Formation at the Seminary
As Pope St. John Paul II described, “priestly formation is an integral journey in which the four dimensions of human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral formation are woven together in such a way that, while identified as distinct dimensions, they can be seen as an ‘integrated journey of the disciple called to priesthood’” (PDV, n. 60).
In June of 2022, the United States Bishop’s Conference promulgated the sixth edition of the Program of Priestly Formation, a document that governs all seminary formation in the United States. With this came some significant changes and develops of the structure and staging of seminary formation. What was previously a two-staged process (Pre-Theology and Theology) is now described in four:
Seeking to lay the “basic groundwork” of vocational discernment and formation, this initial twelve-month period is structured to provide “a more intensive preparation” (PPF n. 119). Though this new stage is now mandated to all seminaries, we are privileged to have done this for the last 23 years (previously known as the Spirituality Year). This dedicated period of time seeks to withdraw men from the world in order to deepen their interior life with Jesus Christ and prepare them for the years of formation to come. Two important milestones of the year are the poverty immersion in January and the 30-day silent retreat that concludes the year in June. Men in the propaedeutic stage reside in a separate community, located in a separate building on the north side of the seminary campus.
The second stage of formation moves the men from the propaedeutic house to the two communities of the main seminary building. Here their formation passes through a period of 2-3 years, seeking to provide a “systematic and rigorous formation that has as its core the goal of growing in an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ” (PPF, n. 132). This period builds on the foundation of the prior stage and is dedicated to the discernment and confirmation of priestly calling; one that culminates with the call to candidacy by the bishop. The central academic focus of this stage is philosophical studies, it contains a variety of theological, linguistic and liberal arts courses. From a pastoral perspective, men engage apostolates that focus upon the corporal works of mercy.
This third and most substantial stage of seminary formation seeks to aid the man “to model his life on the self-donation of Jesus Christ … as he prepares more immediately for Holy Orders” (PPF, n.135). Throughout these years, seminarians move off campus to what are known as “Parish Houses” (converted rectories and convents on nearby parish grounds). Modeled after the seminary of Cardinal Lustiger in Paris, parish houses are comprised of 12-14 seminarians living in residence with their formator. The basic idea behind this is to provide a deeper formative experience by living in a “family-style” community. Furthermore, the proximity to parish life affords a deeper immersion in the pastorate, as the men of this stage now focus their pastoral ministry in the context of the parish itself. The principle course of study in this stage is theology, though it likewise contains language, history, law, and a variety of practicum. This stage, lasting three and half years, concludes with the election and ordination of the seminarian to the transitional diaconate.
Vocational Synthesis Stage
The final stage of priestly formation begins after the man’s ordination to the diaconate. At this point, with his studies and seminary formation complete, he moves from the seminary and spends a final six months in preparation for the priesthood in a non-academic setting. Men from outside Denver will return to their home dioceses. While concluding their studies at St. John Vianney, resources such as spiritual direction and counseling will continue to be provided. In particular, we intend to offer a two-week intensive course covering a variety of priestly practicum and offering a canonical retreat before priestly ordination. As the diocese (and specifically the pastor) assumes the responsibility of formation in this stage, we likewise intend to offer support and a basic framework by which a true vocational synthesis can occur. In the end, the key to the final stage is that by immersion in the pastorate, the man may begin to integrate the formation he has received and allow it to catalyze into a priestly gift of self. At St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, the vocational synthesis stage will be introduced in the spring of 2027, as provided for by the new program of seminary formation.
Through Him, with Him, in Him, in brotherhood we strive to be discipled by Jesus in all things and to embrace joyfully His Cross, to be ordained and sent as priests for the New Evangelization, inspired by the zeal of Saint John Vianney. Mary, Mother of Priests, pray for us!