The Seminary in Camp Dèpôt 501
With the capture of Paris by Allied troops, August 25, 1944, Abbé Stock, who was hospitalized at that time in La Pitié, became a prisoner of the Americans. Having been flown by plane in September 23 to the huge prisoner of war camp of Cherbourg, he soon came into contact with Abbé Rodhain and Abbé Le Meur of the Aumônerie Générale in Paris. Discussions were held about the religious care of German prisoners of war, and plans for the establishment of a seminary for captured students of theology were developped.
Abbé Le Meur wrote on March 13, 1945 to Abbé Stock: “The French general, who is commanding the German prisoners in France, has decided, to open a seminary for all captured students of theology. I am presently making arrangements for this institution and to assemble all theologians at Orléans. Abbé Rodhain and I myself have thought for quite some time that you ought to head this establishment. Hence I am approaching you today to ask you officially, if you are willing under conditions, more hard than those under which you are presently living, to take over the spiritual education of those theologians. „I am taking the liberty to ask you urgently to accept this task and possibly this sacrifice.“
The Church of France has taken steps in this regard which ought to lead to a renewal of Europe. And it cannot be emphasized sufficiently, that men of the church have set the track ahead of the politicians themselves for a German-French reconciliation and the unification of Europe.
Abbé Stock hesitated for a long time but all the same accepted this mission, although he was of the opinion that he does not have the necessary qualification for such a task. In his reply of March 27 Abbé Le Meur wrote: “I am convinced, that the task which we are undertaking, will have an immense backing up influence to the mutual understanding of our both countries and the emanation of our beloved church.
In accordance herewith the seminary was stationed at first in Orléans in the prisoner of war camp Dépôt 51 and later on in Chartres at the prisoner of war camp Dépôt 501. The bishop of Chartres, Monsignore Harscouet, held protection of the seminary. Commanding officer of the Camp was Colonel Gourut.
Here in Chartres, students of theology were grouped together from all French camps holding them and they were given the chance to continue their studies or to begin studies as well. For the youngest ones they introduced a course to obtain high school graduation qualification. The university of Freiburg im Breisgau took over sponsorship of this seminary. This seminary was in existance for two years, which was absolutely unique in this kind in the history of the church. Until that time it was the largest seminary and it was a „Seminary behind barbed wire“ (Séminaire des barbelés), two facts which hitherto did not happen so far. A total number of 949 lecturers, priests, brothers and seminarists were there during the course of two years. It was closed June 5, 1947. The last 369 seminarists left the prisoner of war camp.
Nuncio Roncalli, then residing in Paris, the later Pope John XXIII, visited the seminary four times. During one of such visits he declared: „The seminary of Chartres does honor to France as well as Germany. It is very well fit to become a sign of understanding and reconciliation.“ And the canon of the cathedral of Chartres, Pierre André, secretary of the bishop of Chartres, later on said time and again: “The Mont Valérien and the seminary of Chartres are both the foundation of the German-French reconciliation and the unified Europe.”
Abbé Stock during this farewell speach shortly before closing of the seminary, addressed the seminarists: „One of the divine supervision desired number of holy men will suffice, to rescue our epoch. It is the Providence, which is hurling towards us this call for holiness by the voice of the history, and we must hear it, to bring to the world the message of freedom and peace, salvation and love.” Abbé Pihan, preacher in Notre Dame, named the 20th aniversary of Stock’s day of death a prophetic message, and Abbé Stock himself stood up himself to this call for holiness.