Parents' perspectives on a Catholic vocation journey
Mundelein Seminary in Chicago has posted a video on the academic steps to become a priest: from College Seminary or Pre-Theology to Major Seminary to Transitional Diaconate to Ordination. This is a very clear explanation of the process.
Being an Educator for 25 years, I was very interested in reviewing the coursework my son would take as part of the intellectual formation in seminary.
After reviewing the curriculum, I was struck by how well educated our priests are through this process. I always knew priests had a graduate (Masters) degree, but the course work seems longer and more in depth than most Master’s degrees. Most full time graduate programs such as an MBA, MHA, MSW, MSN are only 2 years beyond a bachelor’s degree.
Typically, a priest graduates with a Masters in Divinity degree. Some students also take course work to earn an additional graduate degree in Theology. It is not uncommon for a priest to be sent for further education to earn a degree in Canon Law or a doctorate by his bishop.
When learning about the academic road to priesthood, some people have commented that it seems like a long time to go to school “just to be a priest.” Others have expressed dismay that it would take so long with an air of “is it really worth it?” In my experience, these people identify as Protestant or Evangelical where bible college, mission trips and service projects may be the extent of the formation process.
Other well respected career options can take as long or longer than priestly formation. The road to become a doctor is 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school and then at least 2 years or more to complete a clinical Residency. A Surgical Residency is at least 6 years! That’s a total of at least 14 years without further specialization. Lawyers spend 4 years in college and 3 years in law school. No one seems to mind how long it takes to be a doctor or a lawyer. Scientists, college professors and others spend many more years doing research to earn a PhD. The length of academic preparation for these careers is respected for its perseverance and advanced knowledge. These careers are attained through mainly intellectual “formation” and skill application.
For seminarians, intellectual formation is only one of the four pillars of formation. The road to priesthood also requires the development of personal maturity, knowledge and skills in the spiritual, pastoral and human pillars of formation. Progress in these 3 pillars tends to develop slowly as behavior, judgement and skills become integrated into one’s personality. The 6 – 8 years required for priestly formation is a growth process that is far more than learning an advanced level of content and skill application. It is a highly structured program of comprehensive development of the entire person. The bar is set high for our future priests which is no less than what the people of God deserve.
I will post Part 2 soon on how an average high school student adapted to the rigors of academic life in the seminary.