The Early Years
In September of 1927, St. Joseph Seminary was opened officially by Edmonton Archbishop H.J. O’Leary, moving into the building that had served as the Scholasticate of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
Beginning in 1894 as a rectory for the St. Joachim Parish, on the corner of 110 Street and 100 Avenue, this building had been enlarged and transformed into the Provincial House of the Oblate Fathers in 1907. The rapidly expanding work of the Oblates in Western Canada prompted Archbishop Emile Legal to convert the institution into an Oblate Scholasticate in 1917. In 1919 a further extension was added; this included the chapel and doubled the size of the existing complex.
By the mid Twenties the facilities were becoming too small to accommodate both the increasing number of Oblate Scholastics and diocesan seminarians. Negotiations between Archbishop O’Leary and the Oblates resulted in the Scholasticate being taken over completely by the Archdiocese for the training of diocesan clergy. In 1927, the Oblates moved into their new Scholasticate in Lebret, Saskatchewan, and St. Joseph Seminary was officially opened.
This building was used for the seminary until 1957, when the old building would finally be abandoned for the next building on St. Albert Trail.
With an initial enrolment of about twenty-six students, St. Joseph’s had the Rt. Rev. James C. McGuigan, then Vicar General of the Archdiocese, as its first rector. In May 1930, with the nomination of Monsignor McGuigan as Archbishop of Regina, Rev. M.C. O’Neill became the new Rector. When he left to serve as an Army chaplain in 1939, the Very Rev. Howard Griffin became the new Rector, a post he would hold for the next twenty-five years.
During the thirty year life of the old seminary, some 350 graduates were ordained to the priesthood and some fifty more took part of their seminary studies there. The majority were ordained for the Archdiocese of Edmonton, but there were also many ordinands from dioceses throughout Western Canada and beyond.
About one third of the seminarians during these three decades were “imports”, mostly from the Maritimes and Ontario. A few were from the British Isles, and Ireland, and several others came from other parts of Europe.
The time of prosperity which followed World War II – both financially and by way of priestly vocations – prompted Archbishops Macdonald and Jordan to start thinking and planning for a bigger and better seminary facility.
The late H. Milton Martin negotiated the purchase of a piece of land – more than 100 acres – about two miles south of St. Albert. Father Emmett Doyle, who later became bishop of Nelson, B.C., was put in charge of the building project and in the fall of 1957 the new building was ready for the 80 students who came to pursue their studies toward priesthood.
The first sod for the new building was turned on September 29, 1955 by Cardinal McGuigan, first rector of St. Joseph Seminary. The formal opening ceremonies took place from Thursday to Sunday, September 26–29, 1957, although the seminarians had already moved in by September 12. The bishops of central and western Canada were in attendance, along with Lt. Governor J.J. Bowlen.
At its opening, the cost for room, board, and tuition was listed at $600 per year. The skating rink was completed after a month of construction by November 8, 1957, but a flu bug sharply reduced the number of initial hockey players participating in the rink’s first game. On November 18 the concrete foundation for the seminary garage was poured. The beautiful marble altar was installed by the end of February, 1958. Over the 1958–1959 year, further finishing touches were done to the seminary grounds and chapel.
To the Present Day
In 1957, the old St. Joseph Seminary closed its doors, and the work of priestly formation moved into the second St. Joseph Seminary on Marc Messier Trail.
With Monsignor Griffin’s death in 1965, Rev. Alois Schoen was appointed Rector, succeeded in 1969 by Rev. Oswald Fuchs, ofm, then Rev. Michael O’Callaghan (1970–1973), Rev. Karl Raab (1973–1978), Rev. Don MacDonald (1978–1985), and Rev. Eugene Cooney (1985–1990). These years saw a great transformation in Church and Seminary life, but also a decrease in vocations to the priesthood.
The Founding of Newman Theological College
St. Joseph Seminary on St. Albert Trail was completed just before the Second Vatican Council was to take place in Rome.
After the council’s ending and under the leadership of Archbishop Anthony Jordan, O.M.I., a new response to this changing situation was inaugurated with the establishment of Newman Theological College. Incorporated by an act of the legislature in 1969, Newman College began a new creative mission alongside St. Joseph’s, with both institutions remaining distinct, interdependent, and complementary, seeking to work together to serve the church of Western Canada. Since then, the academic program of Newman Theological College has continued to expand to include education and training of Catholics, and other Christians, in a wide variety of ministries. As an academic institution of higher learning contributing to a reflective discipleship of the crucified Lord Jesus, Newman College has become an integral part of the formation at St. Joseph Seminary.
The Society of Saint Sulpice
The year 1990 saw another transformation of Seminary life with the arrival of the Priests of Saint Sulpice, a society of diocesan priests whose specific mission is the service of the presbyteral ministry.
During this time, Rev. Lionel Gendron, P.S.S., (1990–1994), Rev. Marc Ouellet, P.S.S., (1994–1997), Rev. Jean Papen, (1997–2000), Rev. Luc Bouchard (2000–2001), Rev. Lionel Gendron, P.S.S., (2002), Rev. Louis–Paul Gauvreau, P.S.S., (2002–2004), Rev. Kevin Beach (2004–2005), Fr. Shayne Craig, P.S.S. (2005–2012) and Fr. Stephen Hero (2012 – 2021) have served as Rector. The current Rector is Fr. Sylvain Casavant, PSS. Bringing with them their experience of over 350 years of priestly formation, the Sulpicians have continued to build on the long tradition of St. Joseph Seminary, forming together with the seminarians in their charge, one educative community by living in an apostolic spirit around our Lord Jesus Christ.
With the slow but steady growth of priestly vocations, there was a need for a new Seminary residence, a need met through the generous gift of the Sopchyshyn family. As well, the need for a proper library, a plan in the works since the opening of the Seminary in 1957, was finally addressed. On March 7, 1997, through the gift of these generous benefactors, a new residential wing of the Seminary was opened, as was a new library facility. But 10 years later, a provincial government decision to route a major traffic corridor next to the campus meant that St. Joseph Seminary and Newman Theological College would have to relocate. Beautiful new facilities were planned. During construction in 2009–10, the seminary and college were temporarily housed in the Ottewell district and Sherwood Park respectively.
Conclusion to the Seminary on St. Albert Trail
During the course of its 80+ years, over 500 men have gone forth from St. Joseph Seminary to serve the Lord in the ordained ministry as priests.
As well, many others, having received formation at St. Joseph’s, continue to serve the Church in other ministries. St. Joseph Seminary continues its mission today to form and send forth those who will sow the Word in the fields of the Lord: EXIIT QUI SEMINAT (Lk. 8:5), “The Sower went out…”
A Third and Current St. Joseph SeminaryThe third Catholic seminary built with St. Joseph as patron is now located at 9828 84th Street NW, Edmonton, Alberta in Forest Heights along with Newman Theological College.