August 5, 2017
Dear Another Voice Friends,
Starting Sunday morning, August 6th, and continuing until August 13th I am coordinating an alumni reunion and theological conference for over fifty alumni and friends from my alma mater in Louvain (Leuven) Belgium. I will return to Another Voice on the week end of August 19/20.
I am a proud non-ordained alumnus of The American College of Louvain and the Catholic University of Leuven. They truly opened my eyes and changed my life in very good ways. My father, who passed away in 1996, often said over the years “Jack was never the same after Louvain!” He was correct of course….
The American College of Louvain was founded in Leuven (then internationally known as “Louvain”) Belgium on March 19th 1857, under the leadership of Bishop Martin J. Spalding, Bishop of Louisville, Kentucky and Bishop Peter Paul Lefevere, Bishop of Detroit. Up until June 2011, when the U.S. bishops closed it as a seminary, The American College had operated under the auspices of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as one of two U.S. seminaries in Europe: The American College of Louvain and the younger Pontifical North American College in Rome. Today in its 160th year, The American College, owned and operated by the Catholic University of Leuven, is a wonderfully renovated residence for more than a hundred men and women pursuing university studies in a variety of disciplines. It is a delightfully energetic place and I am so very proud to say I am an alumnus.
A bit of historical background: At the mid-point of the nineteenth century, the Catholic Church in North America was facing two major needs: finding priests to minister to a rapidly growing Catholic immigrant population, coming to its shores from Europe, and the formation of U.S. priests to minister in North America. The bishops of the United States looked, in large part, to Europe for their priests, since they had few seminaries of their own and very few native-born priests. The American College in Leuven was established by the bishops of the United States, therefore, with the dual purpose of training young European men to serve as missionary priests in North America and to train and educate young American seminarians in the philosophical and theological traditions of Louvain.
Louvain has long been well known for its stress on the “historical-critical method” in theology. Historical criticism, also known as the historical-critical method or higher criticism, investigates the origins and meanings of ancient texts in order to understand what a text meant back then and what it means today. It applies to texts from the Bible but also doctrinal statements over the centuries, because the meanings of words, modes of thought, and literary styles change and evolve over the years.
At the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), Louvain theologians, working with Belgian bishops like Cardinal Suenens, had a major role in the drafting of what would become ground-breaking documents like Lumen Gentium and Gaudium et Spes, reflecting a modern and developmental self-understanding for the Roman Catholic Church.
Today The American College’s alumni minister in parishes, some are diocesan bishops, and many hold professorships at colleges and universities across the United States and around the world. Their areas of academic expertise are what they specialized in at Louvain: historical theology, moral theology, biblical theology, and church law. My own area is historical theology.
As an older alumnus of The American College (Class of 1969) and a former professor and member of the faculty, I share, with our alumni, an immense sense of gratitude and appreciation for the professors, staff members, and students who have maintained and passed on “the spirit of Louvain.”
In ways and forms still evolving, I understand and greatly appreciate the words of Father David Russell, a student from Louisville, Kentucky — and the very first American student at the College.
Shortly after his arrival in 1858, David wrote enthusiastically about The American College to his bishop: “The zeal of its supporters is invincible.”
Kind regards, Jack