Not all the questions about the seminary experience deal with weighty theological issues. Some of them are, in fact, pretty mundane.
Seminary — like most higher education — isn’t cheap. So, who is paying for the training for the next generation of priests and religious?
The answer is: it depends.
As we mentioned a while back, there are two kinds of priests: diocesan and order. (Sometimes referred to as secular and religious priests — toss out that bit of trivia at a party and watch your friends try to puzzle out the difference.) Among the other differences, diocesan priests generally draw a salary and are expected to pay for their own food, transportation, etc. Order priests generally do not draw a salary and are dependent on their order for all of their material needs. In practice, this means that diocesan priests need to be careful managers of their money as the salary isn’t that great while order priests rely on the order to balance needs the of the entire community. As our previous pastor put it (with tongue firmly in cheek), “Order priests take the vow of poverty, diocesan priests live it.”
This is important because diocesan seminarians often attend seminaries which aren’t associated with the diocese and will be assessed tuition. This responsibility may be picked up by the seminarian, their parents or the diocese or some combination thereof. The Office for Vocations for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis addresses the question by saying:
How much does it cost? Who pays?
Everyone is concerned about the high cost of education, including potential seminarians and their families. In the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the archdiocese will pay for the room and board cost of our college seminarians as a scholarship. This does not need to be paid back. In addition, the University of St. Thomas offers a 35% discount on tuition for seminary students. The seminarian and his family are required to fund the rest of the cost through regular scholarships, financial aid, and loans.
There are (not surprisingly) many scholarships available to seminarians. Often, there is also a distinction between those entering “college seminary” for the purpose of earning an undergraduate degree and those who have earned a bachelors degree and are moving to the next level of formation. The Diocese of Des Moines outlines such a program:
How much will it cost to go to the seminary?
This depends on which level of Seminary formation you enter. For those that enter as college seminarians, the cost will be the responsibility of the seminarian. As would be typical for any other college student, you will fill out FAFSA forms for student loans. The college seminary programs we use typically have reduced tuition for seminarians as well as scholarships that are available. One college seminary program gives a scholarship that covers your full tuition. Regardless, you can expect significant expenses for college, which will remain your responsibility regardless of whether you are ordained for the diocese. The rationale behind this policy is that college is a pre-requisite for professional life in any capacity in our culture, and whether or not you become a priest your degree will serve you well into the future. The Diocese does provide college seminarians with re-imbursement for books and certain travel required by the diocese, as well as a monthly stipend. You are encouraged to work during the summer for extra spending money.
The policy is different for men that enter seminary for Pre-Theology (those with a college degree but in need of required philosophy before studying Theology) or Theology. The Diocese will cover the entire amount of your tuition, room and board, as well reimburse you for books, certain travel required by the diocese, and will provide a monthly stipend. These expenses do not have to be re-paid in the event you discern out of seminary formation.
What do I do if I have previous student loans that are not fully paid off yet?
The diocese, while it provides for much of your training as a seminarian, cannot offer assistance in paying off previous college loans. However, many loans can be deferred, some without accruing extra interest, until the time you finish seminary training and are ordained a priest, at which time you receive a salary and can pay off your loans.
As much as possible, Vocations Offices and Seminaries try to remove the obstacle of money. And there are plenty of private donors who are doing what they can to aid in preparing the next generation of priests. An article on the Vision Vocation Network website notes:
Fortunately there are many benefactors who donate directly to seminaries or make funds available through scholarships or grants. Two Catholic organizations that have generously supported vocations are the Knights of Columbus (contact your local council) and the Laboure Society (www.labourefoundation.org).
At the diocesan level, the Vocations Director would be able to provide better information for a particular case.
Seminarians who enter as part of an order, often have their training provided for (in whole or in part) by the order. The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter’s Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary uses a mixed approach:
How much does it cost to educate a seminarian?
he actual cost is about $22,000 per year. Most of this cost is paid through the generosity of our benefactors, who deserve our prayers every day. The cost that FSSP seminarians currently are responsible for is $7,000 per year for tuition, room and board.
What if I cannot pay for my annual tuition and room/board?
We ask all seminarians to do their best to pay everything they are able to pay. This includes actively seeking benefactors, running an ad in your home parish bulletin, asking priests for financial help, and applying for scholarships with various Catholic support groups. However, if you do not come up with all of the tuition money you will not be required to leave. Nor do we deny entrance to men due to an inability to pay these costs.
In Evan’s case, he was required to be debt-free (with the exception of his student loans) before he could be accepted as a novice. His room, board, and training are all provided by the order and he is given a small stipend each month for incidentals such as toiletries, clothing, and personal transportation. Living in DC (and having to switch for a college wardrobe of jeans and t-shirts to a wardrobe of business casual) the stipend is adequate, but not excessive. Fortunately, two different Utah Councils of the Knights of Columbus (St. Olaf’s in Bountiful and St. Mary of the Assumption in Park City) have adopted Evan under the RSVP program. He wasn’t aware of the program until they contacted him. He was (and is) touched by their generosity.