The process of seminary formation includes many stages. A man doesn't have to be certain of his vocation before entering. The seminary is a place for discernment. The Church speaks of four pillars of priestly formation: the human, the spiritual, the intellectual, and the pastoral. It is this focus that sets seminary formation apart from other kinds of education programs.
The first stage of the discernment process in the life of a Catholic is rooted in prayer, service, and the regular reception of the Sacraments. It is important that a person be actively involved in a parish. When a man feels some inclination to consider the priesthood, he should begin gathering information, spiritual direction, attending vocational discernment events, and spiritual reading. It is helpful for him to talk it over with priests, family members, and friends. He then may contact vocation directors from a diocese or from religious communities.
Application is made either to a diocese or to a religious community. The application process includes gathering documentation, completing application forms, writing an autobiography, psychological testing, medical testing, and a criminal background check. After the bishop accepts an applicant, he assigns him to one of the officially designated seminaries.
While in a college seminary, the seminarian usually works on an undergraduate degree in liberal arts with a major or minor in Philosophy (I, II, III, and IV College).
Time: four years at a seminary college
Commitment: The college seminary helps a man to grow as a person with good communication, relationship, and leadership skills. He deepens his life of prayer as a disciple of Jesus Christ, attending daily Mass, morning and evening prayer, and spiritual direction. College seminary focuses on the growth of the total person.
For a seminary candidate who has completed his undergraduate degree prior to entering seminary, a Pre-Theology Program is available.
Time: two years at seminary
Commitment: The seminarian more deeply continues his discernment and prayer life while completing the prerequisite courses in Philosophy.
A seminarian begins his graduate theological studies (I and II Theology) which include the study of Scripture, teachings of the Church, spirituality, pastoral theology, moral theology and Christian ethics, and many other aspects of the Church's traditions.
Time: two years at a seminary
Commitment: During this time the seminarian continues to commit himself to a program of human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral growth. He is also installed into the Ministries of Reader and Acolyte in preparaion for ministry of the Word and Sacrament.
The Pastoral Year provides the seminarian an opportunity to understand and experience practical day-to-day activities of ordained ministers.
Time: one year assignment to a parish in the diocese
Commitment: The Pastoral Year enhances a seminarian's educational experience and exposes him to the joys and struggles of parish life. He is involved in a variety of experiences including interaction with pastoral staff and the community, leading prayer, and service in various liturgical roles.
After the Pastoral Year the student returns to the seminary to resume full-time academic studies (III Theology).
Time: one year
In the summer after III Theology, if the bishop calls him to Orders, a seminarian is ordained to the transitional diaconate where he makes promises of celibacy, prayer, and obedience to his bishop and his successors. A transitional deacon resumes his graduate theological studies (IV Theology).
Time: one year at a seminary
Commitment: Completion of a Master of Divinity (M.Div) and after much discernment and prayer is recommended for ordination to the priesthood in the summer after IV Theology.
To enrich the lives and ministries of priests, God invites transformation across a lifetime, through continuing education and integration of their priestly identity and ministry.
Time: a lifetime