The American College of Louvain To Close Spring 2011

A letter addressed to me when I was a resident at the American College of Louvain
The American College in Leuven, Belgium closes its doors.
I learned the other day that my alma mater, the American College of Louvain, where I lived when I studied philosophy at the Catholic University of Leuven, is shutting its doors for good at the end of the Spring 2011 semester.

There was talk, even when I was a seminarian there, back in 2001, that the college might have to close its doors.

First, we opened up our rooms to visiting sabbatical priests and religious. And then, the college tried to bring in extra cash by housing university students in a separate living space from the seminary. When I was there there were only about twenty or so seminarians.

The place was far from doom and gloom though. I loved living there and remember fondly all the men and women I lived with and among those halls.

It is sad to see the school close. The United States Catholic Bishops, who administer the seminary, said in a statement, that the school was closed due to low enrollment.

Personally, I have always thought that bishops did not care for Leuven as a place to train their future priests, because the Catholic University is perceived as more progressive in its theological method, more so than tradition-prone schools like the Gregorian University and the like.

Now that I am out of religion completely, and do not conform to Catholicism in the way I once did, it still pains me they are closing the American College. Yes, the University at Leuven will still remain, but it means Bishops in America will no longer be sending men to study there, nor will priests and religious have a sabbatical place to find intellectual and cultural stimulation. I think it is an isolationist move on the part of the Bishops. It is a gesture towards insularity and exclusion. The fewer places Catholic authorities send their people to study, the more exclusionary the pact as a whole becomes.

I learned many things from living at the American College. I learned that Australians are wild and awesome. One Australian priest would sing to us from Les Miserables at the dinner table. I learned that during finals week, the best thing to do is NOT talk about school work at the dinner table. Also, Naamsestraat 100 was my home for about a year and a half. The place is part of my lexicon of home. I lived with strong minds in the field of theology and philosophy. The impact on me, at the age of twenty to twenty-one, of living in a house that encouraged the history of theology as well as rigorous philosophical thinking is an invaluable gift I won't soon forget.

I wonder what will happen to the physical plant. The college grounds are quite beautiful. The building is one of the few in Leuven that has a backyard. I have a hunch the University will take it over and turn it into dormitory space. I hope they leave room for philosophers.


  1. Some people want to continue as a house of studying for Catholics, priests, sabbaticals and lay people alll this organized by the Belgium Church. But the actual rector and vice rector are completely against this idea .....

  2. AnonymousJune 06, 2011

    There will be a house of formation for Catholic university students, priests continuing to study here, and priests on sabbatical. I am actually part of this. The rector and vice-rector are not really against it, they just do not meddle very much in the issue because they have other things to focus on.

    Btw, your mail comes from Kessel-Lo. That cool!

  3. Thanks for the update! Yes, mail from Kessel-lo is cool!

  4. AnonymousJuly 02, 2011

    From: Richard Cross, fliszt@cloud9.net
    Re: The closing of the American College of Louvain

    The closing of this historic institution was not necessary. But it is not surprising either given the present leadership in the American church.
    American bishops, for the most part "cultivated" in Rome - like Rome itself - have always looked askance at anything north of the Alps. They failed to support our College over the years in the past when they could have sent more seminarians to our college. They were stingy then when there were many more seminarians than today. Enlightened bishops in those days like Charlie Buswell were few and far between. Today they are even harder to find.

    With apologies for some hyperbole to our brothers who attended our younger sister, the North American College in Rome, we in Louvain used to say that if you want to learn philosophy or theology, go to Louvain; if you want to become a bishop, go to Rome. Sadly that's where most of today's bishops were spawned.

    The reasons given for the closing of our college are limp at best: if the church opened the priesthood to married men and women (pace, JP2) the halls of our Alma Mater would be filled with candidates.

    Rome's attitude toward Louvain has not changed over the years.
    Fifty years ago in my time if a thoughtful Louvain professor would get a "monitum" from Rome it would be seen as a sign he was do- ing something worthwhile. We knew that it indicated that he was was actually thinking too much, rather than relying on the worn out and dated theology manuals as was often the case in Rome.

    "Memorize the manual, parrot it back, get your degree and throw your hat into the Tiber."

    It is not surprising then that the crop of bishops we are saddled with today, who are hell-bent on turning back the clock to Trent and Vatican I, have little use for our 154 year-old College and the oldest existing Catholic University in the world (1425). The great theologians from Louvain like Thils, Philips and Janssens helped shape Vatican 2 and made their mark as did the great bishops from Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Germany. As Canon Joseph Coppens used to say quoting Genesis: "Gigantes erant temporibis illis." Those were indeed the days of the giants.

    The harsh language we hear today from the the American hierarchy is not the language of Vatican 2. It was conciliatory, tollerant and open to dialog. Alas, we don't hear that kind of Vatican 2 language today. Rather we hear "my way, or the highway."

    As someone who has been working in Hospice care for over a decade, I have come to recognize the signs of a terminal patient. I do not fear for the People of God. But this recent closure is but one more sign of an institution that cries out for Hospice care.
    A Louvain American College alumnus sent me a quote from John Stuart Mill that aptly seems to describe our current leadership:
    While advocating originality in thinking John Stuart Mill suggests that we live in an age that is intent on "supplying our deficiency of giants by the united efforts of a constantly increasing multitude of dwarfs."

    John Stuart Mill, "The Spirit of the Age" (1831).


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