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How to Become a Priest

How long does it take to become a Diocesan Priest?
The answer to this question really depends on the background of the candidate. In the Diocese of Richmond, we normally accept a man for seminary studies only after he has competed a four-year undergraduate degree at a college or university. Once he has been accepted into our seminary program, he undertakes a four-year program of graduate studies in Theology at a seminary. In addition, the Diocese of Richmond requires all of its seminarians to complete a 14-month pastoral internship at a parish within the Diocese (this usually takes place between the second and third year of Theology studies). So, at a minimum, it takes five years after graduation from college to become a diocesan priest.

There are, however, some academic prerequisites that each candidate must complete prior to his Theology studies. In general, the Church asks candidates for priesthood to complete between 20-24 undergraduate credits in Philosophy. If a candidate has studied some Philosophy as an undergraduate, he may be able to complete his seminary program in five years, as described above. If a candidate has not studied much Philosophy as an undergraduate, he would be required to do a year of “Pre-Theology Studies” at the seminary, during which time he would complete his required Philosophy courses. This Pre-Theology Year adds another year to the seminary program. If a man has not completed an undergraduate degree, he should contact the Vocation Director to discuss the possibilities of becoming a seminarian.

What does a seminarian study?
The program of priestly formation is designed to help a man become a holy, healthy and happy minister of the Gospel. The seminary formation program is designed to help a man grow in the following areas:

Human Development: Through his participation in the life of the seminary, the candidate will grow in his awareness of himself, his strengths, his opportunities for growth, his self-awareness and overall health. He will be encouraged to learn those skills which will enable him to live a life that is marked by psychological and physical health. He will learn to treasure his gifts and talents, and grow in the ability to engage in healthy relationships. He will reflect on his own psycho-sexual development, and learn the skills that are necessary for a life of healthy celibate loving. He will be encouraged to live a life that shows a balance between work, prayer and recreation. He will also be encouraged to develop an ongoing interest in the arts, music, reading, intellectual activity and physical exercise.

Spiritual Development: Without a healthy relationship with Jesus Christ, it makes no sense to be a seminarian! So, each candidate is given a variety of opportunities to grow in his love for Christ and Christ’s Church. The seminary will introduce each candidate to a variety of prayer forms and spiritual traditions. Participation in the liturgical life of the community gives the seminarian a chance to develop a balanced life of personal and public prayer. With the help of a Spiritual Director and Confessor, each seminarian can explore the deep questions of discernment and vocation, and face the challenges that come to each of us as we try to do God’s will. As the candidate learns more about Sacred Scripture and the Tradition of the Church, he is encouraged to reflect on the connection between the content of our faith and it relationship to our personal spirituality. The seminarian will also reflect on the ways in which our spirituality leads us to become people who act on behalf of justice and peace.

Intellectual Development: While at the seminary, each candidate has a unique opportunity to immerse himself in the theological tradition of our Roman Catholic community. The seminarian undertakes an intensive study of Sacred Scripture, Moral Theology, Sacraments, Liturgical Theology, and Canon Law. He will have the chance to grow in his knowledge of the central mysteries of our Faith, including the nature of God, the identity of Jesus Christ, the life of the Trinity, Revelation, Faith, Christian Anthropology, and Eschatology (i.e. the study of eternal life, Heaven, and the Communion of the saints). In addition, students will be encouraged to have a foundation in Philosophy, and well as the ancient and modern languages which will assist them in their life as priests.

Pastoral Development: Candidates for priesthood are not simply asked to learn a set of doctrines and ideas – they must also develop those skills and instincts which will enable them to communicate the Good News of Jesus Christ through a life of loving service to God’s people. For this reason, seminarians are introduced to various ministerial experiences which will help them to become familiar with the role of the priest in the modern world. While at the seminary, the candidate takes courses on pastoral theology, liturgical practice, counseling, and ministry skills. During the academic year, the candidate is assigned to a specific ministry (e.g. teaching religious education, visiting the sick, serving the poor, etc). During each Summer, the candidate is assigned to a parish within the Diocese of Richmond. He lives with the pastor, and undertakes a wide variety of parish ministries during the Summer months. With the pastor, he reflects on his experience, and learns to listen to God as he speaks to the candidate through these experiences. Between the second and third year of Theology, the student is assigned to a parish for a 14-month internship. During that year, the seminarian has the opportunity to work closely with the pastor and the parish staff, developing his ministerial skills, and learning the broad scope of modern parish life and ministry. These pastoral experiences are essential to the formation of each candidate. They enable to seminarian to experience the joy of working with others. They allow the candidate to develop a prayer life that is appropriate for active ministry. They provide the context for the seminarian’s ongoing theological studies and discernment. These assignments also provide an opportunity for to Church to discern whether a man’s personality and gifts are properly suited for a life of diocesan ministry.

Do you have to be an "A" student in the seminary?
A seminarian should be an average or above average student. A priest need not be a “brain,” but on the other hand a priest must have the ability to pass the graduate-level courses the seminary requires in order to serve the Christian community well.

Is seminary life hard?
Seminary life is not any harder than college or graduate work at another university. Seminarians have the added responsibilities of developing as men of prayer, and as a bearer of the Good News. Friendships are encouraged with both men and women, but dating is not part of the seminarian’s life since he is preparing for celibacy, not marriage. They have the responsibility, like any student, to fulfill the responsibilities that are part of their preparation for the life they’ve chosen.

Where do candidates complete their education?
Most seminarians in formation for the Diocese of Richmond study at either Theological College at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D. C., or at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, MD. Students in Pre-Theology (doing undergraduate coursework in Philosophy and Theology) study at these two schools as well.

Are you taught to write homilies?
Seminarians are required to take courses on writing and giving homilies. During his years of formation, seminarians will have the opportunity to preach periodically at Mass in the Seminary and in parishes. During this time, he will receive constructive feedback on his homilies from the people at Mass and the priest with whom he serves.

How does a man become a priest?
Becoming a priest involves several stages. While these vary slightly from diocese to diocese in length of time and format, the following outline is offered as a general view of formation programs:

Contact: A man who is interested in the priesthood but still searching for the answer to the question “What does God want of me? ” could enter into a discernment relationship with the diocese. The process begins by contacting his pastor or the Vocation Director. During this time, the man can talk regularly with a priest about his interest in a church vocation. He may seek out resources to read. He could be in touch with seminarians who are already in formation. He would be invited to attend discussion groups, days of retreat, and other workshops sponsored by the vocation office. Perhaps he could make a visit to a seminary to see what it is like. Throughout this time, the man would be encouraged to focus on his prayer life, and to be actively involved in the life of his local parish.

Canidate: A more formal relationship with the diocese occurs when the man becomes a candidate. At this time he begins the application process, interviews and meetings with the representative of the vocations office.

Seminarian: The candidate, sponsored by a diocese, now enters a seminary to begin his priestly formation and theological studies. At this point he is called a seminarian.

Transitional Diaconate: About a year before ordination to the priesthood, the seminarian is ordained to the Transitional Diaconate (so named because the seminarian is in transition to the priesthood, and to differentiate from the Permanent Diaconate). The man makes promises of celibacy and obedience to his Bishop.

Priesthood: After much work, and a lot of prayers, the man is recommended for ordination as a priest.


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