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St. Johns Seminary

Foundations of America

QU201 Prof. Scott Leone

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St. Johns Seminary

St. John’s Seminary

            A brief history and background of the St. John’s seminary includes the founding of the seminary by Archbishop Williams. “The seminary was founded to train priests for the Archdiocese of Boston and other dioceses of New England. Prior to this, Boston and the newly founded dioceses of Burlington, Portland, and Springfield sent their seminarians to study for priestly formation in Baltimore, Quebec City, and Europe. These trips were long, exhausting and isolating for these future priests, who sometimes spent years away from their families, friends, and dioceses. As the Church in New England continued to grow, it became feasible for the creation of a major seminary in the archdiocese of Boston. In March of 1880, Archbishop Williams acquired the 50 acre Stanwood estate, near the present day Lake Street in Brighton, for around 18,500 dollars. Williams, looking back on his own formation with fondness, invited the Sulpician Fathers to staff the Seminary. Work began on the Theology House (St. John's Hall) in April of 1881 and continued for three years. Originally designed to hold 200 students, the plans were simplified, due to construction costs. Saint John's seminary opened its doors in May 1884, with room for 100 seminarians and was staffed by Sulpicians from Paris and Baltimore. The Sulpicians brought a number of books and pieces of art, mostly notably they brought the statue of the Madonna and Child, a replica of a famous piece from the church of Saint Sulpice in Paris. This statue stands in the courtyard to this day.”

            In 1919, Boston was plagued by the Spanish Influenza outbreak which killed an average of 150 people per day. To help the people of Boston cope with the outbreak, Cardinal O’Connell offered St. John’s as a hospital with twenty seminarians assisting the doctors and nurses. Shortly after the Spanish Influenza outbreak, St. John’s Seminary was under renovations once again. The renovations consisted of expanding St. John’s hall to add more rooms for the students. Along with the room expansion, the seminary added a convent for sisters, and new heating boilers. The seminary went under great expansion in the 20th century, including the construction of facilities which housed several archdiocesan offices. The construction of these offices consequently made the seminary the heart of the Archdiocese of Boston for the 20th century.

            Due to the large increase in enrollment at the seminary, the outdated St. John’s hall, once again, had to undergo renovations. Under the direction of Cardinal Law, millions of dollars were invested in the renovations of St. John’s. Modern bathrooms were installed and improvements to the classrooms and common rooms were also made during this time. Due to the sex scandal that hit the Roman Catholic faith in 2001, the St. John’s seminary closed down in 2002. Much of the land was sold off to Boston College.

            St. John’s Seminary is located on 127 Lake Street, Brighton, MA.



Est. 1884

            According to the master list of sites on foundationsofamerica.com, the architect of the seminary was, Joseph Gregory McGann. When the very first construction began in 1899, the architectural firm of Magennis and Walsh designed St. John’s hall using the French provincial style of the theology house. The interior design of the chapel was the main focus of the seminary when Magennis and Walsh designed it. “Saint John's Seminary Chapel served as the crowning piece of Archbishop John Williams' efforts to provide Boston with a setting where Roman Catholic priests would discover the mystery of their unique calling. In a word, the Chapel was constructed around the Eucharist. Today, the visitor will note that the Chapel houses only one altar. There are no side altars, such as one is accustomed to see in many parish and cathedral churches. In principle, Romanesque churches accommodated only one altar in the rounded apse which is characteristic of this ancient style. But what is more important, the Chapel was designed to remind the seminarian from his first day in residence that his future life as a priest would center on the Eucharist. Originally, the main altar was located in the center of the Chapel's apse. On it stood the tabernacle. Where now the visitor is impressed by the sculpted crucifix, there hung a large gilded tabernacle lamp. All in all, the Chapel provides a setting for the sacraments that recalls the Passion and Death of the Lord. Until the 1990s, the seminarians were asked to kneel on the bare wooden floor of the Chapel. Devotion to the Eucharist as well as humility are required of the man who alone provides others with Christ's Body and Blood. Instruction about humility was impressed on the seminarians by the purposeful omission of padded kneelers in the original construction. Today's seminarians develop these same virtues of reverence for God and his sacraments.”

            One of the main architectural features inside the chapel is the organ. Hook and Hastings were the premiere organ builders of the late 19th century. The Hook and Hastings organ was installed shortly after the completion of the chapel. “An older but suitable one-manual pipe organ accompanies liturgical ceremonies while the seminary awaits adequate donations to restore the original Hook and Hasting. Christmas concerts continue to delight visitors to Saint John's Seminary as well as other solemn liturgies that occur throughout the Church's year. The Chapel regularly welcomes worshipers for Sunday and other special liturgies, especially during Holy Week.”



     The one-hundredth anniversary of the chapel brought renovations to the chapel. The images of the doctors located in the apse were restored. “They had been removed in the early decades of the twentieth century - so there was no living memory of them, only photographs. Saints Ambrose, Augustine, Gregory the Great watch down from the left, and Saints Thomas Aquinas, Athanasius, and Basil the Great do so from the right. The Doctors of the Church appear frequently in churches built in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century. The message their images communicated is clear. Authentic instruction about the Christian faith comes from those who are recognized by the Church for sound doctrine. In seminaries, these holy men (and today holy women, including St. Thérèse of Lisieux) serve a special purpose. They remind seminarians that the priest brings a message that is not his own. Rather the priest is charged to announce the Word of God in conformity with the truth of Catholic and divine faith.”

 The exterior of the building is made out of Stony Creek granite. As you can see in the picture above (St. Jonn’s Seminary in Boston, MA), the multi-colored stone on the exterior of the seminary is the Stony Creek granite. There was no Stony Creek granite incorporated on the inside of the building. The granite was used as main base of the outside of the building. The Stony Creek granite came from the number one supplier of Stony Creek granite, in Milford, Connecticut. The granite was transported to Boston by ship. It was easily accessible because the seminary is located near the Boston Harbor.

Works Cited


Last Updated on Sunday, 12 December 2010 12:38  


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