HOLY FAMILY SEMINARY, SILVER SPRING, MARYLAND (1946) Our priests of the North American Viceprovince have been for many years evangelizing the remote corners of New Mexico and Colorado in a truly apostolic and zealous spirit of total self-denial and commitment. During those same years we have been attempting to "nazarethize" both the family and the home, and through them society itself, by means of a developmental children and youth ministry and a family life apostolate patterned on the followership and devotion of the Holy Family. However, during all these years we were also hoping to locate ourselves somewhere in the East of the United States where we would be able to establish our national headquarters and a center of formation, vocations and propaganda for the nurture and furtherance of our charisma and mission regarding the Family of Nazareth in the salvation of God's family scattered throughout the world.
Consequently, it was no wonder that, during the canonical visit of 1945, our then Superior General, Fr Martin Millet, set into motion a feasibility study for such a Center and House of Formation around the Washington, D.C, area, as close as possible to the Catholic University. He appointed a "Commission for Vocations" made up of Fathers Joseph Ruensa and Peter Siguan and allowed his Secretary General, Fr Joseph Rossell, to remain for a while in the United States to help out in the project. On his return to Spain, Fr Millet continued to push for this study, carefully analysing every possibility that presented itself for consideration.
The searching efforts of Father Ruensa and Siguan ended in a most wonderful find, and, it would seem, in record time. At the end of February, 1946, they came across a piece of property outside Silver Spring, Maryland, about 12 miles distant from the Catholic University. In his own words Fr Ruensa gives the following account: "After a lot of looking around -and a lot of fussing with Saint Joseph, Saint Anthony and even with our Founder and martyrs of our Congregation -we at long last found an ideal place, not only appropriate for our students, but also very promising for the future of our Institute. The place is lovely! There is a very well kept house on the premises, more than sufficient for our present needs and number of students. All in all, some 30 acres holding forth a great promise for our future here. It is, though, somewhat distant from the Catholic University, but there exists a good road and a better one is planned for the future when the whole area will be fully developed. There is no need of any renovation and we can move in immediately. It made us sweat a little, but it was not in vain. Thanks be to God and our holy protectors!"
On the 13th of May, 1946, the deed of purchase was officially signed. Fr Ruensa with the help he received from our priests in the West was able to get it ready for students to begin the following term.
Even though at the time Fr Ruensa had left Del Norte only temporarily- he was being substituted by Fr Joseph Rossell while in Washington, D.C. - when the new school term began in the Fall of 1946, he was appointed superior and rector of the new "Seminary" in Silver Spring, Maryland. Fr John Sierra who completed his studies and had been ordained in Rome, Italy, was reassigned to Washington, D.C, as Prefect of our incipient Scholasticate.
The first students to enter the new Seminary were the Italians Benedetto Castellucci, Palmo Valente and Nicola Troiano and the Spaniard Sebastian Perez. The first two began the first year of philosophy and the other two the first year of theology. During that first year the small community was joined by Brother Lorenzo Buira and the Italian Benedetto Castellucci returned to Italy.
As the weeks became months and the months years, the new Seminary was gradually transforming itself into the center of life and activity of the Sons of the Holy Family in the United States. It was not until 1958, however, when Fr Dominic Morera was transferred to Silver Spring, that the Seminary became finally the new headquarters of the North American Vice Province.
Yet, in 1955, a new development took place in the Seminary. Following ten years of studies and formative preparation in Spain, the second group of young American students -James P. Beiriger, Charles L. Stoeber, Louis J. Hoffman and Donald Douglas - returned to their native homeland to complete their theological studies at Catholic University and were ordained to the priesthood in February of the following year. Soon there-afterwards, other American students, who had already been studying in Spain for several years, began also to return, accompanied by fellow Spaniards who wanted to study for the priesthood here in the United States. From 1958 to 1966 there were a total of nine students who completed their theological studies at Catholic University.
The third stage of development regarding the Seminary got under way in 1960. Under the new Delegate, Fr Joseph Pratt, work began on an altogether new facility that would provide us with a Seminary worthy of our cause and aspirations. The old house no longer sufficed for our increasing needs and, according to plans, a new building was constructed on another area of the property. In the words of our then Superior General and now Servant of God, Fr Magin Morera (brother of Fr Dominic Morera):
"In the United States we are taking a great step forward: we are going to build what is hoped will become the heart and soul of our Institute in the land of America. It is a daring step, but one ever so worthy of our nazarene cause which the glory of God demands as well as the needs of our apostolic commitment to the human family."
The first part of the project was completed in nine months. Thus, on 3 September, 1960, that part of the building was blessed and inaugurated as the new Holy Family Seminary. The main speaker for the occasion was Fr John Sierra:
"When we look upon this building, dedicated to the honor of the Almighty, for the glorification of the Family of Nazareth and the sanctification of his people, we begin to realize that his unerring and almighty hand was the main factor that brought our superiors here some fifteen years ago. They purposely chose this place on the outskirts of the city of Washington, D.C, because they wanted the first mother house of the Sons of the Holy Family in the United States to come under the benefic influence of and be backed up by the association of the many varied and expert religious Communities and Institutions which have made Washington, D.C, into a center of coordination for the ever expanding activities of the Catholic Church in this country.
Keeping in mind the welcoming hands that were always extended to us, even when we were yet undecided as to our move, we can still say, in spite of many vacillating steps, that we have made great progress. In that sense today's dedication is a just tribute to the charitable and generous understanding of the Franciscan, Sulpician and Claretian Fathers as well as to the Xaverian Brothers and other individual members of the Washington clergy, who offered us their continued support and hospitality. We are particularly grateful to our deceased Archbishop Curley of Baltimore who, in 1946, welcomed our Congregation into his archdiocese, and to the Archbishop of Washington, who so kindly acknowledged our affiliation with the Catholic community of the nation's Capital."
The fourth stage of development regarding the Seminary took place in March, 1964, when work began on the remaining wing of the building, which was destined to become our Minor Seminary. The new superior at this time was Fr Louis J. Hoffman. It was under his direction that the new building was brought to its planned completion. The following years, under his leadership and guidance, it prospered for over a decade and became the designed center of the theological, religious And nazarene training and formation of our students as well as the nurturing environment of young vocations to the religious life and the ordained priesthood. There was also established an Office in charge of vocation work and of the ceaseless fostering and furtherance of the honor and devotion to the Family of Nazareth. Heaps of vocational and propaganda materials have been published over the years, a monthly "Holy Family Newsletter" was started in 1960 and later, in 1965, was transformed into a quarterly "Family Life Magazine," which remained in publication until 1968. Also in 1961, there was begun the publication of the "Delegation Bulletin," which became later that of the North American Vice Province, and remains in publication to this day.
The Office for the devotion to the Holy Family maintains constant correspondence with thousands of families consecrated to the Holy Family and continues to promote the Monthly Home Visit. This form of nazarene devotion was but our first step in the gradual development of a children and youth ministry and family life apostolate rooted in our charism and mission as Sons of the Holy Family. It is our hope that continued advancement will be made in this vital area for the renewal of Christian marriage and family life in the home, in the Church, and in society at large.
The Holy Family Guild, established in 1955, has always remained an active and very powerful factor in the support of the Seminary as well as in the life and activities of the priests, brothers and students over the years. With the full support and cooperation of countless friends and benefactors throughout the Washington and Silver Spring areas, we were able to enjoy years of fruitful growth and development. A deep debt of gratitude is owed and is here expressed for all the efforts and sacrifices, hard labor and sweat over the years from so many on behalf of our priests, brothers and students.
In 1967, we were able to buy another beautiful piece of property around Wolfsville, Maryland, north of Frederick, some 70 miles from Washington, D.C It was an ideal place to locate our future Novitiate House and in time came to be known as Spring Lake Retreat.
This brief historical sketch would be incomplete if I failed to say a few words about our first priests who came to this country and gave their lives in loyal and steadfast commitment to their vowed nazarene way of life as religious and to their nazarene apostolate of youth and family life ministries as priests. Here in the Gate of Heaven Catholic Cemetery, Silver Spring, MD, there also lie, in silent but eloquent testimony of a shared life of sacrifice and self-giving in the service of God's human family and in honor to the Family of Nazareth, the mortal remains of many of our priests. Regarding the thousands of persons these first Sons of the Holy Family touched, changed and comforted in the New World during their lifetime, we feel that they deserve as a lasting epitaph the fitting words of Paul the apostle, when he refers to those whom he himself brought to newness of life in Christ Jesus: "You are my letter, known and read by all men, written on your hearts. Clearly you are a letter of Christ which I have delivered, a letter written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh in the heart... It is not that we are entitled of ourselves to take credit for anything. Our sole credit is from God, who has made us qualified ministers of the new covenant (2 Cor 3:2-3.5-6).