On Sunday 19 March, Corpus Christi College, the regional seminary of Victoria and Tasmania, will celebrate an important milestone, marking a hundred years of forming and training priests to serve the people of God in Victoria, Tasmania and beyond.
On 19 March 1923, on the Feast of St Joseph, the first seminarians set foot in the newly established seminary at Werribee. To mark the centenary of this momentous event, Archbishop Peter A Comensoli will celebrate Mass at Sacred Heart Church in Carlton on Sunday at 11.30am.
Corpus Christi is the oldest seminary still operating in Australia that retains its original name. Founded by Archbishop Daniel Mannix on Christmas Day 1922, its first location was Chirnside Mansion in Werribee Park, still one of Australia’s most opulent 19th-century mansions.
Large though the mansion was, the growing number of seminarians forced the College to begin work on extensions. In 1941, the Archbishop of Hobart, Justin Simonds, joined the Board of Trustees. Corpus Christi became the regional seminary of Victoria and Tasmania and numbers continued to grow. By 1959, realising that constant extensions were impractical, the College officially opened a second campus in Glen Waverley.
One of the great treasures of Corpus Christi College is its impressive collection of books and historical artefacts. The Mannix Library was founded in 1923 as part of the College and is housed today at Catholic Theological College in East Melbourne.
A number of the library’s oldest items and treasures are currently being exhibited in its Special Collections Room. One of these items is a book dating to the 1400s, printed and bound by Berthold Ruppel, an apprentice of Johannes Gutenberg, founder of the modern printing press. Also displayed is an antiphonary and hymnal dating from the early 1500s, bound in iron.
As well as books, the exhibition includes coins, cups and other fragments dating all the way back to the first century CE.
The public are welcome to visit during the library’s opening hours.
Despite the tremendous growth initially experienced by Corpus Christi College, cultural changes in the 1960s and 70s caused priestly vocations to decline, and by 1972, both locations were forced to close. Glen Waverley was redeveloped by the Victorian Police Force as a training college (being dubbed ‘Copper Christi’ by former residents) and the Werribee site is now a museum run by the National Trust and a boutique hotel.
In 1973, a new Clayton campus was opened and blessed during the 40th Eucharistic Congress, hosted by Melbourne. Catholic Theological College had been established only the year before, and the collaboration of both colleges marked a new era of priestly formation.
The Very Rev Dr Kevin Lenehan is Master of Catholic Theological College, and when he first entered seminary in 1985, it was the Clayton campus that became his new home. There were 100 students at the time, with first- and second-year students living in the same area, and students ranging from their third year to their diaconate years living in smaller groups with a priest formator.
These smaller groups were a key focus, he says, as they centred around shared prayer, human formation and other daily activities. In fact, the transition to Clayton also marked a transition in the seminary’s approach to priestly formation in general, as it moved to a ‘model of formation inspired by the documents of Vatican II and the program of priestly training published after the Council,’ he says.
What this involved practically was an integration of theological and philosophy studies in the students’ Bachelor degrees; a movement from a ‘monastic’ model of separation to a ‘pastoral’ model in which students are immersed in the daily routines of study and work; and ‘the recognition of integral human development as the bedrock of ministerial and spiritual maturity’.
This idea of integral human development is one of the great strengths of the Corpus Christi approach to formation, he says. Along with developing a pattern of personal and communal prayer centred on the Gospel, there is a clear emphasis on ‘integral and ongoing formation, with growth in human integrity and responsibility at the heart of spiritual, pastoral and academic development’.
In 1999, both Corpus Christi College and CTC were moved to the heart of Melbourne, in order to be close to St Patrick’s Cathedral. This was the beginning of Corpus Christi’s time in Carlton, where it remains today, caring for the church of the Sacred Heart.
Fr Cameron Forbes began as rector of the seminary in January this year. He is ‘hopeful’ about the College’s future.
‘To discern a priestly vocation today is counter-cultural,’ he says. ‘Our aim at the seminary is to equip young men with the skills they need to preach the gospel in both words and deeds, in season and out of season, regardless of the environment.’
I’m really inspired and nourished by the seminarians, and their willingness to offer their lives to serve the Church in this special way.
A special centenary Mass will be celebrated by Archbishop Comensoli at Sacred Heart Church, Carlton, on Sunday 19 March at 11.30am.
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC)09 June 2023