California seminary receives new rector after former president's removal

Sulpician Fr. Gladstone H. "Bud" Stevens

The vice rector of St. Patrick's Seminary and University in Menlo Park, Calif., Sulpician Fr. Gladstone H. "Bud" Stevens, has been named the school's permanent president/rector effective June 1.

Stevens will succeed San Jose Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Daly, who has been interim president/rector since September, when San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, in a move that surprised and stunned many, removed Sulpician Fr. James McKearney for reasons never made public.

The new appointment was made by the U.S. Provincial Council of the Society of St. Sulpice and ratified by Cordileone, stated a news release Wednesday from Baltimore Sulpician headquarters.

At the time of McKearney's removal, Cordileone and seminary personnel emphasized that the priest had done nothing immoral or illegal.

Neither the school's board of trustees nor the U.S. Sulpician provincial, Fr. Thomas Ulshafer, were consulted about McKearney's pending termination.

The San Francisco archdiocese owns the seminary and its extensive grounds, and Cordileone, as archbishop, is the seminary chancellor. The Sulpicians helped found it in 1898 and have administered it since. Daly is the only non-Sulpician to lead the school in its history.

McKearney -- caught off guard by being forced to resign -- and others had asked why the long-standing protocol of the vice rector assuming the duties of rector on an interim basis in the event of a rector's departure had not been followed.

That would have been Stevens, who is also St. Patrick's dean of men and an associate professor of theology.

Stevens told NCR on Thursday that he was approached about his willingness to consider the president/rector position not long after McKearney's removal. He said the agreement to become the new chief administrator "was pretty much solidified by the end of October."

There are currently seven Sulpicians at St. Patrick's: Stevens and six faculty members.

Asked about lingering effects of McKearney's surprise removal in the fall, Stevens said, "Obviously, any kind of transition like that, that could not be anticipated, is going to be disconcerting," but "everybody is involved now and we have the resources and good will to move forward ... to (carry out) our mission of serving the dioceses, which have entrusted their men to us."

Stevens said student and faculty "have been pleased and supportive" about his appointment and he has been "very pleased, humbled and gratified by it."

Stevens noted that seminary enrollment remains an uphill battle. Enrollment reached a recent-history high mark of 114 for the 2012-13 school year; however, enrollment dropped to 93 for this year, and only a dozen new students enrolled.

The Seattle archdiocese stopped sending students to St. Patrick's in the fall in what a Seattle spokesperson called "consolidating" their placements at "Mt. Angel in Oregon, Bishop White in Spokane, Mundelein in Chicago and North American College in Rome."

It is unknown if other dioceses are considering similar changes, but one source familiar with the situation underscored that St. Patrick's "is such a natural seminary for so many dioceses."

Stevens said as president and rector, he will focus on "maintaining the Catholic identity and mission" of the school "in a very complex cultural situation, notably here on the West Coast, where we have large diversity" of ethnicity and social convictions.

"We have to be sensitive to the signs of the times, as Pope John XXIII said, and at the same time, maintain a connection and fidelity to our tradition," he said. "It is a real and interesting challenge."

A native of Bridgeport, Conn., Stevens, 48, was ordained for the archdiocese of Louisville, Ky., in 2000, entered the Sulpicians in 2004 and was assigned to St. Patrick's in 2008, according to the provincial release.

Asked about his nickname, Bud, Stevens said his first name, Gladstone, had been a challenge -- "like having a tuxedo as your only garment" -- so his family started calling him "Bud," just as his namesake grandfather had been called.

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