FORming priests for the future since 1889
Welcome to our website…
Here at St John’s Seminary – Wonersh (usually referred to simply as Wonersh), men have been formed for the priesthood since 1891. (The Seminary had previously been at Henfield in Sussex from 1889.)
For over a century and a quarter, countless men have come through our doors to discern whether or not God is calling them to the priesthood. More recently we have prepared men for the priesthood for Dioceses in the south of England – mainly for Southwark, Arundel & Brighton, Portsmouth and Clifton. In earlier years our Seminarians came from Dioceses further afield.
Our Seminary motto is: Spes messis in semine … The hope of the harvest is in the seed - and since opening our doors, many who have passed through have become priests, and many have discovered that God is calling them to other things in life. This is what Seminaries are for.
Over the years the methods of preparing priests for service in the Church have changed, or it might be better to say the methods have developed. We no longer talk about training for the priesthood, but rather formation for the priesthood, which focuses on four essential formation areas of equal importance – the human, the spiritual, the intellectual and the pastoral.
There is also an emphasis on on-going formation – that priestly formation is never complete, as the process is life-long. There is a further emphasis on a priest’s life being one of service to the People of God, from whom, priests who have spent many years in the priesthood will tell you, much more is received than given.
Here at Wonersh, over a period of 6 years, we aim to prepare good, holy and effective priests for today’s Church and world. Underpinning everything we do, is the reality of the prominent inscription in our Chapel from John 15:16: Non vos me elegistis, sed ego elegi vos … You did not choose me, I chose you.
Thank you for choosing to visit our website – which we very much hope will give you an understanding of what we are about here – which is summed up in the following words …
The priest is, therefore, called to form himself so that his heart and his life are conformed to the Lord Jesus, in this way becoming a sign of the love God has for each person. By being intimately united to Christ, he will be able: to preach the Gospel and become an instrument of the mercy of God; to guide and give correction; to intercede and care for the spiritual life of the faithful entrusted to him; to listen and welcome, while also responding to the demands and the deep questions of our time. (Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis 2016 para 40)
Mgr Gerald Ewing
Since writing the above welcome our situation has changed. Very sadly, priestly formation will cease at Wonersh at the end of the academic year 20/21- but until then, it is business as usual! Plans for our future are outlined in Latest News below.
Upcoming Occasions & Events
Chapel Challenge Appeal
(for the refurbishment and redecoration of the Seminary Chapel)
19 March 2021
As the Seminary will be closing in July, the planned works to the Chapel will no longer be going ahead. Our attention was drawn recently to the fact that our Chapel Challenge Appeal continued to appear on our website after the October 2020 announcement of our closure. This was an oversight on our part, and we offer our apologies.
We are pleased to confirm that no donation to the Chapel Challenge Appeal has been received by the Seminary since the announcement of our closure, and that (other than on our website page, and in our Seminary Magazine published in early 2020) no requests have been made by the Seminary for donations to the Chapel Challenge Appeal since 2019.
We are pleased to further confirm, that in keeping with fairness, good practice, and the requirements of Charity Law, identifiable donors to the Chapel Challenge Appeal were contacted between December 2020 and January 2021 and offered a refund of their donation.
The Seminary community will be ever grateful for the practical and spiritual support that countless people have offered us over so many years. We ask for your continued prayers in our remaining months – and we assure you of ours.
So many lives have been lost, or affected in some way by the Covid pandemic. We continue to pray daily for those who have lost their lives, for those who have lost loved ones – and for the countless people who have had to endure so many other losses during this time.
At the same time, we continue to offer prayers of thanksgiving for the wonderful dedication and care of those in the medical profession, and for all key workers who have been resilient throughout - certainly not without heavy personal cost.
Here at Wonersh, we have been in residence since 5 January, and not much will change until 17 May, when hopefully certain Covid restrictions will be lifted to allow movement both coming in and going out of the House.
Apart from walks in our beautiful countryside, and the occasional essential visit to the shops, or a trip for a medical appointment – everyone is cut off from the world! Obviously, we are all keeping in touch with family and friends, and a number of people are keeping in touch with the numerous pastoral contacts they’ve made over the years.
Most lectures, human formation, spiritual direction and some pastoral work are taking place via Zoom – something we could not even have imagined this time last year. Yet now it seems so normal …. and while it is certainly not ideal – it works.
The gym is being well-used, and the football pitch, and we have some keen runners too. Also, there are numerous social events within the House, organised at regular intervals to help keep morale high. These are lots of fun. People are in good spirits and focused – and everyone is still very Covid aware. So far, thank God, we have had no incidents of Covid-19, but we are aware of the very real danger of becoming complacent in our Covid precautions.
In counting our blessings – we continue to count the cost of the Covid pandemic, which has forced us all to stop, think, and really treasure what is important in life.
The Future of St John’s Seminary - Wonersh
Statement issued by the Trustees on 16 October 2020
Following extensive consideration and discernment, especially over the past year, including communication with the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome, the Trustees have regretfully come to the decision that St John’s Seminary cannot continue in its present form. The current and projected number of seminarians is too small to sustain a healthy formation community, and the building and staffing costs have simply become prohibitive.
We are reminded ‘that the Seminary, more than a building, is a community of formation’ (Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis 188) and the Trustees, Rector & Formation Staff, are aware of their responsibility to provide the best formation possible for those preparing for the priesthood at Wonersh.
There was no new intake this September, and the seminarian body currently numbers 17, from the Dioceses of Southwark, Arundel & Brighton, Clifton and Portsmouth. With 6 due to complete their formation in the summer, the September 2021 seminarian body will be 11 in number, and 5 of these, please God, will be deacons in their final year.
With the agreement of their Bishops, arrangements have been made for the 11 seminarians to join the Seminary community at Allen Hall - Chelsea from September 2021. A number of the Wonersh seminarians are already attending lectures once a week with those from Allen Hall at the Pontifical Mater Ecclesiae College at St Mary’s University – Twickenham.
The re-location of Wonersh seminarians to Allen Hall means that their formation will be uninterrupted while the Trustees continue to explore formation for the priesthood in a wider context in England & Wales.
While it is proposed to consider all options for the future use of the St John’s Seminary buildings, St John’s Seminary will remain a legal entity so that consideration can be given to the ways in which the tradition of priestly formation established at Wonersh in 1891 will continue into the future.
St John’s Seminary has a proud tradition of serving the Church for 130 years. There is great sadness that formation must now cease on this site. The Trustees are extremely grateful to Rectors, Staff, and Seminarians, past and present, and to all those who have supported the Seminary over the years. We give thanks to Almighty God for all that has been achieved and received. We seek to promote vocations to the priesthood, and we commit ourselves to providing priestly formation that will serve the people of our Dioceses and parishes into the future.
Most Rev John Wilson Rt Rev Richard Moth
Archbishop of Southwark Bishop of Arundel & Brighton
Chair of Trustees Vice-Chair of Trustees