In the years following the restoration of the English and Welsh hierarchy in 1850, a lot thought was given to establishing diocesan seminaries.
Seminaries, in fact, are an English idea. In 1556, Cardinal Pole laid the idea before a synod of the English Church, and though, as is well-known, events were to overtake him and his scheme, the Council of Trent was to pick up the idea and run with it. Trent's idea (Session 23, Chapter 18, Cum Adolescentium Aetas) is that each diocese should have its own seminary, situated near the Cathedral and bishop, to mutual benefit. The bishop can get to know his future clergy, and imbue them with his vision for the diocese; in some sense, the seminarians can be apprenticed to him. The Cathedral, too, would benefit from experienced and professional serving—real clerics performing the appropriate role allotted to their order.
In England, during the Second Spring, bishops wanted to implement this, but there were a lot of difficulties, the major one being finance. So the plan was slow to get off the ground.
Westminster Diocese had trained its students at St Edmund's, Old Hall Green, Ware, which was half of the old Douai college, the other half having gone to Ushaw. Both places also, like Douai, doubled as secondary schools for boys, and even, to some extent, substituted for the Universities that Catholics were forbidden to attend (initially by the Universities' rules, and then by the Church's own).
Cardinal Manning tried to remedy that for Westminster, trying an abortive University in Kensington, and, only a little more successfully, a proper dedicated seminary in Hammersmith. This has as its patron St Thomas of Canterbury, and its buildings now house the Sacred Heart Convent and School. I think that they were also used for filming part of Nuns on the Run, but I'm not certain.
St Thomas' was not a happy place, it is said, but it endured until Manning's death. However, almost the first act of the new Archbishop, Bernard Vaughan, was to decree its closure. He did this, rather tactlessly, on the seminary's feast day itself, 29th December 1892. His decision was not to send the students back to St Edmunds (Cardinal Bourne was to do that), but instead to establish a Central Seminary for the whole south and midlands of England. This was to be domiciled at Oscott.
It didn't quite work. He knew that the scheme would never manage to draw in Ushaw, so he left that alone. Wonersh had only just been founded, and so he thought that if he applied a little pressure, Wonersh could function as a junior seminary, and the seniors could go to Oscott. The bishop of Southwark, John Baptist Butt, and the first Rector, Francis Bourne (later the Cardinal) fought furiously to preserve their own seminary, and in the end won their right to independence.
It should be pointed out that Vaughan himself came to regret what he had done. A central seminary has a lot of advantages—the sharing of resources, for one. But it entirely lacks that necessary connection between bishop and student that makes a good seminary. Vaughan was to find that by sending Westminster students to Oscott, he lost all control over their formation, this coming under the Bishop of Birmingham instead (it did not have an archbishop until 1911). And, as I mentioned, Bourne was to bring the Westminster students back to St Edmund's in 1904 (he had succeeded Vaughan in 1903).
Now why do I write all this? Well really because I hear on the grapevine (from a source in the north of England) that the idea of a central seminary at Oscott is being talked about again among the bishops. With the closure of St Cuthbert's Ushaw now on the cards, and the majority of students to be moved to Oscott, there is talk of making the seminary at Oscott a national one, which would entail the closure also of Allen Hall and Wonersh (though presumably not Valladolid or Rome).
Please, your graces and your lordships, think well about this. A seminary is a kind of a home and common inheritance for priests who have surrendered these things for the sake of the Gospel. And, most particularly, you will yourselves lose influence over your students and their education. As in so many other things, expensive committees will take over your own roles, and though Eccleston Square can no doubt find time to do it on behalf of the Bishops' Conference, your own input will be severely restricted, and you will not feel able to intervene on behalf of your own students should you believe it to be necessary.
Our seminaries may be small, but they are ours. They can be decanted into smaller, more economic, buildings, should this be thought necessary (I wish they had done that at Ushaw), but they should not lose their local nature. They are part of the inheritance of the particular churches; in one sense they are the family silver which should not be lightly disposed of. The principle of subsidiarity suggests that one should not let economic considerations do the driving in this instance.