The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles is studying plans to close its four-year undergraduate college program for future priests at St. John's Seminary in Camarillo by next fall.
In three years, the archdiocese may consider moving the entire seminary to or near Loyola Marymount University in the Westchester area of Los Angeles.
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony said Friday that he and the seminary board of directors will decide in January whether to shut down the undergraduate program at St. John's, which enrolls 90 students, compared to 150 three decades ago. The program's closure would save the archdiocese nearly $3 million a year, the cardinal said, an appreciated cost-cutting measure at a time when it is trying to close a $4.3-million deficit.
"Obviously it will save us some money, but this has been on track for a long time," Mahony said. "This is a very positive step. It is keeping with the renewal going on in the church today, and it will fit the needs of the men who are entering our seminary today."
Mahony said the undergraduate program is no longer needed because there has been a decline in applicants and many already have a bachelor's degree before enrolling. In 1961, when St. John's opened, many applicants were high school graduates, he said, but that trend has shifted over the last two decades toward older applicants.
"We're not getting large numbers of high school seniors and, frankly, that's not the group we're looking for," Mahony said. "We're looking for people who have been out in the real world and have a little bit more maturity."
Proposals to phase out the college were presented to the seminary board of directors Friday by a special task force Mahony established in August to examine how to better prepare men for ordination as well as to save money.
The options included admitting only applicants who already have a bachelor's degree to receive six years of religious training leading to a master's degree in philosophy, or admitting applicants who have at least an associate's degree and allowing them to earn bachelor's and master's degrees in philosophy.
However, the task force, said the entire seminary and its graduate programs may have to be relocated to Loyola Marymount if the "stand-alone seminary model does not prove to be viable for programmatic, financial or pastoral reasons." That would be reviewed in three years.
"We would be getting out of the business of giving bachelor's degrees," said the Rev. Gregory Chisholm, one of the members of the task force.
If the college closes, the undergraduates who are not seniors will be offered assistance to find other universities to finish their degrees, Chisholm said.
Students at the hilltop campus in Camarillo said they knew closure was a possibility.
Asked what he planned to do if the school closed, John Nguyen, 23, of Chico said: "Pray, I guess."