Priestly Formation

Stain Glass Ordination Window

The Roman Catholic priest is a man configured to Christ as Head and Shepherd to become “another Christ” and act “in the person of Christ.” The candidates for the priesthood at St. Augustine's Seminary are prepared for this vocation, specifically, to be ministers of God's Word (prophet), ministers of the Eucharist and the Sacraments (priest), and servant-leaders to God's people (king). The Formation Program is a SIX-YEAR (or more) course of study encompassing four elements: intellectual, pastoral, and spiritual formation, and communal life. Any introduction to what St. Augustine's is and seeks to be for its students is best undertaken by considering the Seminary as, at one and the same time, a House of Prayer, a House of Study, and a House of Community Living.

Priestly Formation Program

Admission

The candidate for Seminary contacts his Vocation Director or Bishop of the diocese of sponsorship. A candidate will not be reviewed for admission by St. Augustine’s Seminary without being approved by a diocese. Those wishing to pursue their vocation through a religious order will only be admitted to the Seminary after being approved and sponsored by the Order. Each candidate will be evaluated by a professional psychologist selected by the Seminary or by the local Ordinary. This assessment is among many instruments available to help discern the psychological and other factors that can strengthen or hinder a candidate’s vocation to the priesthood.

 

At all stages of formation men are encouraged (especially in Spiritual Direction and at various Year Group Meetings), to discern their own suitability for priestly ministry so as to make a free and conscious decision regarding their readiness for Holy Orders.

 

The Roman Catholic priest is a man configured to Christ as Head and Shepherd to become “another Christ” and act “in the person of Christ.” The candidates for the priesthood at St. Augustine's Seminary are prepared for this vocation, specifically, to be ministers of God's Word (prophet), ministers of the Eucharist and the Sacraments (priest), and servant-leaders to God's people (king). The Formation Program is a SIX-YEAR (or more) course of study encompassing four elements: intellectual, pastoral, and spiritual formation, and communal life. Any introduction to what St. Augustine's is and seeks to be for its students is best undertaken by considering the Seminary as, at one and the same time, a House of Prayer, a House of Study, and a House of Community Living.


Formation at St Augustine’s Seminary

Stages of Formation

The Seminary follows the Ratio Fundamentalis that envisions priestly formation as a journey in four stages: the Propaedeutic Stage, the Discipleship Stage (Philosophical Studies), the Configuration Stage (Theological Studies) and the Pastoral Stage. For candidates from the Archdiocese of Toronto, these stages are book-ended by two important periods of formation, a Pre-Seminary Phase of formation (that lasts one to two years) and a Post-Seminary Phase of formation (that lasts five years).

 

I. Pre-Seminary Phase

Opportunities are provided to help the candidate discern his vocation in the Church. There is regular contact with the Vocation Director who works closely with a Vocation Council (made up of priests chosen by the Archbishop). When a candidate applies to the Seminary, the Formation Faculty has a degree of confidence that the candidate is ready to begin priestly formation.

 

II. Propaedeutic Stage

This stage is focused on the seminarian seeking God’s will, exploring and deepening his faith and his relationship with Christ and reflecting on the vocation to the diocesan priesthood. It is for this reason that this stage at St. Augustine’s is often called the “Spiritual Year”.  Human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral dimensions of formation in this stage guide the seminarian to grow in self-awareness, become better acquainted with the life of the Church, and develop his leadership skills. At St. Augustine’s, the seminarian enters the Propaedeutic Stage after completing the necessary prerequisites for theological studies, which includes an undergraduate degree and the requisite Vatican requirements for philosophy. In some instances, depending on the background of the seminarian, it has been fruitful for the Propaedeutic Stage to take place before the study of Philosophy. This stage of formation usually lasts one year.

Please contact the Seminary to obtain a detailed prospectus outlining the Spiritual (Propaedeutic) Year program.

 

III. Discipleship Stage (Philosophical Studies)

In this stage, the seminarian is strengthened in his discipleship of Christ.  He learns self-awareness and self-acceptance through being more open to the Holy Spirit. The seminarian demonstrates growth in charity, justice and fidelity to Christ and the Church. He is faithful to the horarium and reaches out by sharing his time and talent. The Discipleship Stage at St. Augustine’s Seminary usually lasts for a period of two to four years depending on the background of the seminarian. At the conclusion of this time, the seminarian has attained freedom and maturity to enter the next stage of formation.

The Discipleship Stage is at the Serra House Pre-Theology Residence, located in downtown Toronto. It opened in the fall of 1983 as a house of discernment In 2015, reflecting the new vision for Serra House, it was formally recognized by the Board of Governors as part of St. Augustine’s Seminary. The Director of Philosophy formation oversees the pre-theology in-house formation program. Due to renovation and expansion of the Serra House downtown campus, seminarians reside at St. Augustine’s Seminary, Scarborough campus.

The spiritual formation includes a schedule that allows space for personal meditation as well as common liturgies. The typical day consists of morning Adoration, Mass, Holy Hour with Evening Prayer, and Compline. During special liturgical seasons and key moments in the annual calendar, seminarians participate in Recollection Weekends and Silent Retreats. Bi-weekly spiritual direction is the norm throughout the formational year, as well as periodic meetings with the Formators.

The mission of Serra House is to provide a formative environment as seminarians initiate their first entry undergraduate degree or philosophical preparation for theology. The objective is to help residents grow in the areas of human and spiritual formation. It is a house of prayer and study where seminarians can practice the spirit of fraternity, sacrificial love and joy in community living and parish outreach.

The curriculum of philosophical and theological studies (including Spiritual Year – Propaedeutic) at St. Augustine's Seminary of Toronto corresponds to the specific formation directives of the Holy See, integrated into a plan that includes human, spiritual and pastoral dimensions.

 

IV. Configuration Stage (Theological Studies)

In this stage, the seminarian enters deeply into the contemplation of Christ the Good Shepherd. His relationship with Christ is intimate and personal and helps him grow in priestly identity. At this stage, the seminarian lives out the theological and cardinal virtues.

 

First Year:

The seminarian, being aware of himself, is able to identify his strengths and weaknesses and prepares to give of himself to God and the community. He embraces a personal rule of life and is open to feedback and criticism. His prayer life is disciplined and he actively engages in all aspects of community life: prayer, study and community.

Second Year:

The seminarian shows evidence of integrating the four dimensions of formation and takes initiative.  He is actively involved in the life of the community and readily volunteering his time and talents.  The seminarian develops the necessary skills required for the Parish Internship Year.  He possesses a disciplined personal rule of life and is open to all aspects of Seminary formation.

Third Year:

After returning from the Parish Internship Year, the seminarian shows a greater integration of theological courses and pastoral life. Significant growth in prayer and involvement in life of the Seminary community should be evident by this year. The seminarian is able to reflect on his years of formation with his pastoral experience and prepare himself for Sacred Orders.

Fourth Year:

The fourth year of formation brings to completion the requirements of the priestly formation program at the Seminary. The seminarian/deacon should be ready and willing to “go out of himself” and be committed to a lifetime of service to God and the Church. He should be obedient to his bishop and must be continually formed into the likeness of Christ.

 

V. Pastoral Synthesis

This is a time of synthesis for the newly ordained priest that lasts about five years. Regular meetings for ongoing formation assist the priest in addressing issues of spiritual, personal and interpersonal growth as well as the pastoral skills needed to be effective ministers. Opportunities are provided for prayer, presentations and discussion, and fraternity. The purpose is to help the newly ordained understand his priestly identity and functions for the sake of service to Christ and the Church.

 

Dimensions of Formation

St. Augustine's Seminary prepares candidates for the priesthood, to be ministers of God's Word (prophet), ministers of the Eucharist and the Sacraments (priest), and servant-leaders to God's people (king). The Formation Program encompasses four dimensions of priestly formation: human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral.

 

I. Human Formation

The aim of human formation at St. Augustine’s is the cultivation of the human qualities that enable the seminarian to become a mature, responsible, balanced person capable of bearing the weight of pastoral responsibilities. The seminarian should take an active interest in his own physical health.  Psychologically he is to have a stable personality characterized by self-control, and a well-integrated sexuality. In the moral sphere this is translated into forming a well-trained conscience that promotes the making of right decisions and judgments. Aesthetically the seminarian is encouraged to discover beauty in the arts, music and culture.

 

The Human Formation Counsellor is a full-time member of the Formation Council responsible for promoting the human formation, growth, maturity and freedom of every candidate, especially in the areas of intimacy, sexuality, and celibacy. This work begins with the co-ordination of the students' psychological assessments at the time of admissions and continues with the availability for individual counseling through the formation process as each seminarian may desire.

 

Other professional personnel are drawn upon for specialized aspects of the Program, including professional psychologists and counselors outside of the Seminary who are available for personal growth issues for individual students.

 

II. Spiritual Formation

Spiritual formation fosters maturity of the seminarian such that he is able to grow in relationship with and imitation of the person of Jesus Christ, so as to become “another Christ” (alter Christus). He learns to grow as:

  • a friend and disciple of Christ, even more, another Christ;
  • a proclaimer of God’s word and teacher of God's people;
  • a servant of and shepherd within the faith community;
  • a presider over the celebration of the Church's sacramental life;
  • a prophet of God's justice in the world.

The goal of Seminary formation is to subjectively configure the seminarian to Christ, that is, to holiness. The future new Christ has to understand that his union with and conformation to Christ in holiness precedes ministry. To this end, the Seminary does not hesitate to give prayer the first place in its Program of formation. Only in the raising of our minds and hearts in communion with the Lord in prayer can we advance in the life to which He calls us. We cannot grow in intimacy with Jesus, we cannot know how to represent Jesus Christ and His teachings to the Church and to the world, unless we are growing in union with Jesus through prayer.

There is another reason, existential if you will, why prayer is deliberately and consistently placed first in Seminary life. The future priest must be keenly aware of the struggle which he will face against fallen human nature, the ever faster and more secular society (where efficiency and utility are the measure of life), and the busyness of priestly ministry in the present shortage of priests. It is an ever present temptation: Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard pointed to the malaise of his times as “the heresy of good works,” Francis Cardinal van Thuan was asked by the Lord whether he wanted “God or the works of God,” and Hans Urs von Balthasar diagnosed our times as a dark night where the tendency to play God by frenetic planning, doing, and attending a host of meetings and events. As one person said, “Busyness is the tool of Satan.” The priest has to be deeply rooted in his identity as “another Christ” and to live the deep friendship with Christ. For this, he has to choose Christ daily above everything, including the temptation to choose the “works of God” and not God Himself. Without the foundation of prayer, the priest’s ministry loses fruitfulness and he puts his vocation at risk.

Prayer is twofold, public and personal. Both are crucial. Public prayer finds expression in the Liturgy of the Church, namely the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours. The liturgy has always been the Church's major opportunity for forming and educating the people of God.  That is true in a parish, where for most people the only common experience of faith is the gathering for the Eucharist on Sundays and feasts. It is true in great monasteries; it was true in the Church of the Martyrs; and it is true even under fierce persecution, where people take huge risks to meet secretly and celebrate the liturgy. Above all, it is true in a Seminary where future priests are learning to foster communal worship in parishes, primarily through the representation of the sacrifice of Calvary in the Eucharist. The most crucial formative experience for a seminarian comes about in his commitment to the communal worship in the Church's liturgy at the Seminary. Thus, the celebration of the Eucharist is the source and summit of Seminary spiritual life and formation. It is the central act of divine worship of the Mystical Body and the source of spiritual nourishment for Christian life. Association with Jesus' Paschal sacrifice lies at the heart of priestly ministry and life. The community and each member of the community are called to foster an intense Eucharistic spirituality, which includes Eucharistic adoration.

Priests, deacons and religious are committed to celebrate daily the Liturgy of the Hours as ministers who praise and give thanks with Jesus and who intercede before the Father for the great needs of the Church and the world. The Seminary celebrates a portion of that liturgy in common every day.

Then there is individual personal, not a communal act but a community priority. The celebration of the Eucharist and of the Liturgy of the Hours will become a deeper experience for those who are faithful to private prayer.

The Director of Spiritual Formation coordinates the overall Spiritual Program for the candidates. He ensures seminarians, the availability of personal spiritual direction, selects appropriate topics to the formation needs of the class year groups, invites guest speakers to address the Seminary community and arranges retreats and retreat directors.

The Spiritual Formation Program works in co-ordination with the academic, experiential and evaluative components of the total formation Program in preparing candidates for priestly service among the people of God. The Program's specific purpose is to foster the human and spiritual maturity of the candidates as they grow in relationship with and imitation of the person of Jesus Christ through daily encounter with Him. Without this deeper encounter, the seminarians run the risk of external routine and busyness without interior conversion and intimacy. Thus, seminarians are to see their lives as a daily, free response to the animating presence of the Holy Spirit who unites to the Risen Christ. This is a gradual and life-long journey of discernment, one that is encouraged and promoted in various ways during the six years of training in the Seminary Formation Program. It is the Holy Spirit who calls, forms, and transforms the seminarians in our care. Nevertheless, the formation faculty has the responsibility in a human way for the training and formation of the seminarians by providing the context, climate, structures, and opportunities for them to do their part in disposing themselves and responding to God's grace through all the activities, situations, events, and persons that they encounter each day.


Spiritual Formation Resources

The following are the resources of the St. Augustine’s Seminary Spiritual Formation Program through the year:

Spiritual Direction

While the Holy Spirit is the true spiritual director, He employs the mediation a priest-director by which the seminarian can discern his priestly vocation, deepen his intimacy with the Lord Jesus, grow in love for God’s people, and assess the various ways he is responding to the Holy Spirit in personal prayer, communal liturgy, common living, academic progress, and life experience. The seminarian is expected to meet with his spiritual director, chosen at the start of his formation, every two weeks. In any given year, there are several priests of the Formation Council, including the Director of Spiritual Formation, who exercise the ministry of spiritual direction for the students.

Spiritual Orientation Days

The opening weekend Recollection of the Seminary year in early September for all seminarians is entitled "Spiritual Orientation Days." The purpose of the weekend is to re-orient the returning students once again into Seminary life after the summer period, and to include the new first-year candidates. This is accomplished by a series of four spiritual/pastoral conferences and three homilies based on a central theme and given by the Director of Spiritual Formation and other spiritual directors. After each conference, the seminarians engage in silent meditation to be attentive to the inner illuminations and movements of the Holy Spirit. Each year a new theme is chosen from a papal or bishops' conference theme or document, spiritual book or article, or other area with a focus on priestly formation and spirituality to give direction to the presentations.

 

Days of Recollection and Retreat

During the Seminary year, two Recollection Weekends are scheduled, one in the fall semester and the second in the spring. The second Recollection, in the spring, takes place at the beginning of Lent to assist us to prepare for the Easter Triduum. Both are led by a director who guides the community in prayer through conferences and guided meditations. As mentioned, the Seminary year also opens with a Recollection Weekend, but with conferences given by faculty priests.

At the end of the formation year, following exam week in April, the Seminary conducts its annual retreat. A retreat director is engaged to lead the philosophy, first, second, third-year seminarians, and parish interns who can make it, in a guided retreat at the Seminary (total silence, two conferences a day, and daily interview with their spiritual director). The fourth-year seminarians can join the annual Seminary retreat or make their own directed retreat arrangements: in preparation for their ordination to the diaconate, and at the end of the second term in preparation for their ordination to the priesthood. All of these retreats are to be directed, five full days in length, and conducted in silence.

Daily Spiritual Life

The daily spiritual program expected of all seminarians consists of the following: devout participation at the daily Eucharist; prayerful chanting of the Liturgy of the Hours; a minimum of 30 minutes of mental prayer based especially on Scripture (e.g., Lectio Divina, Ignatian form); and the practice of the daily Examen Prayer. Beyond these daily essentials, spiritual reading (10-15 minutes daily) and one’s personal devotional life (e.g., to the Sacred Heart and to Mary), especially the Rosary, are vital in the life of the seminarians. Frequent and regular reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is encouraged, and regular opportunities are provided to the community.

Devotions

The following devotions are part of the Seminary life and calendar, though attendance is up to the individual. Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament takes place on weekdays (except Thursdays) throughout the year. The Way of the Cross is conducted on Fridays of Lent. The group Rosary is optionally prayed each evening, and seminarians are earnestly encouraged to adopt the practice of reciting Rosaries daily. Although this section describes the many aspects of the Priestly Spiritual Formation Program at St. Augustine's Seminary under a variety of headings, it would be incomplete if the overall goal of integration were not emphasized. Although a seminarian may be engaged daily in a variety of spiritual, academic and communal activities, with many different people, these experiences must be seen in their inter-relationships an integrated whole guided by the Holy Spirit and by the individual seminarian, who takes ownership in docile faith.

Intellectual Formation

The seminarian prepares himself by deepening his knowledge of the philosophical and theological sciences with a good introduction to canon law, social sciences and history. The seminarian should see intellectual formation as an opportunity to know and appreciate the presence of God's Word and self-communication in his life. At every stage the seminarian is called to persevere in study, deepening his knowledge of the faith and moral life with an appreciation for the Catholic intellectual tradition.

III. Pastoral Formation

Since the Seminary is intended to prepare the seminarian to be a shepherd in the image of Christ, priestly formation must be permeated by a pastoral spirit. It will make them able to demonstrate that same compassion, generosity, love for all, especially for the poor, and zeal for the Kingdom that characterized the public ministry of the Son of God.

A. Field Education

  1. 1.St. Augustine's requires one semester of field education in combination with one semester of Pastoral Counselling. These courses are scheduled for the 2nd year theology in consultation with the Director of Field Education.
  2. Students who decide to complete a Clinical Pastoral Education course (C.P.E.) do so on an elective basis. The C.P.E. course is not part of St. Augustine's Seminary's S.T.B. / M.Div. programs. However, for insurance purposes, the course must be registered. Upon approval of the Director of Field Education, students will receive 2 elective credits, which will appear on their official transcript. The Supervisor's final evaluation and the student's own final evaluation are to be provided to the Director of Field Education at the Seminary.

The Director of Field Education conducts mandatory weekly seminars for sharing and theological reflection to assist students in recognizing the challenges of the apostolate while integrating the practice of ministry with the study of theology. This means that all students have professional guidance in their action and in their evaluation of both their successes and difficulties.

B. Parish Internship

Ordination Candidates are required to complete a Seminary supervised Pastoral Internship Year. This course is normally done after the 2nd year of theology.  Each intern is appointed to the parish by his own Ordinary.  The length of the internship is at the discretion of each Ordinary and is no less than one academic year.

Each intern is required to be present at St. Augustine's Seminary once a month for a day throughout the internship placement.  On these reflection days, through supervision and peer input, interns discuss areas of competence and concern. The intern is invited to the Seminary for the Lenten Recollection weekend and other days as determined by the Seminary.  Interns living at a great distance from the Seminary and unable to join the monthly meetings are required to attend a five-day Internship Meeting in January.

A “Learning Work Agreement” is to be completed by the intern in consultation with the Pastor-Supervisor to outline clearly the expectations of the pastor before the parish internship experience begins.  Periodic evaluations from the Parish Supervisor and Intern is submitted to the Director of Parish Internship who reports to the Rector on the progress of each intern.

The Director of Parish Internship meets once each semester with the Parish Supervisor, the Intern and possibly others involved with the intern.

C. Formation/Year Groups

Seminarians are assigned to a Formation Group by the Rector.  They are led by a priest formator who is not their spiritual director.  The priest formator encourages, observes, provides feedback and challenges when necessary.  These fraternal groups of eight to ten seminarians provide another setting for discernment to the diocesan priesthood. The four dimensions of formation are experienced at various times and ways in the Formation Group, such as:

  • prayer and worship by Lectio Divina, Liturgy of the Hours, and the Eucharist once a week
  • discussion of priestly life and ministry once a month
  • fraternity within the group through occasional service outreach activities, visiting parishes on Sundays, cultural and recreational activities, and outings such as a cottage weekend
  • initiative in various events in the larger Seminary community, with senior seminarians and deacons particularly encouraged to mentor junior seminarians, thus promoting leadership.


D. Year Groups

Once a month, in year groups, the seminarians gather to explore various topics relevant to their particular stage of formation (propaedeutic, discipleship, configuration and pastoral). This is a facilitated meeting by either a Faculty member or external presenter.

E. Summer Assignments

Seminarians are encouraged to take advantage of this time in their lives to participate in summer programs that will form them into holy priests. Here are some examples of past participation: summer programs at the Institute of Priestly Formation in Omaha, Nebraska, CPE programs at hospitals, Cadet Youth Chaplaincy programs with the Armed Forces and Missionary experiences, parish apostolate, Diocesan apostolate such as Vocation Office, Youth Office, Catholic Cemetery or office work. Seminarians in consultation with their formators, Spiritual Director and Vocation Director, must use the summer months to deepen their vocation.

Evaluation Process
Self-Evaluation

At the end of each year, the seminarian prepares a self-evaluation according to Seminary guidelines. The annual evaluation provides the opportunity for the seminarians to reflect their ongoing discernment and response to the formation process. The seminarian is required to be honest and transparent and may discuss the self-evaluation with his Spiritual Director or Formation Group leader. On the part of the Seminary, it provides the opportunity to discern the motivations and qualities that indicate the presence of a true vocation to the priesthood.

 

Formation Report

An annual formation report is prepared by the Rector. The report summarizes the self-evaluation of the seminarian and comments from the Evaluation and Discernment Committee, resident and external Faculty and administrative staff (excluding the Director of Spiritual Formation and the Spiritual Director).

 

Call To Orders

The petition for ordination to the diaconate or priesthood is made through the Rector’s office. However, the seminarian must announce the date for his ordination only after he receives a formal letter from his Ordinary.

 

IV. INTELLECTUAL DIMENSION

A House of Study

Theology has been described as fides quaerens intellectum, “faith seeking understanding”. The study of theology has many values, but the seminarian should see it primarily as a further opportunity to know and appreciate the presence of God's Word and self-communication in his life. To this intensely personal need for theology must be added the pastoral need of the priest who is called to form and govern the priestly people of God. The priest's role of service, of being a "man for others," is also one of teaching God's Word which the priest must make his own by meditation, along with serious study begun in the Seminary and continued throughout his ministry. The personal need for study and the pastoral need may be distinct, but they cannot be separated for this reason: the priest as teacher can lead men and women to Christ only insofar as his whole life is in union with the mind and heart of the Lord. Our house, then, is a house of study, the kind of study that is never far from prayer.

 

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