PROVIDENCE — For 150 years, the priests in the Diocese of Providence have brought Christ to the lay faithful through their preaching and the celebration of the sacraments. They have served the poor, advocated for the marginalized, listened and provided counsel, buried the dead, spoken for the unborn, and defended the truth. They have established social ministries, opened schools, founded prayer groups and provided outreach and ministry to the youth.
“Every day, our priests — both active and retired — serve the Church faithfully in quiet and unassuming ways,” said Father Christopher J. Murphy, rector of Our Lady of Providence Seminary.
The mission of OLP, a regional seminary serving New England dioceses, is to serve the Roman Catholic Church in preparing men for the priesthood.
The seminary’s beginnings go back to 1938, when Bishop Francis P. Keough sought and was granted a charter by the Rhode Island Legislature to incorporate a new seminary in Warwick. When it opened in 1941 as Our Lady of Providence Seminary, 33 young men of high school and first year of college entered the seminary in response to God’s call. Within a few years, due to its great success, it became apparent that the seminary facilities needed to be expanded. Under the direction of then Bishop Russell J. McVinney, who had served as the first rector of the Seminary, a major expansion and construction program was completed to house over 400 high school and college students in the scenic Warwick Neck property overlooking Narragansett Bay.
Through the turbulent decades of the 1960s and 1970s, Our Lady of Providence Seminary faced many of the changes that affected society and the Church. The high school program was moved to Our Lady of Providence Preparatory High School on Regent Avenue in Providence. The collegiate program continued at the Aldrich Estate in Warwick. However, by the end of the 1970s it was apparent that the enrollment at the college seminary was declining and that some decisions regarding maintaining the facility needed to be made.
In 1982, a seminary review committee was formed to discuss the changes necessary in order to continue quality priestly formation in the Diocese of Providence and in 1983, Bishop Louis E. Gelineau approved the relocation of Our Lady of Providence Seminary from the Warwick Neck campus to its present location on Mt. Pleasant Avenue in Providence.
As the seminary continued to grow, accepting seminarians throughout New England and even as far as the Archdiocese of Baltimore, it became evident that more space would be necessary. In 2008, under the leadership of Bishop Thomas J. Tobin and the rector, Rev. Msgr. Albert A. Kenney, the seminary acquired an adjacent property that was converted into the St. Joseph House, a dorm that allowed the seminary to welcome even more men into its priestly formation program.
Today, the Seminary of Our Lady of Providence continues as a house of formation, serving candidates from the Diocese of Providence as well as qualified candidates who are sponsored by other dioceses.
In the year 1999-2000 there were eight seminarians studying at OLP. In 2009, there were 22 seminarians studying there. The biggest academic year in recent history — in terms of enrollment — was in 2011-2012 with 27 men enrolled. Currently, there are 16 seminarians studying for the Diocese of Providence.
Despite a decline in priestly vocations throughout the nation over the years, there is certainly hope in the renewed zeal of the young men pursuing a vocation in 2022, explained Father Murphy.
“I try to remind people that, while numbers are important, we're much more focused on the quality of our candidates. In that vein, the quality of the men who present themselves today is impressive. Our seminarians exhibit a love for Christ and His Church, lead active lives of prayer, and have a desire to reflect the joy of the Gospel.”
He added that the diocese, as it has in the past, will be reinvigorated by these men who bring a fresh perspective and new insights.
“They evidence a strong commitment to and real love for Catholic doctrine and traditions. On the other hand, seminarians are keenly aware of and familiar with present day issues and challenges to religious faith. Many of the people they love, in their families and friend groups, do not share the Catholic worldview. The result is that seminarians simultaneously possess a very genuine pastoral sensitivity and patience with nonbelievers and the culture in general. In between these two realities, there is a sincere desire to bridge the gap and evangelize in a way that speaks the truth in love.”
Father Murphy shared that the greatest blessing at the Seminary of Our Lady of Providence is Jesus Christ — present especially in their chapel each and every day.
“When giving tours of the seminary, we often point out that the chapel occupies a central place geographically on our property. That is not accidental. The Eucharist is truly the source and summit of everything we do.”
In a recent visit to OLP, Bishop Tobin assured the young men of his prayers and told them that their greatest seminary success will be to grow in holiness.
“The most important thing that you have to do at Our Lady of Providence Seminary is to grow in your discipleship of Jesus Christ, to grow in holiness. That is your primary vocation at this point in your life. In some ways, as you grow in your discipleship of Jesus, it’s a process of adding on to virtue, to holiness, to charity, to your purity, your compassion, your awareness of other people, your humility, your openness to the grace of God.”
Under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Seminary of Our Lady of Providence continues to strive for excellence in priestly formation, helping to form men of integrity and fidelity to the Church’s mission of evangelization and the building of a culture of life, a civilization of love.
To learn more about Vocations in the Diocese of Providence, visit catholicpriest.com.