WASHINGTON — The Jesuit-run Woodstock Theological Center, on the campus of Georgetown University in Washington – another Jesuit-run institution – will close at the end of June, a victim of the shrinking number of Jesuits available to staff it.
Hopes are that Georgetown will assume the center's work and assets. "The trustees made a decision to look at Georgetown first. If that doesn't work, they'll look at other places," said Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese, a senior fellow at Woodstock.
Fr. Reese said the decision to close was the culmination of "a process that's been going on for the past few months."
"We've been involved in a strategic plan for the past few months, planning for the next five years, and the trustees decided that because of the manpower needs of the Jesuits, it just wasn't viable to keep the center going as a Jesuit institution with all of the other colleges and universities and institutions and theological seminaries that we run," he said. "The numbers just don't add up."
About the closure, Fr. Reese told Catholic News Service in a Feb. 15 telephone interview, "I wasn't all that surprised, but simply sad."
Woodstock had been supported by the order's three East Coast provinces: Maryland, New York and New England. "The enormous transformations experienced by the Society of Jesus in the last 40 years have influenced the allocation of human and material resources," said a Feb. 15 announcement of Woodstock's impending closure as an independent ministry of the provinces.
"I'm afraid this is just going to continue to happen as time goes on," Fr. Reese told CNS. "Across the country we've seen parishes closing, schools closing. That's the new church. And frankly, it's going to get a lot worse. I'm probably among the generation of the last big classes in the seminaries.
And when we go, there's going to be very few people behind us."
About a year ago St. Aloysius Gonzaga Parish in Washington, near the Capitol, closed because the Jesuits' could no longer staff it; Gonzaga High School, an all-boys' institution, remained open. The congregation merged with nearby Holy Redeemer Parish.
Asked if money was a factor in the Woodstock decision, "money's always a problem," he said with a laugh. "But I think that (Jesuit) Fr. (Gasper) LoBiondo (head of Woodstock's board of trustees) had increased the number of donors every year and the amount that they were giving. Getting money from foundations is tough these days because they were hit in the stock market."
Woodstock has maintained programs in social ethics for business, interreligious dialogue, religion and public policy, science and religion, and a number of research fellowships. Fr. Reese directs the international visiting fellow program; its last two fellows will conclude their projects in May.
Fr. Reese has long been a favorite source for reporters needing to know details about the Catholic Church in the stories they cover. "Last year I decided to keep count and I've had more than 400 inquiries," he said. He'll be in Rome for the papal conclave, surely boosting his total.
The priest counted among those things he'll miss most with Woodstock's closure are his colleagues. "They're wonderful people. And the fact that it provided me with a base where I could do the kind of work I wanted to – the writing, the speaking, the responding to questions from journalists."
But Woodstock won't simply just fade away. Its library, on the Georgetown grounds, will remain open. "Some of the programs that had been endowed we're looking to see if Georgetown will be willing to take these over, and certainly the work the publications, the documents that Woodstock did are out there for people," Fr. Reese said. "I presume we're going to keep the website up with material available on that."
The center's website is www.woodstockcenter.org.