What is Seminary Like?

IMG_2365-aTo be admitted for seminary formation presumes a life of Christian discipleship. This is built on in seminary so that even if a man leaves before ordination he does so having benefited from the formation has received. The seminarian continues trying to hear the Lord speaking to him and calling him to a fuller participation in the priesthood by becoming a priest of Jesus Christ. While the priesthood has many elements that make it like a job, it is primarily a vocation: a calling from the Lord. The seminarian needs to be open to hearing the Lord’s call in his life and to be eager to respond to it.

The seminary is an environment that strives to form Christian men characterized by a life of holiness, human virtue, and generous service. Such a life is nurtured by a deep interior life of prayer and sound piety, filial devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and a profound love for the universal and local Church. It is further nourished through regular intellectual formation in a faithful and loving obedience to the Magisterium and the sacred truths entrusted to the Church. The seminary provides an environment that forms men to be committed disciples of Christ who are free to respond to God’s call to the priesthood, including the call to the celibate life.

Seminary formation covers four essential areas: human, intellectual, pastoral and spiritual. These are often referred to as the four “pillars” of formation, but sometimes it can be more helpful to think of them as a triangle. Human formation is the base of the triangle on which everything else is built. A man who lives a virtuous life is much more able to respond to the other areas of formation and the promptings of God’s grace. Intellectual and pastoral formation are the two sides of the triangle which lean against each other and hold each other up. Intellectual formation prepares us for pastoral ministry, the experience of which raises questions that have to be answered in ways consistent with the teaching of the Church. On this understanding intellectual and pastoral formation are never isolated, the experience of one informs the other. Finally, spiritual formation is represented by the space in the middle both because everything we experience in human, intellectual and pastoral formation feeds into our prayer and also because our prayer challenges the way we live in these other areas.

The nature of seminary life is such that some important experiences can only be had outside of the seminary. Pastoral formation is included as a part of seminary formation, and usually includes some work assisting at a local parish or charitable institution. In addition, seminarians are encouraged to participate in other activities in and outside of the seminary which are associated with the New Evangelization, especially those to which they feel particularly drawn.

An important part of human formation is normal social interaction and interests. A man studying for the priesthood should relate to the people he will be serving in a natural way, and should cultivate personal interests and hobbies. He will work on carefully avoiding excess in these areas (watching sports to the exclusion of duties and relationships, for example, would require effort) as well as expanding his horizons and opening his bounds of comfort (e.g., engaging in social interaction to overcome shyness.)

Each year the seminarian is assessed by the formation staff and a report on his progress is sent to the bishop. The report gives an account of how he is responding in the different areas of formation and occasionally highlights areas the staff feel he could work on during the coming months. Usually the seminarian sees this report and is invited to sign it. Depending on which year he is in, the report might also note whether he has been recommended to receive the ministries that ordinarily have to be exercised for some time before ordination. These are the ministries of Lector, which gives the candidate a special responsibility for proclaiming the Word of God and for catechesis, and Acolyte, which is a ministry related to the Altar. The Acolyte can administer Holy Communion and purify the vessels used at Mass. Having received these ministries, the next stage is to be admitted as a Candidate for Ordination. Admission to Candidacy is the stage that precedes ordination to the diaconate and, finally, to the priesthood.