In 2003, the Episcopal Seminary of Conversano entered its 300th year.
The seminary was founded on April 16, 1703 by Filippo Meda, bishop of Milan, two years after he was appointed pastor of the Church of Conversano. Thus, the dream aspired to by the prelates of the ‘600s, who were unable to accomplish this task for economical reasons, had become a reality.
Filippo Meda (1701-1733)
The seminary was first established in a private residence of Casalnuovo next to the Acquaviva d’Aragona Gate. Having increased in number, the seminarians were transferred to a larger building near the church of St. Cosmas on January 30, 1722. The building had in part been donated by a local pastor and in part purchased by the sale of the previous home.
Academic life and spiritual formation at the seminary developed and prospered under the episcopates of Giovani Macario Valenti, Filippo del Prete, Michele Tarsia and Fabio Palumbo.
Giovani Macario Valenti (1733-1744)
Filippo del Prete (1744-1751)
Michele Tarsia (1752-1772)
Fabio Palumbo (1772-1786)
However, establishing the definitive site of the seminary was predominantly the work of Bishop Gennaro Carelli, a native of Conversano.
Subsequent to the decree of dissolution of religious orders (August 7, 1809), the prelates agreed that from among the dissolved convents in Conversano – St. Francis of Assisi, Carmel and St. Francis de Paul (of the Minim, or Paolotti, fathers) – the latter should unequivocably be chosen as the ideal and definitive site of the seminary.
On October 6 of the same year, the bishops engaged in dense, incessant and diligent correspondence with political authorities. Thus, tenaciously overcoming opposition, silence and long waiting periods, Ferdinand I was claimed sole proprietor of the former Minim convent on November 6, 1816, by concession of the Bourbon king of Naples.
As a result, the seminary was finally established on the site where it still stands today.
Given its state of neglect, the seminary needed to be restored and enlarged. The restoration works were initially undertaken by Carelli and later by his brother, Nicola; however, they passed mainly under the care of the Neopolitan, Giovanni De Simone, who in 1839 contributed personally to the restoration expenses of the first floor and to those for the reconstruction of the second floor and chapel.
Gennaro Carelli (1797-1818)
Meanwhile, in April of 1832, Bishop De Simone negotiated the donation of the old library in the convent of St. Lucy of the Minims of Castellana to the seminary, which henceforth was embellished with the most precious source of book collections from the first half of the 16th century.
The bishop himself sought to enrich the seminary with his own collections, but mostly by the purchase of important and costly prints representing the humanities, history, law, philosophy and theology. In recognition of such an accomplishment, in the background of his large portrait are depicted thomist works and others of canon law.
Giovanni De Simone (1826-1847)
The final turning-point in the architectural renewal of the seminary was marked by the intervention of the enlightened Bishop Giuseppe Maria Mucedola who, despite his disfavour with the Bourbon king of Naples due to his cooperation with the Risorgimento, made use of the prestigious talent of the Conversano architect, Sante Simone.
This led to the construction in 1851 of the eastern- and northern-side loggias. In 1860, Bishop De Simone ordered the construction of the entire avant-corps, characterized by a wide neoclassic perspective, cleverly englobing the original XVIIth-century structure. A long pathway flanked by gardens connects both structures.
Giuseppe Maria Mucedola (1848-1865)
Prelate Mucedola gave the orer to affix the Pauline motto, Crescamus. More than a mere logo, it was intended to be, and did become, a pledge of the integral formation of young seminarians.
The seminary not only grew in the number of students aiming toward the priesthood but also in the national prestige it enjoyed thanks to its illustrious and experienced faculty under the direction of Domenico Morea. In 1892 at Montecassino, Morea printed the oldest Benedictine parchments of Conversano, thus winning great fame.
arch. Sante Simone (1823-1894)
The great number of seminarians as well as those discontinuing their religious formation (e.g., the philosopher Donato Jaja, instructor of Giovanni Gentile) led Bishop Salvatore Silvestris in 1874 to create a separate school. Aside from the seminary, a boarding-school was built in which the future intellectuals and politicians of the region were to receive their training. This enterprise was acknowledged by the state educational authorities in 1894, and thus the seminary was enlarged by the addition of new classrooms on the eastern side.
The number of seminarians, on the other hand, had been drastically reduced. Consequently, Bishop Génnari, the future cardinal, took on the task of momentarily transferring the seminary to his spacious residence. Here his successor, Bishop Antonio Lamberti, continued to foster the spiritual formation of the seminarians.
Salvatore Silvestris (1872-1879)
Casimiro Génnari (1881-1897)
Antonio Lamberti (1897-1917)
In this place the seminarians studied and received their training until the 1940’s, after which they were transferred to the current site given the increasing number of attendees.
Msgr. Domenico Padovano
Bishop of the Diocese of Conversano – Monopoli