Minor seminaries or "Apostolic Schools" as they are called in the Legion are secondary boarding schools created for the specific purpose of enrolling teenage boys who have expressed interest in becoming priests. They are designed to prepare boys both academically and spiritually for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. I first came across them in Spain, which in the sixties was typical of cultures and societies where literacy was not universal, and the minor seminary was seen as a means to prepare younger boys in literacy for later entry into the major seminary.
Yesterday, the Spanish newspaper "La Razon" published an article claiming that more than 1,300 young boys are currently studying in minor seminaries in Spain. My best guess is that perhaps about one hundred of them might be in the Legion's minor seminary in Ontaneda in the north of Spain.
The Spanish daily La Razón reports
The article, signed by Álex Navajas, argues that while "some boys their age dream of being footballers, businessmen, doctors, or bullfighters, these Spanish lads who are just peeking into adolescence want to be priests." The newspaper published several testimonies like that of Alvaro Pinero, a 16-year from Toledo who joined the school-seminary in Las Rozas de Puerto Real, in Madrid. Alvaro realized he wanted to be a priest when he was 12 years old but had doubts. "The school helps me a lot, there is a great atmosphere, where we build good friendships, and my teammates are like my second family" he says. Adrian, at the tender age of 5 years wanted to be a priest and altar boy at Monturque, his hometown. At 12 he entered the seminary of St. Pelagius. Now 16 years old he explains that at the junior seminary "our ideal is Christ. We develop our prayer life because without prayer we can achieve nothing. Santiago Fernández, 18, has finished two years in the minor seminary and in September he will move on to the seminary. “At first, my friends did not accept my decision. Then, seeing that I was doing well they supported me," he recalls. Bishop Demetrio Fernandez, the current Bishop of Cordoba, also found his vocation in childhood and attended a minor seminary. "I wanted to be a priest since I was 7 years old.” After being an altar boy with his pastor’s agreement he entered the minor seminary in Talavera de la Reina. "They were the happiest years of my life. Everything I can say about the minor seminaries is very positive," he says.
According to the newspaper Bishop Fernandez is not the only Spanish bishop who studied at a minor seminary. Zornoza, Auxiliar Bishop of Getafe, Asenjo, Archbishop of Seville, Rodriguez the Bishop of Toledo, the Bishop of Jaén, Ramón del Hoyo, are just some of them. Cardinals Rouco and Cañizares felt the call to the priesthood when they were just children. In fact, according to Antonio Prieto, rector of the Minor Seminary of Córdoba, 'more than 60 percent of the clergy of our diocese passed through these rooms." “For the vast majority of people, it is true that you can not tell what a child wants to be when he grows up. However, there is a small group who do know what they want to be,’ says Manuel Vargas, rector of the seminary of Las Rozas. He concludes, “The best advertising for a minor seminary is that the kids are very happy.”