St. Charles Borromeo Seminary has decided to abandon its plan to consolidate operations on 30 acres of its upper campus in Lower Merion, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced Tuesday.

Instead, the seminary - where Pope Francis stayed last fall during the World Meeting of Families - will explore a plan to affiliate with a local Catholic college or university, and move the seminary into newly constructed buildings on or close to the partner's campus.

Possible partners that have been mentioned by observers include nearby St. Joseph's University or Villanova University, the two largest Catholic universities in the region.

The timing of the move is uncertain and further details were not available.

"It is my strong belief that this new direction will allow us to build on the already solid foundation of our present program by significantly strengthening and enhancing our seminary," Bishop Timothy C. Senior, rector of the seminary, said in a statement.

"This new path forward allows us to pursue new facilities that will further enrich and better serve the contemporary academic, spiritual, and human needs of our seminarians and lay students," he said.

Enrollment at St. Charles Borromeo is already on the upswing from 128 in 2013 to 142 this year. The number is expected to increase to 168 this fall, an archdiocesan official said.

More than a third of the members of the Association of Theological Schools are part of a bigger university. "This is a growing trend," said Eliza Smith Brown, spokeswoman for the association, which accredits theological schools.

More than three years ago, the seminary announced its intention to explore selling or leasing about 39 acres near the intersection of City and Lancaster Avenues, including the palatial college building that dominates the view of the grounds.

That plan called for the seminary to consolidate in older buildings set back from the main roads.

Progress was made on a potential deal for the parcel the seminary wanted to sell or lease long term, but that deal was never approved by the seminary's board and is tied up in litigation in federal court.

Walter D'Alessio, a Philadelphia real estate executive who serves on a voluntary real estate advisory panel for the archdiocese but was not involved in the recent strategy shift, praised the decision to move.

"Seminaries are now in a competitive market, to say the least," D'Alessio said.

"I think that the only real thing that you can do in a marketplace like this is offer something extra, and being able to offer joint degrees or at least joint education both at the seminary and a related university is the way to go. I laud Bishop Senior for taking the step."

Seminarians already take classes at St. Joseph's.

"There is an existing partnership that's reasonably extensive and very positive, but we haven't been in conversations about changing that partnership," St. Joseph's spokesman Joseph Lunardi said.

Some also take classes at Villanova. Villanova did not respond to a request for comment.