A broader religious experience Meeting a need: St. Mary's Seminary and University is constructing a Center for Continuing Studies designed to bring men and women of all faiths together on campus.

Urban Landscape

March 14, 1996|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

ST. MARY'S SEMINARY and University, the first Roman Catholic seminary in the nation and the only theological seminary in Baltimore, is broadening its mission to include the continuing education of priests and other religious leaders.

Since its founding in 1791, when Baltimore was the nation's only diocese, the seminary has graduated thousands of priests for service in 30 dioceses throughout the eastern United States.

Now it is building a $4.5 million Center for Continuing Studies designed to bring men and women of all faiths together on campus to explore contemporary religious, social, educational and business ethics issues.

Seminary leaders broke ground last fall for the five-level, 24,638-square-foot structure, the first addition in 42 years to the seminary's Beaux Arts edifice at Roland Avenue and Northern Parkway. During his visit to Baltimore in October, Pope John Paul II blessed the cornerstone.

When completed this year, the St. Mary's Center for Continuing Studies will contain 30 hotel-quality guest rooms with private baths, along with conference facilities for meetings lasting from half a day to a month.

The Rev. Robert Leavitt, S.S., president and rector of St. Mary's Seminary and University, said the center will be the first of its kind in the country because it is designed for meetings of one month or less. nTC He explained that there are several places in the United States and Europe where priests can take sabbaticals of six months, which can be a hardship on parishes that must replace them. He said the Baltimore center is designed to be conducive to "minisabbaticals" of two to four weeks. It also is designed to allow people of many faiths to come together for religious conferences.

"The seminary wants to be a hospitable place for people to carry on a religious conversation," Father Leavitt said. "We've always had some meetings here, but this will allow us to do it in a better way. What we're trying to create is a place that has an academic, emotional, even spiritual atmosphere a retreatlike atmosphere."

The seminary now has teaching and gathering spaces on the lower levels and residences above.

"The spaces on the first floor are very good, but if you live here awhile, you realize that it's not very conducive to the way people interact today," Father Leavitt said. "There are very small spaces and very large spaces, but nothing in between. In order to provide continuing education here, we had to design a new place in the building for it."

Designed by Gaudreau Inc., the Center for Continuing Studies will have dining facilities, parking area and entrance. It is the first addition since a chapel was added in 1954. Because it will extend from the rear of the seminary, it will not be visible from Roland Avenue or Northern Parkway.

James Novotny, project architect for Gaudreau, said the addition will harmonize with the original building. For example, he said, the color of cast stone and brick for the addition was chosen to match the original's Indiana limestone, and a parapet on the addition will echo one on the building to which is it attached.

With the sabbatical program as the hub, St. Mary's plans a regular series of other continuing studies programs for lay and clergy audiences that will last one to five days. It will offer spiritual retreats and management programs for corporate and community leaders, youth meetings and national and international conferences.

The seminary has raised $7 million toward a goal of $7.75 million, with $3.24 million earmarked for the endowment and the rest for construction, Father Leavitt said.

If the center is a success, the seminary might expand it by adding 30 guest rooms. Eventually, Father Leavitt said, "We want to draw the whole Baltimore community in here, but in small targeted groups that really crave the atmosphere."

Pub Date: 3/14/96

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