When we first learned that the undergraduate degree at college seminary is Philosophy, I was surprised. Educationally, I understand the need for an in depth knowledge of philosophy as a framework to build the graduate Theology coursework. But my first reaction was “Philosophy? Really?” It sounded like a very tough course of study. I knew this kind of degree would require an enormous amount of reading and writing as well as being able to express your thoughts cogently in discussions by having an in depth grasp of the subject. Would he be able to handle it?
I must digress here to tell you a little about my son’s academic history.
My son has never been what I would call a “scholar”. Since grade school, he was the one who would “forget” that he had homework, or “forget” it at home, or “forget” to turn it in. This was a constant battle all through grade school and even high school. We like to joke that as soon as he learned there was no math in being a priest, then he was all for it.
My husband and I are voracious readers. Our children have grown up with books and magazines in every room of the house. Truly, from infancy we were reading to them. We had vinyl books for the bathtub and the touch and feel books like “Pat the Bunny.” As they grew up, we would snuggle up on the couch after bath time in pajamas to read from the Little House book series. Our other 2 children developed a habit of reading for pleasure and had no difficulty keeping up with reading in college. Somehow, this son never learned to read for pleasure.
Many times as he was growing up, I would take him to the bookstore to find something, anything, that would spark an interest in reading. I tried every book series from “The Magic Tree House” books to Harry Potter. Nothing worked.
So imagine my surprise to hear that the next 8 years of his life would be filled with reading. Not novels or interesting case studies, but philosophy and theology books. Many of these seminal works have been written hundreds if not thousands of years ago. At this point, my son was just starting his senior year in high school and I did not know how his new focus on attending seminary would impact his school work.
In his final year of high school, he did his homework without reminder, worked on long term projects and brought home mostly A’s and a few B’s including an A in Latin. He would complain if a course was boring because it was so easy. This was a complete reversal in behavior and attitude. It seems that once my son knew what he wanted to do, he developed more focus and a reason to strive to do well in his classes.
Once he started at the seminary, he would come home on his monthly weekend off campus ready to quiz us on concepts in Theology and Philosophy. This was a new experience to see our son so interested in a subject that he would talk about it outside of school.
As any parent knows, motivation and desire can only get a student so far. Clearly, the environment in college seminary is a contributing factor to academic success. In contrast to the state university where my son would have attended, seminary actually had a “curfew” 7 days per week, no visitors in the dorms, and a strict zero tolerance policy on drugs or alcohol.
Although there are plenty of diversions and recreation available on campus, seminarians are not overwhelmed with 100’s of options to divide their time on any given day. School days are structured and predictable to allow for sleep, mass, prayer, class, study hours, recreation and just hanging out. Weekends even have structure with free time from after morning prayer and mass in the morning until curfew. On weekends, students can leave campus to shop, go to a movie, visit friends or go out to eat. The curfew is reasonable and is what I probably would impose if my son was living at home and going to a local college.
The freshman class had 12 students and the entire college seminary had less than 50 students. This means that if you cut class, oversleep and miss morning prayer or mass, it will be noticed and addressed. You can’t fly under the radar in seminary. Class sizes are small so the faculty actually get to know the students. Most freshmen are taking the same classes so it is common to study together and help someone who is struggling. Obviously, this is worlds away from the state university with 27,000 students on campus.
Based on my experience, I can say that an average high school student can adapt to the academic rigors of college seminary with the right motivation and attitude with environmental structure and support.