As you talk with the Vocations Director during the discernment and pre-application process, you will have many opportunities to ask questions. It is impossible to adequately write about seminary here, not least because the training is, to a degree, tailored to each person depending on their academic and professional background.
Discernment does not end as you walk through the seminary doors, of course. One of the reasons why the training is anywhere from six to eight years in duration is to allow your own personal prayer and reflection to continue. It is by no means “failing” to decide not to continue in seminary – it may well be the mark of mature discernment, over time. It is also the case that what you experience in seminary should prepare you for the beginnings of parish life – and that once you are in a parish you will find that the learning continues, with every day and with every new situation!
There is the possibility that you would be sent for a “Propadeutic” (pre-seminary) year at Valladolid, in Spain. This is a year which has been tailored as a bridge into seminary formation, and is especially designed to ground candidates in key principles of prayer, as well as offering experience of study and formation abroad.
For the main years of formation the Diocese places students generally in two seminaries: St John’s, Wonersh and The English College, Rome. Although the context is different, the essential model of seminary formation was set out in Pope John Paul II’s letter, Pastores dabo Vobis (I will give you shepherds). Pope John Paul II wrote of four key areas of formation:
||Generally, candidates for Priesthood study Theology and Philosophy part time for a total of between five and seven years. This usually leads to a degree level qualification, and may also lead to a Masters level. Along with foundational principles and knowledge, the studies do have a specifically Catholic content including (for example) Church history and a focus on the teaching documents of the Church.
||Tutors – often Diocesan Priests – share their experience of pastoral situations, and prepare you for situations such as bereavement, working with children, Sacramental preparation, etc. During your time in seminary there will also be study days with specialists in these areas to add to your ability to work with a range of pastoral situations.
||Your formation here is partly through living the rhythms of seminary life – Morning and Evening Prayer, Mass, and times of retreat and silent reflection. In addition the seminary will have a Spiritual Director and they will meet with you individually at very regular intervals, as a place where you can discuss your prayer life, as well as any other matters that concern you, in complete confidence. There will also be regular talks on spiritual themes, and suggestions made about reading in this area.
||This dimension of formation is about you as a person: how are you growing in your personal strengths of character. Are there areas where you feel you may struggle in parish ministry – hospital visiting, perhaps, or working with sixteen year olds in a school assembly or Mass? Consideration here might also be given to your style of leadership: do you have the authority to take decisions where necessary, yet also the sensitivity, humility and ability to listen so that you involve others in decision taking, working collaboratively with those in the parish and local schools. This dimension of your formation would also consider the challenges of living celibately, and living alone. Here too the seminary would arrange days and weekends with people who are experts in helping others with their development, as well as the ongoing personal formation by the seminary staff and through the fact of living with other students in community.
You can read more about seminary life if you want to by visiting the websites for St John’s seminary and the Venerable English College, Rome. It is always good to remember that seminary is not an end in itself: the very reason for seminary is to help with your discernment about your vocation – as a Diocesan priest, or not. If as a Priest then the seminary experiences will help you a great deal in Priesthood, but as noted earlier the learning – in all four dimensions of formation – will continue with each new day, and each new situation.
Hopefully this section of the website has given you all the key information you need at this stage. Do get in touch with Fr Graham to help you with your discernment at this stage, to link you with like minded people, and to offer you whatever help and support we can as you pray and reflect on who God is calling you to be, how God is calling you to serve.
Fr Dominic Howarth