SPECIAL REPORT: St Charles Seminary marks 80 years of service to Christ and his Church

17 Nov 2022

By Jamie O'Brien

St Charles Seminary 80th Anniversary Highlight. Video Edited by Michelle Tan.

St Charles Seminary has this month celebrated its 80th anniversary.

The occasion was marked with a special sundowner on Friday 4 November – the feast of St Charles Borromeo – attended by past and present students and special guests.

Opened in 1942, the Seminary was built on a property known as ‘Garden Hill’ in Guildford.

It was purchased by then Archbishop Redmond Prendiville (Archbishop of Perth from 1935 to 1968) with the assistance of then Geraldton Bishop James O’Collins (Bishop of Geraldton from 1930 to 1941).

A few modifications to the homestead made it possible for the first students to move in and commence their scholastic year in 1942.

St Charles Seminary Rector Fr Phillip Fleay, Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB and Geraldton Bishop Michael Morrissey cut the cake on the occasion of the St Charles Seminary 80th Anniversary Sundowner on Friday 4 November 2022. Photo: Simon Hall/Archdiocese of Perth.

In marking the occasion, Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB said that for anybody who at any stage made a decision to attend St Charles Seminary to try out a possible vocation to the priesthood, entered into a process that would have been, as he imagined, a very significant part of whatever then unfolded later on in their life.

“One of the things that comes to me from time to time as a bishop, and prior to here, of course, I was an Auxiliary Bishop in Melbourne. And prior to that, I was in charge of the formation of the Salesians in Melbourne.

“One of the things that happens to me from time to time, is someone who’s in a seminary, or religious house might come and talk to me about the fact that they’ve discerned that perhaps they need to leave.

Msgr Tom McDonald looks at the display of historical photos at the St Charles Seminary 80th Anniversary Sundowner on Friday 4 November 2022. Photo: Simon Hall/Archdiocese of Perth.

Archbishop Costelloe continued saying that occasionally, a person might talk a little bit about how they think they made a mistake coming to the Seminary.

“And my reflection always is, well, maybe, but I doubt it. I don’t think these things are ever mistakes. I think these things are part of the journey that every person has to undergo as he or she works out who they are, and what God’s asking of them and what sort of person they want to be and what they want to do with their life,” Archbishop Costelloe explained.

“The other thing that I wanted to do with just a very brief reflection on the fact that today does happen to be the feast of St Charles Borromeo. St Charles is a very good model for a seminary. Of course, he’s remembered as the great reformer of seminaries after the Council of Trent.

Bassendean Priest-in-Charge Fr Benedict Lee and Yangebup Parish Priest Fr Dat Voung at the St Charles Seminary 80th Anniversary Sundowner on Friday 4 November 2022. Photo: Simon Hall/Archdiocese of Perth.

St Charles, highlighted Archbishop Costelloe, is a good model for a seminary, because he developed a system of seminary formation that was meant to last forever.

“He was a good model for a seminary for a major and as a patron for a seminary.

“Because in his own time, and in his own day, he was able to read the signs of the times in the light of the gospel, and know that it was time for something new and something different,” Archbishop Costelloe said.

The seminary was entrusted to the Vincentian Fathers in 1948 who taught secondary students and seminarians who had commenced their three-year course in philosophy and sundry introduction courses in scripture and church documents.

Seminarian Errol Lobo and St Charles Seminary Administration Manager Colleen Geldenhuys. Photo: Simon Hall/Archdiocese of Perth.

In 1975, the Vincentians concluded their involvement of running the seminary and the next year a small group of young men began their formation under Fr Jim O’Brien, before being sent to Adelaide to continue their studies.

The seminary in Perth was closed but was opened five years later as a vocational discernment residence under the guidance of Fr Bryan Rosling. Seminarians for the Archdiocese of Perth were sent to St Francis Xavier Seminary in Adelaide for the next 17 years.

Reflecting on the opening of the Seminary in 1942, Bishop Morrissey said the decision for the Diocese of Geraldton, together with the Archdiocese of Perth, to open St Charles’ Seminary in Guildford in the middle of the Second World War was an act of great Faith and hope.

“The local seminary enabled local men to discern their call and study in the state of Western Australia supported by the local Catholic community,” he said.

“Those who attended St Charles’ Seminary, including myself, valued the opportunity to be closer to their homes and their families, even if visiting times and outings were restricted in the early days of the seminary.

“The ‘homegrown’ seminary was greatly valued, in that you were closer to home not having to travel interstate in the first years of formation.

“For all of us, St Charles was a place where we discovered and deepened our call to serve as priests or to journey in a different direction as an active layman in the local church,” Bishop Morrissey said.

The Seminary re-opened in 1994, following the establishment of the University of Notre Dame, which had decided to bring forward plans to establish the Schools of Philosophy and Theology.

Perth Auxiliary Bishop Don Sproxton, who also trained at St Charles, explained that one of the first tasks for the newly appointed inaugural Rector of St Charles’ Seminary, Dr Launcelot Goody, (later Archbishop)  was to visit each of the parishes to explain why a seminary was going to be opened in the Archdiocese.

Geraldton priest Fr Robert Cross, Msgr Tim Corcoran, Vicar for Education and Adult Faith Formation Fr Vincent Glynn and Parish Renewal Coordinator Fr Nino Vinciguerra at the St Charles Seminary 80th Anniversary Sundowner on Friday 4 November 2022. Photo: Simon Hall/Archdiocese of Perth

Dr Goody also began inviting secondary students to consider completing their studies at St Charles and to begin discerning, if they felt called to the priesthood.

“The presence of a seminary in a diocese is incredibly important as it always keeps a focus on the need for priestly vocations to be promoted,” Bishop Sproxton said.

“The seminarian while training in his diocese can engage with the priests and local people with whom and for whom he will hopefully serve,” he said.

“He will have the chance to gain a broader understanding of the complexity of the local church and what will be asked of him to bring the Gospel to the people.

Above all, he can grow in love for his brothers and sisters in the faith, and for people who are searching for truth and ultimately for God,” Bishop Sproxton said.

Rector Fr Phillip Fleay shares his thoughts on the occasion of the St Charles Seminary 80th Anniversary Sundowner on Friday 4 November 2022. Photo: Simon Hall/Archdiocese of Perth.

Outgoing rector Fr Phillip Fleay said it has been an honour to serve in the role for the past six years.

“My hope and prayer is that the seminary will continue to be a place of grace, a place of formation, a place where faith grows,” Fr Phillip said.

“I pray that many more will be called to a deeper understanding of their vocation to the priesthood, and with the help of the Church, will be formed for the service of the people of Perth and beyond,” he said.

Read the St Charles Seminary 80th Anniversary Booklet Here