A pre-academic stage in which seminarians are required to spend a minimum of 12 months concentrating on vocational discernment, dedicating time to prayer and growing in Christian discipleship. The propaedeutic stage “seeks to provide seminarians with the basic groundwork they need to engage in priestly formation” (PPF 119). The propaedeutic stage will provide each man the opportunity to be removed from the negative influences of the culture, to deepen his relationship with Jesus Christ and to build up healthy habits so that he may be more apt to fully engage in the process of being formed as a priest of Jesus Christ.
The propaedeutic stage at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary will be marked by a focus on a seminarian’s prayer life, frequent pilgrimages and the chance to build fraternal bonds without the hindrance and distraction of technology. This will include a technology fast that will limit use of phones and computers. While this stage is not technically an academic year, a seminarian in this stage can earn college credits, not exceeding nine credit hours per semester. At MTSM, those in the propaedeutic stage will take courses on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the History of Spirituality and an Introduction to Catholic Literature.
The primary focus of the Discipleship stage is “growing in an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ through the life of meditation and contemplation, as well as the training of one’s character in Christian virtue, so as to lay a solid foundation for future stages” of formation (PPF 132). The discipleship stage lasts a minimum of two years and it is during this stage the seminarian completes his study of philosophy. While the propaedeutic stage is envisioned as a preparatory stage for fully engaging in the process of being formed as a priest of Jesus Christ, the seminarian in the discipleship stage begins this full engagement. This includes a full academic course load, formation and participation in the liturgical life of the seminarian, and all other aspects of the seminary’s life and work.
The configuration stage is the time that the seminarian prepares “more immediately for Holy Orders” (PPF 135). As such, it is during this stage that the seminarian develops a relationship with Christ that is “more intimate and personal and, at the same time, will lead to an awareness and an assumption of priestly identity” (Ratio fundamentalis 68). In this stage, the seminarian is challenged to “acquire a proper priestly spirituality; this includes a greater awareness and personal assumption of priestly identity as he conforms himself to the sentiments and attitudes of the Son, understood as self-offering for the pastoral care of the sheep” (PPF 136).
While there is no strict timeframe indicated for this stage of formation, it is during this stage that the seminarian receives candidacy if this was not received at the conclusion of the discipleship stage. With the reception of candidacy, the seminarians at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary begin wearing clerics while at the seminary. It is also during this stage that seminarians receive the ministries of Lector and Acolyte as preparation for entrance into the clerical state through the reception of Holy Orders. At the end of the configuration stage, the seminarian petitions for diaconate ordination.
The vocational synthesis stage lasts a minimum of six months and is “intended primarily as a time not of evaluation, but of integration and transition” (PPF 137, 144). Furthermore, this stage is “not a period of discernment for the priesthood, which began intensely in the propaedeutic stage and was confirmed during the discipleship and configuration stages” but it is more a time for “adjusting well to the life of ministry before advancing to priestly ordination” (PPF 138). Therefore, most of the time during this stage is spent in a parish in the particular diocese or institute of the seminarian where he exercises his diaconal ministry. During this stage, Mount St. Mary’s Seminary will offer the opportunity for seminarians to return to the seminary for practical training in celebrating the sacraments of the Eucharist, Penance, and Anointing of the Sick, and a preaching practicum. At the conclusion of the vocational synthesis stage, the seminarian petitions for priestly ordination.
Seminarians receive conferences from priest formators and local experts two to three times a month to address topics that will aid in their preparation for the priesthood which are not necessarily covered in the classroom. Topics of business, etiquette, leadership, accounting, budgeting, and HR training are addressed by local experts. Priest formators give conferences on celibacy, obedience, the importance of being faithful to the Liturgy of the Hours, Marian devotion in the life of the priest, common struggles in the life of the priest, understanding the practical implications of the triple munera of the priest, and more.
Pope Francis reminds seminarians of the honesty necessary in allowing Holy Mother Church to speak to them through their formators: “…the seminarian should know himself and let himself be known, relating to the formators with sincerity and transparency.” (Ratio Fundamentalis #45) Each seminarian is assigned a priest mentor who acts as his external formation advisor. Meeting with his formator on a monthly basis, these meetings are an opportunity to discuss regularly the seminarian’s progress in the priestly formation program. These meetings become the basis for the formation faculty to be able to recommend a man advance through the formation program.
Working on the grounds is not just about building community and camaraderie, it also helps seminarians realize it is good to invest sweat equity wherever they are assigned in their ministry.
Projects include renovations around campus, such as building bridges, land maintenance, architecture, building a vineyard, creating and maintaining walking trails/bridges, and more.
Seminarians in formation spend at least two hours a week engaged in their apostolic works assignment. This is an opportunity for the seminarian to grow in his understanding and concrete experience of the apostolic and missionary dimensions of the priestly ministry. It also provides an opportunity for the seminarian to be evaluated in terms of his pastoral zeal and his ability to be “a bridge and not an obstacle for others in their meeting with Jesus Christ.” The various apostolic works assignments focus on service to the elderly, the poor, teaching in schools and RCIA programs, social ministries, crisis pregnancy centers, parish outreach, and more.
Men are eligible to participate in the Holy Land Pilgrimage after completion of the second year of the Configurement Stage. This trip allows the seminarians to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and experience some of the places where the Church was born.
There is also an annual student-organized trip to Washington, D.C. to join the March for Life in January.
Many seminarians participate in other activities, such as pilgrimages or the MTSM basketball team, that provide opportunities to travel.