In 1850 Pope Pius IX commissioned a new Catholic seminary for training foreign mission in Italy. Originally, in Latin, the new seminary was called “Pontificium Institutum Missionum Exterarum,” or PIME, which translated means, “The Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions.” Over 100 years later, the legacy of that seminary and the society of clergy that came from it descended upon central Ohio to continue the mission of Christ to become, “a light in the darkness.”
The original seminary was built in Columbus in 1952. The seminary was also given a very fitting name: Saints Peter and Paul. Both of these saints were the foundations of the Catholic Church and were constantly spreading the Good News of salvation even until their martyrdom. However, in 1957, the seminary was moved to its current location in Newark in order to accommodate an increase in vocations and because Columbus already had a seminary known as Saint Charles. The land it was built upon was 500 acres of beautiful, sprawling land near Newark, donated by a local farmer, Mr. Whirly, to the Columbus diocese.
In January of 1957, the current building was erected and made as a vocational high school for young men considering a missionary priesthood. When classes began in 1957, the school had a modest attendance with about six to ten young men per class. The faculty was all priests when the school opened and was overseen by the PIME order, led at that time by Bishop Aristide Pirovano. The Seminary was more locally overseen by the principal and rector, Rev. Giulio Mariani and a number of other PIME priests. Originally, the seminary consisted only of the “North Wing”, the central hallway, and the some of the private rooms. However, as the years passed, the number of graduating students fluctuated until it reached almost twenty in 1973, and the seminary saw the need for expansion. In 1967, the “South Wing” was added and the Gym in order to accommodate the increasing size of the freshmen classes. Additionally, around that time, the “West Wing” or the Convent was built in order to house six nuns who had taken residence there to help the school function.
While at school, the students held a healthy balance of study, prayer, work and play. The yearbooks of the school are filled with pictures of young men in a surprising variety of activities for such a small school. Even though the school usually only had around 80 total students in it, they still had varsity basketball and soccer, a drama department, swimming, and an after school work program. Still, despite the number of recreational activities, the main focus of the seminary remained preparing young men for a life of service in missionary work. The seminarians had a variety of service based clubs that provided an astounding number of services despite the small size of the school. Truly, the common theme of the school was community and total involvement of every member.
The students were not the only involvement at the school. Several groups known as “Guilds” provided support and assistance to the school as they organized various events. Originally, these groups were all local women or mothers of the students who gave their time to help the school function smoothly. But as time passed, these groups included all members of the surrounding community who sponsored such events as a pot luck dinner, Spaghetti dinner and even an Ox Roast, a tradition that continued for many years. The upkeep of the school was a community effort and as a result, the school flourished for many years.
Still, as the number of vocations to the priesthood decreased in the last thirty years, attendance in the school decreased and in 1990 the diocese decided to close the seminary high school. However, a little later the building was reopened as a retreat center and a new wing of private living quarters was added on. The retreat center features several grottos such as a shrine to Mary, the Sacred Heart, and a shrine to the unborn. Additionally, the center has two wood trails, two large dormitories, and many private rooms for retreats. As a seminary, the building was a place for spiritual guidance and education, and now as a retreat center that mission has not changed. Although as a missionary seminary, the intention was to bring God’s light to those in darkness, now that light has been firmly planted in the center itself and correspondently calls others to it.
Saints Peter and Paul Retreat Center is a quiet place for reflection and spiritual guidance and continues to be a place for vocational assessment and aid. And as the blessings of God continue to be reflected in this retreat center, the mission of the PIME order and the old seminary resonate within the walls and the people of the center. Still, after over sixty years of operation, the center maintains a focus on God and on providing assistance to those in need, and so it is appropriate that prayer starts and ends its history, a prayer that reiterates the PIME mission.