Focused on a Relationship with Jesus Christ
The propaedeutic stage is the first stage of seminary formation “with its own specific character” (Ratio fundamentalis 59) which “seeks to provide seminarians with the basic groundwork they need to engage in priestly formation” (Program of Priestly Formation 119). The word propaedeutic means preparatory; thus, this stage provides an initial foundation in formation in preparation for each of the subsequent stages. During this stage, formation focuses particularly on the human and spiritual dimensions, which “allows the seminarians to lay a foundation for a new way of life by developing a life of prayer, study, fraternity, and appropriate docility to formation” (PPF 120).
Beginning each spring, the propaedeutic stage at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary is lived “in a community distinct from the Major Seminary” (PPF 127). It is a year set apart where men grow in familiarity with the local and universal Church. A robust media fast deepens men’s opportunity for silence, prayer, study, and intentional community life. Weekly apostolic work, manual labor, and a four-week service immersion provide a pastoral impetus for the deep interior work required by this stage. This stage lasts not less than 12 calendar months, and concludes with each seminarian making “a firm resolution to dedicate himself to the work of priestly formation or, alternatively, ‘to follow a different path in life’ as a faithful lay Catholic” (PPF 122).
The discipleship stage builds upon the foundation laid in the propaedeutic stage and further prepares a man to enter the configuration stage. This stage provides the man with “a systematic and rigorous formation that has at its core the goal of growing in an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ…as well as the training of one’s character in Christian virtue” (PPF 132). During this stage, seminarians study philosophy and complete the necessary pre-theology requirements. Seminarians in the discipleship stage at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary integrate fully into the major seminary community. An intense discernment accompanies this stage, and by its conclusion, the seminarian “can clearly articulate his call and his conviction to be a priest” (PPF134). Upon the successful completion of this stage, seminarians receive the Rite of Admission to Candidacy for Holy Orders and advance to the configuration stage.
During the configuration stage, seminarians move beyond discernment and embrace priestly formation and proximate preparation for Holy Orders, seeking to be configured to Jesus Christ the High Priest. The seminarian “models his life on the self-donation of Jesus Christ, Shepherd and Servant,” and cultivates a “properly priestly spirituality” (PPF135-136). This stage demands the integration of the various dimensions of formation into the seminarian’s “greater awareness and personal assumption of priestly identity” (PPF 136). Theological studies accompany the formation in this stage, as well as the conferral of the ministries of lector and acolyte. At the conclusion of this stage, a man petitions for diaconate ordination and is approved for holy orders.
Vocational Synthesis Stage
Upon successful completion of the configuration stage and having received diaconate ordination, the man transitions into the vocational synthesis stage. This time of formation allows the newly ordained deacon “to enter into the life of a cleric, incorporating the entirety of the formation he has received from the moment of baptism until his reception of holy orders” (PPF138). The vocational synthesis stage provides the opportunity for the deacon “to adjust well to the life of ministry before advancing to priestly ordination” (PPF 138). This stage occurs “outside the seminary building” and “within the ecclesiastical entity,” as the deacon “resides full-time in a pastoral setting, usually the parish” for six months (PPF 139; 137). Periodic returns to the seminary during this stage allow seminary formators to continue to accompany the deacon and provide opportunities for “prayer, group reflection, and fraternity in order to process the experience of diaconal ministry and engage in sacramental and pastoral practica” (PPF 143).