– Maria Kwak*

Macau bears witness to the earliest and longest-lasting encounters between China and the western world. As a gateway between the East and West, missionaries brought with them not only religious influences but contributions in the various fields of culture, sciences and art over several centuries. Catholic Higher Education is no exception in this regard. Today as part of the USJ network, the Seminary of St Joseph is carrying out the educational mission in religious studies and philosophy. It stands as a successor to the first university in Macau, the College of St Paul, which was established in 1594.

The proposal to build a new seminary in Macau was made as early as 1672. An Italian Jesuit Prospero Intorcetta (1625-1696), vice-provincial of China, was instrumental in moving it forward at its initial stage. In 1672, he travelled to Rome in order to obtain permission from the superior general of the Society of Jesus Giovanni Paolo Oliva (1600-1681). Having studied the Chinese language and philosophy since arrival in China around 1659, he later became the author of the Confucius Sinarum Philosophus (1687, Paris), the first translation of the Confucian Classics, together with the Flemish Jesuit Philippe Couplet (1623-1693). His proposal was successful under the Portuguese patronage, thus Peter II (1648-1706) became the first benefactor for the new seminary in Macau. Upon his return to China in August, 1674, Intorcetta sought to persuade the leaders of the Japanese province to set up a new seminary in Macau however this attempt never actualized.

It took half a century until the proposal was realised. Pope Innocent XIII (1655-1724) prohibited the Jesuits from engaging in their missions in China, due to the long-standing Chinese Rites controversy in regard to the Jesuit methods in China.  In 1728, the new seminary was finally established as the Real Colégio de S. José (Royal College of St Joseph), under the patronage of John V (1689-1750). He was awarded the title “Most Faithful Majesty” (Latin: Rex Fidelissimus) for his devotion to the Church by Benedict XIV (1675-1758). The exact date of establishment is disputable according to various sources. However, we know that the date would be somewhere between the 23 and 28 of February, 1728. This event marked the Jesuit priests of the Chinese vice-province leaving the College of St. Paul’s and moving to the new college. Specifically established for the China mission, it was known as the “small St. Paul’s” in comparison to the College of St. Paul’s.

Beginning in 1759, the suppression of the Jesuits was widely propagated through Europe and its colonies. In the midst of the Spanish Invasion of Portugal (1762), all Jesuits were expelled from Macau and eventually transferred to Lisbon. Clement XIV (1705-1774) issued a papal suppression on the Society of Jesus in 1773. The seminary was re-established by Franciscan Alexandre de Gouveia (1751-1808). Due to the decrees promulgated by the Marquis of Pombal (1699-1782), influenced by anti-Jesuit ideas and extreme regalism, both seminaries in Macau were closed until 1784. In 1781, Leal Senado of Macau informed Queen Maria, of the wish expressed by Emperor Qianlong (r.1735-96). There was a demand for mathematicians and a painter at his court and de Gouveia was a suitable candidate who then was appointed as the Bishop of Beijing. His personal letter dated from Macau on the 8th October, 1784 provides a reference to the royal mission he was entrusted with, including the re-establishment of the Seminary.

Under his leadership, it was administered by the Lazarists who retired from the Real Colégio de Educação de Chorão in Goa.

The College of St. Joseph was entrusted to the Congregation of the Mission by Dona Maria I (1734-1816), dated the 13th of Feb, 1800. The Society was restored in 1814 by Pius VII (1742-1823) through the papal bull Sollicitudo omnium ecclesiarum. Since the early days, the seminary provided the best education in Macau. Macanese architect Tomás d’ Aquino (1804–1852) who rebuilt the Sé Cathedral and St. Lawrence’s Church, studied at the college before his departure to Portugal. In 1835, the College of St. Paul’s was completely destroyed by fire, leaving the Seminary of St. Joseph’s the only surviving Catholic institution in Macau. However, the Portuguese Civil War prevented the institution from teaching activities between 1836 and 1860. By the Ordinance of the State of Portugal during the reign of Peter V (1837-1861), the College of St. Joseph’s was reconstituted under the title of the Diocesan Seminary of Macau, dated the 12th of August, 1856 and resumed its operation by 1862.

Since 2005, the Seminary building together with the Baroque Church of St. Joseph’s were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, as part of the Historic Centre of Macao. A compound of neoclassical seminary and church resembles typical late-gothic monasteries. The church was consecrated in 1746, on the feast day of St. Francis Borgia, who was fundamental in accelerating evangelization through the Catholic arts. The Seminary opened the Treasure of Sacred Art to the public in 2016, in collaboration with the Cultural Affairs Bureau of the Macao SAR Government. Nine rooms filled with various objects including books, paintings, sculptures, liturgical vestments and vessels reflect the human value which stands as legacy to the exchange of a variety of cultural and spiritual influences between the Western and Chinese.

*MA Candidate in History & Heritage Studies at USJ