Stages of Formation STC cassock day 2022

Stages of Priestly Formation

Formation is first and foremost cooperation with the grace of God.

According to the latest Program of Priestly Formation, "The goal of priestly formation is to form missionary disciples so that they are ready for consecration as shepherds for God's People, sharing in the authority of Christ the Redeemer, who sent the Apostles to preach and to heal...The Gospel foundation of priestly formation precedes programs, structures and plans" (PPF6, #14-15).

That being said, once a seminarian is accepted by the diocese and accepted to a seminary, formation does begin in earnest. There are stages of formation as well as dimensions of formation at each stage. The stages are fleshed out below; the dimensions which the seminarian must form are summarized as:

“Through human formation the foundation is laid upon which the other dimensions can be received and lived.

Through spiritual formation, the seminarian learns to bring everything from the other dimensions into his relationship with Jesus Christ.

Through intellectual formation he comes to a deeper understanding of the truths of faith and the human person, enriching his relationship with God, his understanding of himself, and his service to others.

Through pastoral formation he learns how to express the other three in pastoral charity, the overall goal of priestly formation.

It is through the integration of all four dimensions that the seminarian comes to the affective maturity and freedom needed for priestly service” (PPF6 #116).

The stages of formation are as follows:

Propaedeutic Stage: or preparatory stage. Aims to provide seminarians the foundation they need for a new way of life by developing habits of prayer, study, fraternity, trust and appropriate docility to formation.

Discipleship Stage: a systematic and rigorous formation that has at its core the goal of growing in an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ though a life of meditation and contemplation, as well as formation in virtue. The study of philosophy occurs during this stage.

Configuration Stage: in which the seminarian models his life on the self-donation of Jesus Christ, Shepherd and Servant, as he prepares more immediately for Holy Orders. It will include deeper contemplation of and a more intimate and personal relationship with the person of Christ with the aim of producing a greater priestly identity and spirituality. As he conforms himself more to the Shepherd, he grows in self-offering proper to the pastoral care of the sheep. The study of theology occurs during this stage.

Vocational Synthesis Stage: allows a deacon to enter into the life of a cleric, residing in a pastoral setting (usually a parish), incorporating the entirety of the formation he has received since his Baptism. It is no longer a stage of discernment or of determining suitability for holy orders (which have happened at earlier stages), or of acquiring new skills (though that will surely happen); rather it is about the deacon's readiness to assume the duties of full-time ministry once ordained a priest, which occurs at the completion of the vocational synthesis stage.

“Formation, as the Church understands it, is not equivalent to a secular sense of schooling or, even less, job training…While formation is a lifelong journey, the time spent preparing for ordained ministry is a privileged time of growth in self-knowledge and deepening intimacy with Jesus Christ” (Program of Priestly Formation 6, #114).

College Seminary and Major Seminary

There are two basic paths for formation as a priest: with or without a college degree. If you do not have a college degree, there are four years of College Seminary (encompassing the Propaedeutic and Discipleship stages) then four years of Major Seminary (incorporating the Configuration Stage and leading to the Vocational Synthesis Stage). Seminarians entering with a college degree start with the Propaedeutic year, then progress through the other stages for a total of seven to eight years of formation.  Taking a spiritual or pastoral year can extend this timeline but is also very enriching for the future priest.

College Seminary we use:  St. John Paul II Seminary at Catholic University of America in Washington, DC

Major Seminaries we use:  Mount St. Mary Seminary in Emmitsburg, MD and St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, PA

Learn more about how the new Program of Priestly Formation is being implemented at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary and Mount St. Mary's.