In part one I talked about the types of priesthood and how I got to where I am today. Now I want to talk about how the seminary process works.
When a diocese accepts a man who desires to be a priest, they naturally have to prepare the man for that role. Seminary exists just for that purpose. Catholic seminaries are different from protestant variants in that they don’t just exist for academics. Seminary is about formation; it’s not just “priest school.” While I will eventually get a degree, my time in seminary will primarily be a time to grow in such a way that I will be able to effectively serve as a priest. Saint Pope John Paul the Second provided the framework that the global church uses for priestly formation and the American Bishops adapted that framework to establish specific things that their men need to know and be prepared for before they can be ordained. Seminaries have adopted the guidelines, and they exist to prepare men to be healthy, joyful, and effective ministers.
The first step in priestly formation is the college seminary. This is where I am now, Holy Trinity Seminary (HTS). At the college level I will learn philosophy and how to think as the Church thinks. You learn how to think, how to use logic and defend positions, and ultimately have a frame of reference to use when approaching thoughts and ideologies in the world. As I understand it thus far, philosophy approaches reality from the side of reason and provides a basis to see the world. It will illuminate (I’m told) my intellect and provides a rational basis for approaching faith. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, “The Christian faith has an essentially rational and intellectual dimension. Were it to lack that dimension, it would not be itself.”
College Seminary is the first stop for (almost) all potential priests regardless of age or previous experience. Currently HTS has 75 seminarians from dioceses across the country. I have met men from Dallas, Fort Worth, Santa Fe, Tulsa, Little Rock, Charleston, and many more.
If you enter seminary without a college degree you are required to complete a BA in Philosophy. At HTS all academics occur at the University of Dallas. I was surprised to find that the vast majority of seminarians at HTS fall into that category. Only 14 of the 75 already have a college degree. Of the remaining 61, a large number entered straight out of high school. It’s crazy to think about, but on their first day of college they went to mass, prayed liturgy of the hours, prayed in Eucharistic adoration, and learned about spiritual formation all with a community of 29 other new guys. On my first day of college I… walked to mass alone and probably cried a bit.
The rest of the guys have completed some college, but either never finished or decided to leave early. Some have enough credits to start as sophomores, but the upper-level curriculum here is very specific and most don’t have any previous philosophy. College seminarians will spend 4 years here completing a degree and participating in the formation process. They span a wide range of ages, from 19-30.
If you come into seminary with a college degree already completed, you are considered a Pre-Theology student. Pre-Theology students will spend two years to complete 48 hours of philosophy and introductory theology curriculum. This is my classification. There are five guys in my class and nine in the class above.
Once you finish up at college seminary you move on to major seminary where you are formed in theology and the actual practice of serving as a priest. I cannot speak to this because I’m not there yet, but I do know that you spend five years here before ordination.
Now back to the books