success stories
Posted January 30, 2003

Two Recommendations to Seminarians

Taken from focus groups conducted by
the National Federation of Priest Councils [NFPC]

Recommendation 1: More focus on seminarians' spiritual development, emphasizing the importance of prayer.

This was the theme we heard most often. The priests stressed over and over the need for seminarians to focus on the spiritual development of priests. Seminarians need to impress upon students the importance of prayer and spiritual development in the everyday life of a priest and to provide instruction on how to pray.

A 32 year-old priest emphasized the importance of a priest's spirituality:

Looking back, the most important thing, without exception, is to teach the men how to pray. Teach them what it is, and I don't want to sound melodramatic, but teach them to learn how to die to themselves. I think we have to be in the seminary even more counter-cultural. Of course we have to be part of the world; that goes without saying. We're working hand in hand on a daily basis with people that are in the world. Maybe our witness is being that gentle, calming presence in the midst of chaos. And I've learned that that can only be done when you've got your own spiritual life together; when you have the tools to learn how to be contemplative; reflective.

A 42 year-old diocesan priest offered a suggestion for structured prayer:

Perhaps the one thing that I might recommend would be for more of an emphasis on prayer not that it wasn't there, but I would think more of an emphasis. Because from what I've witnessed from priests since I've been out here, is that the priests that tend to fail, to burn out, tend to be priests who neglect their prayer. So perhaps a recommendation would be to have Eucharistic adoration, if not once a week, more often, to set aside that kind of prayer, to sit in front of the Lord and to pray. To sit quietly with the Lord. Many, many times out here in parishes I see priests so upset and so nervous about things. And I see that a lot of those priests are ones who have forgotten their relationship with God, trying to do everything by themselves, forgetting that God has to be part of it.

An older priest, ordained in 1972:

I think I would like to have seen, personally, more courses on spirituality and prayer. Not that we didn't have some of those, but I guess part of that is, how do you make a person realize the importance of prayer and its connection to ministry before you're really involved in ministry? That is the eternal question. Lay people want to see priests who are in love with the Lord, have a passion for God, and they want guys to share that passion for God. And you're only going to get that passion as you see the need for prayer and ministry.

Recommendation 2: Provide more practical preparation for parish life. Seminary training needs to be more practical. The priests' suggestions ranged from more preparation in liturgy and homiletics to addressing marriage and family issues from the church's point of view.

A 36 year-old diocesan priest described the difficulties of transition from the seminary to the parish:

I think somehow if there could be a little more preparation for what life would be like in the parish when you first got there. I think for myself and for a lot of guys there was a real shock. It was a whole lot different than we thought it would be when you make the transition from the structured life of the seminary to the much more necessarily flexible life in the parish work. . . In the seminary, the life was quite structured and you had the different things that you had to be there for: the classes, the times of prayer, and so forth. You come into the parish and as a diocesan priest, you really have to provide that structure for yourself . . .That was a hard transition, becoming my own schedule maker as a priest.

A 32 year-old diocesan priest:

Practically speaking, I would say definitely more on family life, marriage, on pastoral approaches to dealing with annulment, since it is such a big part of our life today. To really see the components of healing that can be found through the annulment process. How to deal better with co-habiting couples. A lot of this must be post-ordination: you can't fit it all in the seminary. But I think that the light bulb has to go on in the seminary and tools need to be within arms' reach, in order for us, when we get out there, to best deal with these.