Editor’s Note: Richard Tomlinson is a seminarian for the Diocese of Charleston, currently in his fourth year of priestly formation in Rome.
In 2007, Bishop Robert J. Baker, now of Birmingham, Ala., decided to send me to Rome for priestly formation and to study for a doctorate in biblical theology. The seminary he chose was the Pontifical Beda College in Rome.
The Beda is run by the bishops of England and Wales. It was originally founded by Pope Pius IX in 1852 to prepare older men for holy orders and also to serve as a house of studies for priests seeking advanced degrees.
At that time, in the wake of the Oxford movement and John Henry Newman’s conversion, many English-speaking people converted to the faith. Among them were Anglican clergymen and other professional men of mature years who did not need the extensive formation required of younger men.
The college was originally called the Collegio Ecclesiatico, and later the Collegio Pio, after its founder, and was eventually housed in the Venerable English College. It was given a new constitution under Blessed Pius IX’s successor, Pope Leo XIII.
Pope Leo had visited London as a young man and was deeply interested in the English church. His decree on the invalidity of Anglican orders in 1896 inspired a fresh group of converts.
In 1898, the pope decided the Collegio Pio should be placed under the patronage of the Venerable Bede, the eighth century author of the “The Ecclesiastical History of the English People,” to whom Pope Leo had a personal devotion.
In the following year, the pope raised St. Bede to the dignity of doctor of the church and the name of the college was changed to the Pontifical Beda College in his honor.
The Beda flourished. In 1922, the college was moved to its own building in the center of Rome, near the Piazza Barberini. During World War II, it was evacuated to England, but with increasing vocations in the 1950s, the college had outgrown its premises.
Pope Pius XII provided Vatican land for a larger campus to be built adjacent to the Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls. The new building was formally opened by Pope John XXIII in 1960.
Today, The Beda houses about 40 men in priestly formation from around the world. Students come from Australia, Malaysia, India, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Gibraltar and Jamaica, plus the United Kingdom, Ireland and the United States. In addition, there are about a dozen external students from religious orders in formation, and several resident priests and deacons pursuing advanced degrees.
The Beda has its own formation and academic programs, which are taught in English. Qualified students may also study for degrees at the Pontifical Universities. The minimum age allowed is 25, but most of the men are in their 30s and 40s. As in the past, the college attracts a high number of converts, particularly from the Anglican tradition.
I consider myself very fortunate to be able to attend The Beda. In addition to the experience of living in Rome, I have been able to work on my doctorate at the Angelicum — the Pontifical University of St. Thomas, which is the Dominican university in Rome — and to live in a mature and multicultural atmosphere.
I have made many friends from around the world and find The Beda to be a place of spiritual, intellectual and personal nourishment.
For more information about the Pontifical Beda College, visit www.bedacollege.com.