An aerial view of the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception...

An aerial view of the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington. (Nov. 21, 2011) Credit: Diocese of Rockville Centre

The Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington will stop training men to become priests starting next September, ending an 80-year history of preparing hundreds of seminarians who went on to pastor to millions of Roman Catholics on Long Island.

The Diocese of Rockville Centre will merge with the Diocese of Brooklyn and the Archdiocese of New York and will send all of their seminarians to St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, also known as Dunwoodie.

Currently, seminarians from Rockville Centre and Brooklyn study at Immaculate Conception, while the Archdiocese of New York sends its seminarians to Dunwoodie. Under the new arrangement, a total of about 100 seminarians from the three entities, along with a few other dioceses and religious orders, are expected to be at Dunwoodie next fall.

They include 13 from the Diocese of Rockville Centre studying in Huntington.

Immaculate Conception, located on a sprawling, bucolic waterfront tract in the exclusive Lloyd Harbor community, will be converted into a center used by Brooklyn, New York and Rockville Centre for ongoing "formation" or development and training of laity, deacons and priests who have already been ordained, including some from overseas.

The merger comes as the number of seminarians in area dioceses and across the nation continues to fall. The Archdiocese of New York, for instance, ordained 30 to 35 men a year at Dunwoodie in the 1960s, compared with four this year, seven last year and three in 2009, said archdiocesan spokesman Joseph Zwilling.

The Diocese of Rockville Centre ordained four this year, three last year and four in 2009. Historical comparisons were not available.

"This historic agreement will help primarily provide a stronger experience of formation for men of the downstate area," Bishop William Murphy of the Diocese of Rockville Centre said in a statement. "By bringing the two programs together we will be able to offer a formation experience that integrates the best qualities of Immaculate Conception and Saint Joseph's."

The merger mirrors a similar move undertaken this fall when the three entities began sending all of their minor seminary students to Cathedral Residence of the Immaculate Conception in Douglaston, Queens. Minor seminaries are made up of men still in college who hope to one day enter a major, or post-college, seminary to become priests.

Murphy noted that the seminary in Huntington opened in 1930 and has served as "the true hearth and heart that has formed and guided the life of our two dioceses" -- Brooklyn and Rockville Centre, which was carved out of Brooklyn in 1957. "Think about it . . . The spiritual care of millions and millions of Catholics in our respective dioceses were largely the responsibility of men who were formed in this seminary."

The seminary already offers theological education to lay people, and that role will be expanded under the consolidation as part of what Murphy calls a "New Evangelization" to boost lay participation in the church.

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