The first year of seminary is complete. The first of two years of study in Philosophy. The first of six years overall to prepare to become a priest of Jesus Christ. What can be said of this experience? What happened? What changed in my life? What was seminary life like? A lot of these questions raised are beneficial for my own personal reflection but they may also be helpful for those who have ever wondered what Catholic seminary is all about. This is also a clandestine time to reflect since we are in the midst of the 50 days of the Easter season leading to the celebration of Pentecost. Just as in those first days after Jesus’ resurrection when a flood of questions arose regarding what transpired, so also seminarians reflect on many questions after their first year. All these questions both after the resurrection and after a year of seminary can still be simplified down into one question: ‘What happened?’
What (hopefully) is happening at seminary?
At seminary, men become priests of the Lord Jesus Christ, the great High Priest. This may seem too obvious, but it is likely if you were to ask most people here in the United States, they would not give an answer similar to the one I’ve given above. Some may say: ‘To study theology.’ ‘To earn an M. Div.’ ‘To study the Bible.’ ‘To learn how to say the mass.’ ‘To learn how to administer the sacraments.’
All these educational and informative experiences do indeed occur during the time spent at seminary. But that is not why men go to seminary. That is not what is happening to the man who goes to seminary. A man goes to seminary to become more like Jesus, the High Priest so he may be a priest under Him for service to the Christian faithful and the world.
If anyone wants to know in detail what the Catholic Church intends in forming men for the priesthood, then it is very important that two documents be read. In these two documents we find the vision and goals given by the Catholic Bishops for Catholic Seminary formation:
2. Pastores Dabo Vobis (“I will give you shepherds…” St. John Paul II’s Encyclical Letter on the Formation of Priests in our Present Day)
If the reader would enjoy a more comprehensive list of Church Documents concerning priestly formation, consider the following link to the USCCB website:
The three areas of focus that we have often returned to during my first year at seminary have been:
1. The Three Spiritual Paths: Find the Center (Jesus Christ), Know you are a sinner, and Life is Not About You.
2. The Priest as spiritual father.
3. The Priest as pontifex. (A bridge to Jesus Christ)
Everything that happens at seminary is meant to help the man attending become like Christ so when He serves as a priest his life may be a bridge for people to be drawn closer to Christ.
If what is happening at seminary is happening so men may be fully formed priests of Christ, then what actually goes on in day to day seminary life to make this goal a reality?This is typically the most frequent question we receive from people who are curious about seminary.
The seminary daily life includes the following: 1. Morning prayer & mass as a community. If you would like to see what we pray together each day as a community, click this link: Breviary 2. Meals with classmates. 3. Classes in philosophy or theology. 4. Evening prayer with different small groups each day of the week. 5. Holy Hour (all seminarians are expected to build into their daily life at least one hour spent personally with the Lord in prayer and personal devotion.) 6. Study 7. Recreation. (usually includes sports, games and entertainment) 8. Rest
In addition to the typical daily experiences, there are other activities that occur on a week to week basis that it would also be good to mention. For example, each day of the week times of Adoration of Jesus in the Eucharist are offered in the morning before the start of the day and on the evenings on Wednesday a time of Adoration and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament occurs for the whole seminary community.
Confession is offered Tuesdays on campus or there is a Franscican religious community just off campus at Marytown where confessions are heard twice a week.
Another important part of the weekly schedule is Formation. As a class, we meet on a weekly basis to reflect on one of the four areas of priestly formation: human, intellectual spiritual, and pastoral. Different speakers are brought in to speak on a variety of topics and issues with opportunity also given for questions and group discussion. Examples of topics that can be covered are: personal prayer devotional practices, daily bible reading, celibacy, keeping a journal, time management, etc.
One practice that begins at seminary but will continue on for the rest of our lives is to regularly meet for Spiritual Direction. All Christians are encouraged to have a spiritual director. This is typically a priest in your diocese who you can trust in sharing personal concerns and questions. A person usually will meet with his/her spiritual director on a monthly basis. At seminary we are asked to choose a spiritual director shortly after we arrive. We schedule to meet with him every other week while in seminary.
As we prepare for the ministry of priesthood, a critical aspect of seminary preparation is gaining experience serving people in a variety of situations and contexts. These experiences in ministry are called Field Education at seminary. There are different ministries that seminarians are connected with such as prison ministries, food pantries, local church youth ministry, hospital ministry, etc. All of these opportunities help seminarians grow a pattern of serving that will be an integral part of priestly service.
Weekends can be one of the most varied times in the seminary schedule. One weekend could be very free of planned activities which allows for time to exercise, go to a movie or sports game, do chores and catch up with family and friends. Other weekends can be full of planned seminary events that seminarians are encouraged or required to participate in. There are also local ministries that students can become involved with such as a ‘Chop For Life’ ministry which raises money for local Crisis Pregnancy Centers by chopping and selling wood in the community. Another ministry brings clothes and food to the homeless down on the streets of Chicago. The field education experiences that were just discussed above also typically occur on the weekend.
If you thought summers for seminarians is the time to mainly kick back and relax, ‘you still have much to learn’ (flagrant Yoda quote). Alright, there is some time allowed to be refreshed and reconnect with family and friends. Of the 14 weeks of summer, there is usually about 3 to 4 weeks provided for a time of rest and relaxation. The remaining weeks of summer finds seminarians on a variety of summer assignments. Some travel to a foreign country to learn Spanish, some serve in a local parish, some attend IPF (Institute of Priestly Formation), and some serve in a hospital to gain CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education).
Now you can pat yourself on the back. You made it through a summary of a typical seminarian year! Congratulations! For myself, it has been a wonderful first year where I had opportunity to encounter the love of Christ and some amazing people that are a part of His Body, the Church. It truly has been a blessed opportunity so far and I am deeply grateful for all the prayers, service experiences, friendships, and love that I have received during this first year at Mundelein Seminary. There is a lot that goes into priestly formation. A lot. So many people have laid down their lives and sacrificed in order for men to be well formed into priests for Jesus Christ and His Church.
For friends and family, I truly appreciate all the times you have been willing to pray for me this year and I have been thankful for the times we could connect during breaks and visits. If you are ever wanting to come visit the seminary, you would be more than welcome. Please feel free to contact me to plan a visit starting in September for year two of seminary!
For any men who have wondered about the vocation to priesthood and were unsure what seminary formation is all about, I hope this will help give you a better idea on what to expect. If you have additional questions or are considering serving Christ in the ministry of the priesthood, please feel free to contact me as well! (there is a contact form in the ‘About Me’ section of my webpage.)
I pray you all have a blessed summer! Peace in Christ!