When the Bishops of the United States issued their 6th edition of the Program for Priestly Formation (the governing document for American seminaries), they reiterated a unique aspect of our life at St. John Vianney, namely, that priestly formation occurs “in the context of a community” (PPF, n. 149). In our individualistic, American culture, men preparing for priesthood often see it as a “solo life,” where they are to “go at it alone.” The bishops have called for a deeper immersion in the communitarian aspect of the Christian life, one in which, we are proud to say, we have taken into our very seminary structure.
When our seminary was re-founded in 1999, we took a radically different approach to the model of formation, known affectionately as the “parish house model.” Instead of the classical dormitory style of the post-Tridentine seminary model, men in the configuration stage (their last four years) move off campus to a household of seminary life at a parish. Here they live conformed to a more familial existence, one which requires a deeper personal engagement of the man with the way of life. Despite the many advantages of institutional formation, it is commonplace to note that life can be a bit soft and more easily hide themselves. The Parish House Model, far from being a departure from the originative model, is in fact a development, whereby the “ecclesiology of communion” becomes more intensely felt, and more profoundly lived (cf. PPF, n. 150).
At present, St. John Vianney Seminary has three off-campus parish houses: St. Joseph, Christ the King and Our Lady of Lourdes. Each house has between 10-15 seminarians, who living at a parish and in residence with their formator, come in each day for class, mass, lunch and any other co-curriculars in which they partake. Their life in the parish house is founded on the four basics of all priestly common life: prayer, study, meals and recreation. Though off-campus parish houses are limited to men in the configuration stage, the seminarians in the discipleship stage live on campus and still operate as two households (Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary). In the end, the hope is that these formative years will create the fundamental task of the priest, namely, to become “a man of communion” (John Paul II, Pastores Dabo Vobis, n. 19).