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History of Saint Thomas Seminary Chronology pdf

Reminiscences of St. Thomas Seminary

“The Preparatory Seminary of St. Thomas of Aquinas, founded by the Rt. Rev. Michael Tierney, Bishop of Hartford, is the youngest Catholic seminary or college in New England…. This property was purchased from Patrick B. Donovan by Bishop Tierney on the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin, Nov. 21, 1896…Classes were organized in St. Thomas Seminary on Sept. 7, 1898, when thirty-seven students, fifteen boarders and twenty-two day scholars were entered on the roll.” This was known as the “first Seminary” located at 352 Collins St. in Hartford.

Bishop McAuliffe

Bishop Maurice F. McAuliffe

The “Old Seminary” was located at 240 Collins St. in Hartford. Bishop McAuliffe labored there as a diocesan priest from 1900-1930, as professor, vice-president, and president. After thirty years when more ample quarters were needed Bishop McAuliffe left Collins St. for the new Saint Thomas in Bloomfield. According to written accounts “almost every detail was the work of Bishop McAuliffe” and “a dream of his that was brought to realization.” He resided at St. Thomas Seminary until his death.

A reception was held for Bishop McAuliffe on May 24, 1928. The cornerstone of the new St. Thomas Seminary was laid by Bishop Nilan on Sunday Sept. 29, 1928 at 4:00 p.m. with the entire student body, about 200, in attendance. It first opened on Sept. 29, 1930.

Sources: O’Donnell, James H. History of the Diocese of Hartford. Boston: Hunt, 1900; The Catholic Church in New England; The Catholic Transcript Sept. 20, 1928, Oct. 2, 1930.

Bishop Michael Tierney, the founder of St. Thomas Seminary, was first and foremost a priest of the people. Bishop Tierney served as pastor in several parishes throughout Connecticut, including St. Mary's Church in New London and St. Peter's in Hartford. He was consecrated Bishop of Hartford in 1894, following the death of Bishop McFarland. With indefatigable resolve, Bishop Tierney set about creating a twentieth century diocese.

Bishop Tierney

Bishop Michael Tierney

The fourteen years in which he presided over the diocese witnessed an unprecedented expansion. The number of parishes grew from 98 to 167 and the clerical body increased from 204 to 342. Moreover, he strove to meet the demands of a growing immigrant population by sending seminarians to pursue part of their studies abroad where they could learn languages vital to their missions at home.

Bishop Tierney helped establish homes here for the Sisters of the Holy Ghost and the Little Sisters of the Poor. He founded the “Connecticut Apostolate,” a body of diocesan priests who were unique to their time. Their duty was to give missions to non-Catholics as well as Catholics. Through the work of the Apostolate as well as by the character and deeds of the good Bishop himself, relations with non-Catholics improved substantially. Lastly, Bishop Tierney founded and co-founded a number of institutions, including St. Francis Hospital, St. Mary’s Hospital and the original St. Thomas Seminary on Collins St. in Hartford.

On the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin, in November, 1896, Bishop Tierney purchased the first seminary building on Collins Street in Hartford, a structure that formerly housed a school for Chinese students. This building featured a chapel, dormitory, infirmary, classrooms and library. Bishop Tierney donated the first books in the library. On September 7, 1897, Saint Thomas Seminary opened its doors to a student body of 37. Right Reverend John Synnott, a Paris-trained theologian, was appointed the seminary’s first President and served at St. Thomas until his death in 1921.

Bishop Tierney continued to serve his flock with earnest spiritual commitment and abiding compassion until his death on October 3, 1908. A humble, tireless man of the people, he was eulogized and praised by Catholics and non-Catholics alike. For the next 30 years the Seminary’s enrollment grew, and by the 1920's it was apparent that a larger structure was needed to house the Seminary. Much of the planning for our current building was made under the Seminary’s President at that time, Bishop Maurice F. McAuliffe. Under Bishop Nilan, Bishop McAuliffe taught dogmatic, moral and pastoral theology at St. Thomas Seminary for many years and was eventually named to the position of President. In 1928, the cornerstone for our present home was laid on a high knoll in Bloomfield, Connecticut. Five miles from Hartford, the land was already in the possession of the Dioceses. It was the Olmstead Brothers, sons of the famous architect and landscape artist Frederick Law Olmstead who designed Central Park in NYC and other notable projects who were largely responsible for landscaping the grounds at St. Thomas Seminary in the 1930’s.

The stately structure, which combines both French and English Collegiate Gothic motifs, was designed by Architect Louis A. Walsh of Waterbury, and was constructed by W. F. O’Neil. It took two years to complete the edifice, which is faced in random rock-face granite, with limestone trim. The main building is three stories high and measures 486 feet long in front. It is crowned with a central tower, 36 feet square at its base and 180 feet high. Two wings on either end that measure 160 feet long were once used as dormitories for seminary students. They now serve as housing for retreats and other events. The northwest section of the building was converted to new residences for retired priests. Renovations were completed and the new Daniel A. Cronin Residence for Priests was dedicated by Archbishop Henry J. Mansell in February 2007. A number of additional buildings dot the grounds. The chapel nave seats over 500 and has two transepts projecting off the main altar. Its stunning, classic stained glass windows were imported from Great Britain and depict the life of Jesus in richly colored detail. With walls that are lined with Briar Hill sandstone and an arching hammer beam ceiling the chapel was then and is now often considered a crown jewel of the Seminary.

About Archbishop Henry J. O’Brien

Bishop Henry J. O'Brien

Archbishop Henry J. O’Brien

On the occasion of his 25th anniversary as a bishop, the Most Reverend Henry J. O’Brien remarked, “If I had my choice I would have preferred to stay as president of the seminary instead of becoming bishop.” His statement was an indication of the fondness he had for the Seminary that he had not only once taught at, but had also attended as a young seminarian.In 1917 as a student here, Archbishop O’Brien became the founding editor of the Stella Matutina, the school literary journal.

The Stella continued to be published for many years after, and the full collection is part of the Saint Thomas Seminary Collection housed at the library, which later became known as the The Archbishop Henry J. O’Brien Memorial Library in his honor.

After completing his studies here, Archbishop O’Brien continued at the major seminary in Louvain, Belgium and was ordained in 1923. In 1926, he was appointed to Saint Thomas Seminary as an instructor of French and English. Appointed to the position of rector in 1934, he remained in that post until 1940, when he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Hartford. Named Bishop in 1945 and Archbishop in 1953, the Most Reverend Henry J. O’Brien maintained his residence at the Seminary in a modest three room apartment until 1965.

On November 20, 1968 Archbishop O’Brien announced his retirement as Bishop. His motto was “Christus Crescat.” “Let Christ increase.” In his work at St. Thomas Seminary, Archbishop O’Brien displayed constant encouragement and support of its programs, surely increasing Christ in the lives of others. He was a tireless educator, spiritual leader, and former president and friend of our Seminary.

On many evenings after his retirement students at Saint Thomas would find the Archbishop standing at the door of his first floor apartment to ask the score of the night’s interscholastic basketball game. At many a play and concert at the Seminary whispers would rustle through the auditorium, “The Archbishop’s here.” He returned for Serra Club dinners and Seminary picnics.

On Friday, July 6, 1973, the Archbishop celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of his ordination with a Mass and reception at the Seminary. A great many well-wishers were in attendance, including sixteen Bishops from around the country and other clergy.

Source: Challenge, St. Thomas Preparatory Seminary, Archdiocese of Hartford, 12/1968.




Archdiocesan Center at St. Thomas Seminary • Archdiocese of Hartford
467 Bloomfield Ave. Bloomfield, Connecticut 06002
Phone:  860-242-5573 • Fax: 860-242-4886