Would Villanova buy St. Charles Seminary?

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia's plan to sell its stone hilltop St. Charles Seminary, and consolidate theology classes for its dwindled priest-student population in a complex nearby, will leave that final 30 acres as the last remnant of a priestly training estate that once covered a quarter of a square mile northwest of City and Lancaster Aves., Lower Merion. Read Harold Brubaker's Inquirer story here.

The church sold 63 acres of mostly open ground nearby to D'Agostino builders in 1984 for a high-end housing development. Who will likely buy this next piece? As Brubaker noted, the aging halls won't easily be converted to apartments. (City-run Girard College in North Philadelphia has a similar problem: old, empty buildings burden a campus constructed for more than four times its current enrollment.)

St. Joseph's University has been expanding sports and other programs into other ex-church properties along City Ave. farther north, including the former cardinal's mansion and the ex-Episcopal Academy campus, thanks to the largesse of rich alumni like insurance magnate James Maguire.

But it's not clear St. Joseph's needs the St. Charles halls. The campuses are separated by residential neighborhoods, and the Jesuits who run the university have no current plans for increasing enrollment.

Further out the Main Line -- past Ardmore and Bryn Mawr -- Villanova University has, by contrast, been itching to grow in recent years.

That school, run by Augustinian priests, failed to win neighbors' support for its early-2000s proposal to move its law school to the former Haverford State Hospital property.

St. Charles is already an institutional property, across Lancaster Ave. from Lankenau Hospital and served by two busy commercial roads. Though the site, as my colleague Carolyn Davis notes, is zoned for residential development.

St. Charles might have been a promising alternative for Villanova. But it wasn't on the market. The university ended up adding a state-of-the-art building next door to its previous site above Villanova's Septa station.

Villanova is now struggling with neighbors in Radnor Township, the affluent neighboring Main Line municipality where college students, mostly from Villanova, now comprise a third of the population, over a proposed new dorm complex on the south side of Lancaster Ave.

It's less likely Villanova would want to bus students all the way from City Line.