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WASHINGTON— On August 19, 2011, representatives of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the Board of Directors of the American College of the Immaculate Conception, Catholic University of Louvain signed an agreement providing for the future use of the property of the American College and for the renewal of the long standing cooperation among the USCCB, the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (K.U.Leuven) and the Université catholique de Louvain (UCL) – respectively the Dutch and French sister universities which succeeded to the once unitary university of Leuven founded in 1425 – for the promotion of theological and philosophical studies in Belgium.
The American College (ACL) is one of two European seminaries governed by the USCCB; the other is the Pontifical North American College in Rome. The ACL was founded in 1857 by the bishops of the United States with the dual purpose of training European men to serve as missionary priests in North America and of offering to American seminarians the philosophical and theological riches available at Europe's oldest Catholic university in Leuven.
However, in recent years it has proven difficult to maintain a sufficient number of seminarians and priest faculty at the ACL. As a consequence, in November 2010, the bishops of the USCCB accepted the recommendation of the governing board of the ACL to cease seminary formation at the end of the academic year 2010-2011.
“The seminary has served the Church in the United States and other parts of the world faithfully, steadfastly and zealously throughout its 154-year existence, and so this is a sad moment for many of us,” said Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay, Wisconsin, and chair of the board at the time of the announcement of the closing, in November 2010. Bishop Ricken added: “We hold a good relationship with both the theology and philosophy faculties at the University. We are grateful to the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels, the theology and philosophy faculties and the people of Belgium for their support and collaboration with the Roman Catholic Church of the United States for these many years.”
In the weeks and months after the announcement of the closure, intensive work and consultation has taken place to assure that the rich spiritual and patrimonial heritage of the American College of Louvain continues to serve the needs of the Church in both Belgium and the United States.
The agreement provides that the building in which the seminary functioned has been entrusted to K.U.Leuven. K.U.Leuven will thoroughly renovate and update the building, as was done with other historical and university patrimony in the past. Besides serving as a residence for university students, the building will also house a significant new cooperative project, established jointly by USCCB and K.U.Leuven, in close consultation with the bishops’ conference of Belgium and the French speaking sister university in Louvain-la-Neuve (UCL). Through this project, students and researchers will be recruited from the worldwide Catholic community, especially from the United States. Its working language will be English. The students and scholars will be priests, deacons, members of religious institutes and new Catholic movements, and lay persons. The students and scholars will participate in research and/or educational activities at the K.U.Leuven and/or UCL. In particular, the project will promote work at the faculties with programs in theology, canon law and philosophy.The “Peter Kindekens Fund,” named after the first rector of the American College, has been created in the name of the USCCB. The general goal of the Fund is to support educational and research activities which preserve and further the spiritual heritage of the ACL or ensure that the window to the worldwide Catholic community in general and to the Catholic Church in the USA in particular, as it used to be provided by the ACL, be maintained. This Fund can also grant scholarships in fulfillment of the goals of the project and will administer existing scholarship funds already associated with the ACL in order to continue to fulfill their intent to support the training of students and priests for service to the Church in the United States.
Representing the USCCB at the signing of the agreement was the General Secretary of the Conference, Msgr. Ronny Jenkins, who remarked on the occasion, “the extraordinary cooperation and good will that has helped conclude this agreement demonstrate the clear desire of all the parties for a strong partnership that promotes the mission of the Church and of the organizations for years to come. This is a fitting tribute to the legacy of The American College.” Also present and signing the agreement was Dr. Kurt Martens, Professor of Canon Law at the Catholic University of America and Delegate of the Board of Directors of the ACL. Professor Martens noted, “In these past months since the announcement of the closure, we have worked quietly but steadily to find a good solution for the heritage of the American College, and to secure a future link and collaboration between the USCCB, the Belgian Bishops and the University. I believe we have achieved that goal.”
Professor Marc Waer, rector, and Professor Koen Debackere, general manager, signed on behalf of K.U.Leuven, while Rector Bruno Delvaux was present on behalf of UCL. Professor Debackere concurred with the representatives of USCCB and ACL. “With this agreement, we commence a new and exciting phase in the rich history of the American College in Leuven,” he said. “We are very satisfied that this agreement will strengthen the academic profile of the American College and will maintain our strong bonds with the American Catholic community.”
Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard of Mechelen-Brussel, chancellor of the University, and president of the Belgian Bishops Conference, welcomed the agreement. “We are pleased to see that the historical link between the Church in Belgium and the Church in the United States can continue, albeit in a new form. Worldwide collaboration within the Church is our strength and enriches our own experiences.”
Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the USCCB and archbishop of New York, said that the agreement will begin an exciting new chapter in the history of the Belgian-American relations. “The American College has provided a major contribution to the life of the Catholic Church. With this agreement, we are able to respond to the changing needs of our faithful and those who serve them.”
EDITORS: Contact for K.U.Leuven is Prof. Dr. Ir. Koenraad Debackere, +32.16.324.113, +32.16.324177, firstname.lastname@example.org
Keywords: American College in Leuven, Bishop David Ricken, Peter Kindekens Fund, Kurt Martens, Msgr. Ronny Jenkins, Marc Waer, Koen Debacker,e Bruno Delvaux, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, Archbishop Timothy Dolan
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