Early in 1855, His Holiness Pope Pius IX first expressed to members of the American hierarchy his interest in the establishment of a national seminary in Rome for the formation of candidates from the United States, stressing the unique lessons to be learned in Rome: the unity and universality of the Church, the traditions of our faith, and the ministry of the successor of St. Peter.
More than four years later, on December 8, 1859, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the patroness of the United States of America, Pope Pius IX formally inaugurated the Pontifical North American College on the Via dell’Umilta, a property which the Holy Father himself had given to the bishops of America for the purpose of initiating this seminary. In this sixteenth century former monastery of the Visitation Sisters located in the historical center of Rome, twelve students began their studies. Since that time, these buildings have continued to serve the North American College community, presently as the Casa Santa Maria, a residence for priests who are pursuing graduate studies in theology, scripture or canon law at various pontifical universities in Rome.
At present, many countries have national seminaries in Rome which serve both as a house of formation and as a residence for the students pursuing theological degrees at one of the major Roman pontifical universities. At first, the students of the North American College attended the Urban College of Propaganda Fidei where seminarians, principally from missionary dioceses, studied. Then, in 1932, the program of theological studies for the North American College students was transferred to the Gregorian University staffed by the Jesuits. Currently, students may pursue undergraduate studies at the Gregorian University, the University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, or the University of the Holy Cross while graduate degrees can also be earned at any number of universities administered by the Church’s major religious communities.
It was in 1953 that the seminary department of the North American College was transferred to its new and current location on the Janiculum Hill overlooking the city of Rome. Purchased by the bishops of the United States in 1926 through the generosity of the Catholics in America, the property is not very far from the Basilica of Saint Peter and enjoys extraterritorial status linking it to the Vatican City State.
The rector who monitored the construction of the new seminary complex was the Most Reverend Martin J. O’Connor, Titular Bishop of Thespiae and Auxiliary Bishop of Scranton. The distinguished architect, Count Enrico Pietro Galeazzi, designed the six-story buff-brick and travertine building which houses the North American College. It is comprised of the chapel dedicated to the Immaculate Conception and donated by the alumni, a large dining hall, a well-developed English language theological library, an auditorium, administrative offices, classrooms as well as faculty and student residence facilities. While it is American in its utilities and appointments, it is typically Roman in much of its design. On the twelve acres of landscaped property surrounding it are handball, tennis, and basketball courts as well as a soccer-football-baseball field.
The Pontifical North American College is located at via del Gianicolo, 14. The map below marks the location of the main entrance.