare different kinds of pastoral workers for ministry.

“I look forward to supporting these new ministries by offering opportunities for nourishment in the faith-filled, historical, and cultural environment of the eternal city. The broad, global and universal viewpoint offered by a Roman experience has been enriching for many priests and people down through the centuries. This remains true today, and into the future, for leaders of the Church in Ireland,” he said.

Friday’s announcement means the national seminary at Maynooth will be the only Irish seminary training men for the diocesan priesthood.

St. Malachy’s Seminary in Belfast closed in 2018, All Hallows in Dublin closed in 2015, St. Patrick’s in Thurles closed in 2002, Clonliffe College in Dublin closed in 2000. In addition, four other seminaries closed in the 1990’s.

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome