The Fu Jen Faculty of Theology St Robert Bellarmine in northern Taiwan is going to accept more Catholic clergy and nuns from mainland China for theological studies next year.
Nearly 100 mainland students are studying at the theological faculty since the school accepted mainlanders three years ago, according to Jesuit Father Louis Gendron, who became the president in September.
“Except for a handful who are priests in their 40s, the majority of the Religious men and women are in their 20s and 30s, and they are doing fine so far,” said the former head of the Jesuits’ China Province.
Despite the expansion plan, Fr Gendron cannot yet give a figure of how many more students will be enrolled, noting that the list has to be approved by the Interior Ministry.
Last year, the faculty enrolled about 40 new students.
“It is a different channel from other mainland students whose applications are made through the Education Ministry as the faculty is managed directly under the Vatican,” he said.
Recognized by the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, the faculty’s three year full-time theological program will also have its first batch of mainland graduates next year.
Fr Gendron expects the enrollment of mainland faithful can be realized in one or two years’ time when the faculty is ready.
As for local Catholics, the priest said that there are relatively fewer Taiwan students, who mostly are nuns and laypersons, as vocations of both male and female Religious congregations here have dwindled significantly in recent years, and the Catholic population on the island is small.
Some priests in the mainland welcomed the news.
“Compared to Hong Kong, the Philippines or Western countries, studying in Taiwan has the advantage of having Mandarin Chinese as the medium for teaching. That means we do not have to struggle to learn a new language,” said a priest who asked not to be named.
However, he said there is still a limited supply to meet the huge demand from more than 100 dioceses and uncertainly whether would-be students can get permission to leave the country.
The Faculty of Theology has become an independent institute detaching from the Fu Jen Catholic University six months ago after the Taiwan government and the Vatican signed a mutual recognition accord of each other’s educational qualifications last year.