St. Paul explains to the Corinthians the role of the ministers who are preaching and teaching the Gospel to them. He writes, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth. Therefore, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who causes the growth” (1 Cor 3:6-7).
Seminary spiritual formation is very similar. Our goal is to lead the seminarians to Christ, which involves providing the structure and environment in which they can grow spiritually, drawing from the wealth of the Church’s spiritual tradition and the saints, offering them the resources and ways of praying, and finally encouraging them to persevere and be consistent in their life of faith. Conception Seminary College provides the environment and the resources for spiritual growth, but as St. Paul said, God causes the growth.
Conception’s peaceful location has been sanctified by 150 years of monastic prayer and appreciated by guests and pilgrims looking for spiritual renewal. In the midst of the chaos, tension, and hurt many people experience in our world, such an environment of peace is ideal for preparing today’s seminarians for diocesan priesthood, temporarily removing them from much of the noise and distractions and giving them the sacred space to know their heart and the God who dwells there.
Here at Conception Seminary College, our vision for spiritual formation can be explained with a quotation from The Way by St. Josemaría Escrivá. In the introduction, Msgr. Alvaro del Portillo wrote that the intention of the author (Josemaría) was “To encourage and to facilitate personal prayer.” This expression succinctly describes our approach to spiritual formation. We encourage the seminarians, first by witness and example—in making time for prayer, but also by striving to be joyful witnesses of priesthood.
Our team of spiritual directors provide encouragement through listening to their experiences and giving them the opportunity to voice their struggles in a safe and trusted environment and help them bring up and integrate significant insights with human formation. Spiritual direction meetings become a privileged place of encounter and listening to the Holy Spirit at work in the seminarian’s life. During individual spiritual direction, encouragement often takes the form of the priest providing advice on how to persevere in the interior life and in priestly formation. Additionally, our program strives to “facilitate personal prayer.” Very often before a seminarian can grow and mature, he first needs help identifying and removing the obstacles that hinder him from spiritual growth and prevent his interior freedom. As he grows in self-knowledge and self-possession, he learns to make a gift of himself to God and his neighbor. Pope St. John Paul II reiterated the Council document: “Man can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself” (GS 24).
Having a Benedictine monastery involved in priestly formation is a blessing on the spiritual formation of diocesan seminarians. We draw from the best of the wisdom of a lifestyle that for 1,500 years has directed countless men and women to God. Benedictine monasticism has shown its ability to endure through rather tumultuous times in the history of the Church and the world. The wisdom we desire to impart to the seminarians is, first and foremost, a love of Sacred Scripture. We faithfully chant the Psalms five times a day and pray with the Scriptures daily (lectio divina). The Scriptures are a significant part of the rhythm of monastic life and our alumni consistently say that the great gifts imparted to them from Conception Seminary College are lectio divina and a love for the liturgy.
A Benedictine-run seminary also provides an example of community life. Community life is intentional at Conception Seminary College, and it is one of the ways that we are able to know the seminarians so well, thus building trust, and having the opportunity to form them well. In a monastery, one lives with a variety of ages of monks in community and experiences the blessing and support of a stable community. We gather strength from one another to pray on the days when we do not feel like it. And while we do not always have profound conversations all the time, these men are striving for God and willing to offer encouragement. Community life also brings its challenges, which might cause frustration or irritations, but these experiences are ultimately purifying and lead us closer to God.
The brotherhood at Conception Seminary College is remarkable. It provides the seminarians with the opportunity for lifelong friendships—the type of friendships they will call upon and rely on when they are ordained to the priesthood. We foster and encourage forming healthy friendships and engaging in community life because we hope that these future priests will be able to foster such community in their parishes.
Spiritual formation is about encountering Jesus Christ, and being open to the inner transformation and conversion He invites us to. Our aim is to direct the seminarians to Jesus, knowing that He can do far more in the heart of the seminarian than a person could ever do, which is why we always want to lead him to Christ. Jesus said to His disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you” (Jn 14:27). The path to Jesus will, at times, entail suffering and struggle, but we at Conception pray that our seminarians will not only learn, but also experience, that Jesus is our ultimate peace.
— Fr. Paul Sheller, OSB
Director of Spiritual Formation