An unfortunate reality in the worldwide Church is that many young men leave the priesthood after being ordained, typically within the first five years. Additionally, the culture the men are being asked to serve in or from which they are entering seminary is becoming increasingly hostile to traditional Christian values. Something needs to change to help these young men. That change includes the “propaedeutic stage” (propaedeutic meaning preliminary or preparatory).
The Church is restructuring seminary education into stages of formation rather than academic years so that there is a greater focus on developing a foundation of Christian culture, healthy ministry habits, self-care, and self-gift that prepares men to become grounded, intelligent, holy priests. The first two stages, which Conception Seminary College will facilitate, are the propaedeutic and discipleship stages.
Here at Conception, we are excited about the change. It allows us to develop our efforts of providing our long tradition of excellent formation. But what does this change mean at Conception? What does the propaedeutic stage focus on?
The propaedeutic stage, as the first stage, focuses on helping young men have a “foundation for this journey [of priestly formation] …especially in the human and spiritual dimensions, such that the seminarian can thrive” (Program of Priestly Formation, Sixth Edition). Another goal of the propaedeutic stage is profound discernment of priesthood, especially in the context of a community.
The propaedeutic stage is intentionally aimed at helping men heal from past wounds caused by trauma, addictions, and the lack of Christian culture. It is designed to intentionally teach them what it is like to pray, meditate on the Scriptures, and develop a life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ. It helps them form healthy and supportive friendships, understand their experiences and emotions, and trust the process of priestly formation. The stage also focuses their academic formation this first year on helping them grow in their understanding of Scripture, communication, self-knowledge, discipline, and hard work.
How does this translate in the day-to-day life of a seminarian covering all this critical work? As we do now, the seminarians will attend prayer first thing in the morning. Here they will learn how to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, meditate on Scripture, integrate devotions like the rosary into their spiritual life, and develop a personal relationship with Jesus. The seminarians, throughout the day, go to classes covering topics like the Old and New Testament and the foundations of theology, and courses on writing, general psychology, or history. The seminarians will also have time for group reflection, learning vital skills like communication, conflict resolution, and healthy sharing, along with providing mutual support and understanding.
Seminarians in the propaedeutic stage will receive special conferences on Christian spiritual traditions, Christian anthropology (like Theology of the Body), and various topics on physical and mental well-being, living in a community, and serving in priestly ways. The seminarians will serve the poor and work with their hands doing manual labor. They will also participate in holy leisure, understanding how to engage in times for recreation and place value on community and friendship.
The propaedeutic stage will be an intense time of formation and growth for seminarians, yet it will be a time of great grace, encouragement, and development. We ask you to pray for the seminarians who begin this new stage of formation this fall, that these men of Conception will grow to become God’s holy priests of tomorrow.
— Fr. Etienne Huard, OSB
Propaedeutic Stage Dedicated Formator