HILADELPHIA — A Philadelphia archdiocesan task force appointed last March to analyze the viability of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary's college division has unanimously recommended that the division remain open.

The panel also called for a strategic plan to be implemented over the next three to five years to provide a vibrant, sustainable house of formation and education for future generations of seminary students.

St. Charles Seminary has two residential divisions on opposite sides of its campus in the Philadelphia suburb of Wynnewood: the college division, which houses undergraduate seminarians; and the theology division, which houses the postgraduate theology seminarians.

The Philadelphia Archdiocese also operates the Graduate School of Theology and Program of Catholic Studies at the seminary as well as the Department of Permanent Deacons and Vocation Office for Diocesan Priesthood.

In March, it was announced that the huge college division building, opened in 1928, will be closed and the seminary will be consolidated in the buildings that now house the theology division, with 45 of the seminary's present 75 acres to be sold.

At the time of the appointment of the task force, the main question put to it was should the college division close entirely?

The recommendation of the task force, which was chaired by Neumann University President Rosalie M. Mirenda, was that the college division be re-established at the theology division site, rebranded as St. Charles Borromeo Seminary College and "marketed as a totally renewed institution, maintaining academic excellence and high standard of preparation for the evangelical and pastoral work of future priests."

"Implementing the recommendations of the task force will allow the college seminary to grow in size and adapt to the needs of today's students," said Philadelphia Auxiliary Bishop Timothy C. Senior, rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. "We're taking a nationally recognized college program to the next level. Considering the overwhelming support and resources available to us, the potential of the college seminary is unlimited."

It would not have been surprising had the task force recommended closing the college division.

In past generations, most seminaries offered undergraduate and at times high school programs, but today very few do so. Men who come to these seminaries pre-college usually receive spiritual formation at a house of studies with academic courses taken at a nearby college or university. By remaining open, the Seminary College fills a need well beyond the borders of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Mirenda said task force members were hopeful "the college program will stand as a distinctive institution of high learning that enthusiastically welcomes students from our archdiocese, as well as across the United States and beyond, preparing them for life and for the journey to the priesthood."

The college seminary building opened in 1928 with approximately 200 students, and an estimated capacity of 400. The theology side had about 178 students. The peak student body for the entire seminary was 534 in 1960 and the peak ordination year was 1939 with 51 priests ordained.

Today's seminary has 54 students in the college program and 84 students in the theology program.

Clearly, moving the entire seminary into the huge, 285,000-square-foot college building would not begin to fill it, and because of deferred maintenance, it would cost many millions to rehabilitate the largely vacant building. So it was decided the newly constituted St. Charles Borromeo College Seminary would move into the theology division complex.

Currently, the main building of the theology division, erected in 1871, is also largely vacant except for mostly offices on the first floor. The seminarians in pre-theology, theology and the spirituality year live either in adjacent St. John Vianney Hall or St. Edmond's Hall. Each has a capacity of 90 seminarians.

Under current plans the St. Charles Borromeo Seminary College will have a capacity of 100 seminarians in the residential college program, bringing the total for the entire seminary to 280, slightly more than twice the current enrollment. It would continue to serve the diaconate program and the Graduate School of Theology.

Also attending for class studies will be seminarians of the new Neo-Catechumenal Way Seminary. Six men will begin studying for the movement at St. Charles and they will live in a Redemptoris Mater House of Studies. At ordination they will be incardinated to the Philadelphia Archdiocese but may at times be released for Neo-Catechumenal Way ministries.

It has not yet been decided if the upper floors of St. Charles' main theology building will be renovated to house the college seminary or if there will be new construction, according to Bishop Senior.

"We need to have excellent facilities, we need to have state-of-the-art facilities," Bishop Senior said. "We need to have the men living, studying, praying and growing together in an environment that is conducive to that."

The seminary has a consultant to ascertain the potential value of the portion of the seminary property to be leased or sold.

Rebranding the college means "we are going to be focusing on the college as a separate entity," Bishop Senior explained. "We are going to talk about it as a college that has a unique mission -- to form young men in accord with a program of priestly formation, apart from the theology seminary, which is quite successful as well."

Renovations or any new construction will be funded in part from the Heritage of Faith-Vision of Hope Capital Campaign, the sale of selected pieces of artwork from the seminary's collection and a new capital campaign focused solely on the seminary.