The Current Seminary
Welcome to the Home of St. Joseph Seminary
September 2010 marked the entrance into the new building of St. Joseph Seminary. This is not the first incarnation of the seminary but actually the third. The first St. Joseph was located around 99th Avenue and 110th Street. Due to the growing number of seminarians, the facility was deemed to be too small and new seminary was built on Mark Messier Trail (a re-named section of St. Albert Trail) in 1957. This was the home of St. Joseph Seminary until the summer of 2009. The provincial government’s decision to route a major traffic corridor next to that building meant that the seminary would have to relocate again. What you will see next is the beauty of the new St. Joseph Seminary now located at 9828 84 Street NW, Edmonton, Alberta.
It was the great desire of the design committee that the centrality of the Eucharist and the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy in our Christian life should be evident in the very design of the buildings themselves.
The Chapel of St. Joseph Seminary is not only modeled on the shape of the ancient Roman basilica but, placed as it is at the head of the entire complex of wings and courtyards, the whole seminary floor plan resembles a basilica with the actual chapel as the apse. Thus, the entire seminary complex takes on the shape of a church, reminding us that it is the baptized in the context of their daily lives and tasks that are called to be ‘church’. Our encounters with God in the chapel are then meant to overflow into every moment of our day and to be the source of everything we do.
The new seminary can be characterized as both a classic yet very modern building. Its quadrangular shape, wings constructed around interior courtyards and gardens, suggests the cloisters of monasteries and religious houses of the past but is very much of our age in its simplicity of line and the materials used: Manitoba Tyndall stone, as well as brick, glass, steel and concrete.
Built near a busy traffic circle, the two courtyards give a much-needed ‘interior space’ to the community that lives and prays here. This interior space is not intended to cut the residents off from the outside world but rather enables them to constantly interact with the environment even when they are ‘at home’: the many windows providing natural light everywhere in the building, allowing views of the quiet gardens, giving spectacular views of Edmonton’s skyline, river valley, and the Pastoral Centre site. Out of a concern for the environment, the new seminary is also consciously a ‘sustainable’ or eco-friendly design, encouraging our future leaders to be good stewards of God’s gifts.
Elements from the St. Albert Trail seminary have made the journey to this new campus as a tangible connection with our past and have been incorporated into the new complex: the stained glass windows, the altar table, the crucifix from the chapel, the exterior statue of St. Joseph, the two seminary coats of arms that had been set into the terrazzo floor at the old site, railings for the stairwells and even the old laundry chute!
Chapel and Courtyard
As noted above, the chapel is patterned on the classic floor plan of a Roman basilica and so is rectangular in shape with a curved apse at the head of the space. The chapel is oriented eastward, so that the congregation faces the direction of the rising sun – an ancient Christian tradition observed in the construction of churches – reminding us that we are waiting and celebrating in the hope of Christ’s return in glory, Christ the true “Sun of Justice” who will come again.
The West Door of the Chapel and the church’s narthex gives on to a spacious formal courtyard with a tree planted in its center. It is meant to suggest the garden of Eden or the earthly paradise, and particularly, creation after the Fall. One enters the chapel from this fallen world and walks toward the altar, the place of encounter with Christ who redeems us and all creation through his sacrifice on the Cross, the new Tree of Life. As we make this journey many times a day, from garden to altar, from altar to garden, we are reminded of our mission as Christians to transform the world in Christ. It is the celebration of the Eucharist that powerfully represents and effects this transformation now: as we bring the fruit of the earth and our labour, bread and wine, to the altar and, through Christ’s prayer of Thanksgiving, they become his Body and Blood. The Eucharist celebrated in this chapel is the sign and source of our transformation and the world’s transformation in Christ.
The courtyard, visible from the chapel entrance, the refectory and hallways, is conceived of as a more public courtyard that will be accessible to our visitors before and after special gatherings in the chapel and refectory.
The principal doors, the West Door of the chapel of St. Joseph Seminary, are paneled with bronze ‘skins’ forged here in Edmonton by Behrends Bronze. Bronze doors are again an ancient feature in many Christians churches giving dignity and importance to the central portal of the church, reminding us that Christ is the sure and sturdy door through which we have access to the Father, a door opened in Baptism which is our sacramental entrance into the Christian community.
The six panels that make up the Western entrance read together as one image and depict – in stylized fashion – Christ’s invitation for St. Peter to “put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch (Luke 5:4.)” Peter’s vocation from “fisherman” to “fisher of men” is a daily reminder for priests and seminarians of the presbyteral vocation and mission in which they share or that they are discerning through prayer, study, and ministry in their years of formation at St. Joseph Seminary.
The two center doors are fused to glass panels so that – even when closed – they allow a view up to the altar and tabernacle.
Heaven and Earth
When entering the chapel, one is confronted with a marvelous melding of heaven and earth. The rich brown limestone of the floor and dark mahogany pews suggest the heaviness and solidity of the earth. They ground us. The white concrete walls of the chapel, on the other hand, are intentionally neutral, so that the sun shining through the stained-glass windows will fill the space with a radiant light and colour the canvas-like walls. This effect should help us to lift up our hearts from the weight of the earth to the glory of heaven, to raise mind and heart to the Lord when we come to pray. As St. Paul says: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God (Col 3:1.)”
Holy Water Font
As one passes through the doors of the chapel we find an original holy water font in the central aisle where it is the custom to bless oneself upon entrance. Taking holy water upon entering a church derives from the fact that baptism is the Sacrament through which we enter the Church and thus is a reminder of our baptismal belonging and commitment to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In the early Church, baptismal fonts or baptisteries were located at a major door of the church to represent that fact of entrance into the life of God and his people. Not a parish church, the seminary does not have a baptismal font but we have placed a sizable holy water font here to carry the same meaning. The bronze base harmonizes with the Western doors and, even more, with the bronze base of the altar. Baptism, the first Sacrament of Christian Initiation, has as its goal to lead the Christian to the regular participation in the Holy Eucharist.
The altar, the central focus in every Catholic church, is the primary symbol of Christ and is at the centre of the Eucharistic action. The primitive Christian Chi-Rho symbol (from the first two Greek letters of the word Christos or “Christ”) is etched faintly in the bronze on the front of the altar’s base – a discrete note that this altar indeed represents Christ our Rock and Cornerstone. From any vantage point in St. Joseph’s Seminary Chapel, then, the altar draws one’s eye. The altar table has been conserved from the old seminary on the St. Albert Trail and is a great piece of green granite adorned with five crosses on the table itself – in remembrance of the five wounds of Christ. A new base in bronze has been created for the altar by the seminary’s architect, Donna Clare. The base picks up the curves of the sanctuary and ceiling and, made of the same bronze as many of the other appointments in the chapel, even more helps to make the altar the summation, the synthetic point and focus of this sacred space.
The altar from the old seminary following the oldest Christian custom – contains small relics of the Martyrs and Saints so that, as in the early Church, the Eucharist will be celebrated – in some sense – over the resting place of the Martyrs: in this case, the altar table has a small niche in which relics of St. Fulgentius (+533), Bishop and Father of the Church, St. Venustus (+ c. 3rd cent.), Martyr, and St. Maria Goretti (+1902), Virgin and Martyr, were sealed by Most Reverend Anthony Jordan, Archbishop of Edmonton, in the seminary’s renovated chapel on December 1, 1968. It is Christ’s death and resurrection that is the source of our own victory over sin and death in our life, and celebrating the Eucharist over the tombs of the Saints is meant to be a powerful sign that the same victory is possible in our life through our regular participation in this Sacrament of Christ’s self-gift.
Beyond the altar, in the center of the apse, is the tabernacle on an elegant pillar of the same material as the chapel walls. The tabernacle, a word that literally means “tent” and thus recalls the place of God’s Presence in the Old Testament, is the gilded shrine that we place in our churches to reserve the Blessed Sacrament. After the altar, it is the tabernacle that draws our attention and the eternal lamp that burns nearby to indicate the Living Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. The tabernacle and lamp, made possible by a generous donation from a benefactor, have come from the hands of the artists of Talleres de Arte Granda in Spain. It is fashioned in a Mozarabic style with a scene of Our Lady and Child on the door. The Blessed Virgin Mary was in a sense the first tabernacle as she carried in her womb God’s Word made flesh: Jesus Christ. It is inspired by an 11th century agate box from the Church of St. Isidore in Leon, Spain. The centrality of the tabernacle in the seminary chapel points again to the importance of the daily celebration of the Eucharist as well as the regular use of this chapel for communal Eucharistic adoration and personal prayer.
The crucifix that is fixed above the altar and tabernacle has been preserved from the old seminary chapel. During our celebrations, particularly of the Eucharist, as our eyes move from altar to cross and from cross to altar, we are led to make the connection between Christ’s gift of himself on Calvary and his gift of himself in the Eucharist. In his Last Supper, Jesus anticipated the sacrifice of the Cross and instituted the Sacrament that would evermore make that sacrifice present in his New People: “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me […] This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood (Luke 22:20.)” In the Eucharist, Christ’s gift of self, made once and for all on the Cross, is marvelously made present in mystery, here and now for us.
The front pews that will normally be occupied by the seminary community for daily celebration of the Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Hours and Adoration are curved to reflect the curve of the sanctuary but also to help foster a sense of community in this large sacred space as they offer not only clear views of the sanctuary but also allow the congregation to interact with each other as they pray and sing in unison. Traditional, straight pews continue to the back of the church for the larger gatherings that punctuate the liturgical life of the seminary, as we welcome guests, family and friends for important celebrations like St. Joseph’s Day on March 19th or joint celebrations with Newman Theological College.
The seminary is blessed to welcome two new statues that adorn this chapel and will lead countless generations of seminarians and visitors to pray in communion with the Saints. Two life size statues in wood have been carved by a sister belonging to the Monastic Community of Bethlehem in France. They are made in a modern style that draws its inspiration from the art of medieval Europe. In the embracing curve of the sanctuary wall, to the left of the altar, is the image of the Madonna and Child called by the sisters, Our Lady of Judah. The joyful child Jesus is turned to face his radiant Mother and we are taken up in their loving encounter. Mary’s royal dignity as a descendant of King David and now as Queen of Heaven is suggested by her crown and the faint gilt on her garments. As we gaze at Our Mother, we are led to the robust Son in her arms who is the source of her dignity and strength.
On the South wall of the chapel has been placed the life size image of St. Joseph that has been carved in the same style as Our Lady. As patron of the Seminary, the Archdiocese of Edmonton, and Canada itself, St. Joseph has a singular importance in the life of our people and the seminarians. Joseph is depicted carefully carrying the two turtledoves that he offered in sacrifice at Jerusalem when, along with Our Lady, he presented the Child Jesus in the Temple forty days after Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:24). As we pray before this image of the contemplative, silent Joseph, we are drawn to Joseph’s hands, protectively poised over the delicate doves. Are they not symbolic of the loving protection that Joseph gave to the vulnerable Jesus and Mary, as well as the total offering we are called to make of ourselves to God? The image of Joseph too is faintly gilded to recall his Davidic lineage and the glory he now enjoys in heaven.
The Stained Glass
Certainly, the most familiar feature of the seminary chapel is the collection of astounding Rault stained-glass windows that have adorned the seminary since 1957. Created in Rennes, France for the former seminary on the St. Albert Trail, they have been carefully restored during the past year and installed in the new chapel as a tangible link to our history. These treasured windows have nevertheless been incorporated into the design of the new chapel in a different way from the former site.
Seven Steps to the Priesthood – The series of windows depicting the seven step to priesthood are installed, to be read from left to right, over the West door of the new chapel. Since only three of the steps to the priesthood (namely, lector, acolyte and the order of the diaconate) are still celebrated since the renewal of the Second Vatican Council, these windows are effectively behind the liturgical assembly in the chapel. They are part of our history of seminary discernment and formation but do not occupy the prominent place they once had in the former chapel. They show where we have come from and stand as reminders of what we take with us from the past, the need for continuity, the possibility of change.
A second series of seven windows that graced the former seminary chapel is that of the Seven Sacraments. This series of seven has been divided now into two groups: 1) the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist) on the South wall of the chapel; and the Sacraments of Healing (Penance and Anointing) and Sacraments of Vocation (Marriage and Orders) on the North wall. The Sacraments are the central liturgical celebrations in the life of Christians, saving rites that mediate the grace of God to us in our journey through life. They are indeed like the windows in the chapel walls that flood our life with the light of God. The Sacraments are a major part of the ministry of deacons, presbyters and bishops and are a continual object of reflection in the seminary community.
The walls of the chapel help to designate and define this area as sacred space. The architect has given the seminary an exterior aisle on the outside of the Northern and Southern walls with steel arches, visible from the outside, that help to ‘frame’ the stained-glass windows. These aisles or corridors, encased in clear glass windows allow us to illuminate the stained-glass windows both from within the chapel and from without, so that they may be enjoyed even from within the chapel when it is night outside.
Fourteen grey stone tiles, marked with a cross, have been saved from the former seminary chapel and have been set into the walls of the new chapel, both on the inside and the outside of the walls. During the Dedication of the chapel of St. Joseph Seminary on May 2, 2011, the Archbishop of Edmonton, Most Reverend Richard Smith, with assisting bishops, anointed the walls of the new chapel on these stone crosses. The crosses now serve as a lasting visible reminder that the chapel is permanently dedicated to God and the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy. The anointed walls make the chapel itself a sign of the anointed Body of Christ and recall that Christians, washed with water and anointed with oil, have been made members of his Body, living stones, a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:5.)
Stations of the Cross
Fourteen Stations of the Cross, from the traditional fourteen stations venerated at Jerusalem, have been set into the interior walls of the new chapel. They depict Christ’s journey from the judgement seat of Pilate, through his carrying of the Cross, Crucifixion, and Burial. They are a constant sign of the immensity of God’s love for us, a love that was willing to take on the weight of the world’s sin and overcome it for our sake. Meditation on the Lord’s Passion is a source of strength for us disciples of Jesus who have our own daily crosses to bear in the footsteps of our Master. The stations come from the Demetz Art Studio in Northern Italy. Each is a mosaic of Venetian glass tiles. The abundant gold, yellow and red tiles in the stations reflect the prominent colours in the chapel’s stained-glass windows.
(Fr. Michael McGivney) Bell Tower
To the South of the chapel stands the (Fr. Michael McGivney) Bell Tower. In recognition of the one million dollar gift from the Alberta councils of the Knights of Columbus to the Cornerstone of Faith Campaign for the new seminary and college, the seminary bell tower has been named after the heroic American priest who founded the Knights of Columbus. The tower, standing almost 73 feet high and surmounted by a Cross, is a prominent structure of steel and glass, visible – even at night – from downtown Edmonton on the other side of the River Valley. It marks the presence of the seminary on this location and lifts up the Cross of Christ to all who pass by. The tower contains five bells blessed by Monsignor J. Hamilton, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Edmonton, on June 16, 2010.
Our Lady of Good Counsel Chapel
Along the South wing of the residence, the seminary has a smaller chapel, mostly for the use of the priests who live here year round, for smaller group Masses, and as a space for personal prayer. It is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Good Counsel, who is the patroness of The Catholic Women’s League of Canada. Many of the furnishings in this chapel have been donated by the CWL. The brown limestone floor, the mahogany altar and chairs all recall the vocabulary of the major chapel. An unusual feature of this chapel is the ‘Eucharistic Dove’ tabernacle suspended above the altar. Following again a Medieval tradition of shaping the tabernacle after a dove, representing the Holy Spirit, the Dove hovering over the altar is a reminder of the Invocation (epiclesis) of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharistic Prayer in which God the Father is asked to send the Holy Spirit to change the gifts of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. This tabernacle, like the one for the main chapel, comes from Talleres de Arte Granda in Spain.
After the chapel, it is perhaps the refectory – or community dining room – that is the most important space in the seminary. Jesus came among us “eating and drinking” (Matthew 11:19) and, after the Eucharist, it is probably around the daily dinner table that Jesus continues most to build up his family of disciples.
Much of seminary formation, as in our families and parishes, occurs around the table. It is thus intentionally a very beautiful as well as functional space: its white, polished walls and high, elaborate ceiling give the room a grandeur as does its full view into the courtyard and garden.
Residence and Private Courtyard
The seminary residence is the private area of the seminary complex where the priests and seminarians live. The three-wing residence frames a second, more private garden. The interior rooms of the two-floor residence give onto this garden space, like a university ‘quad’ or monastic cloister. The landscaping of this garden is less formal than that directly in front of the chapel, and includes the plants, shrubs, and trees such as we ordinarily find on the Western prairie.
The seminary residence includes 60 rooms for seminarians and guests as well as seven suites for priests on the formation team, lounge areas for group meetings and recreation, a fitness room, games room, and a study room named after St. Jerome, the patron of Biblical Studies. A gymnasium, recently renovated, is accessible to the seminarians on the Pastoral Centre property directly behind the seminary.