OT 11: Developing Personal Qualities of the Seminarians

Optatam Totius 11 suggests a balance between foundational education and “the newer findings of sound psychology and pedagogy.” For the bad rap psychology gets as the episcopal and neo-con scapegoat of choice, there is much to be said for the increasingly mature priests emerging from seminary since the 70′s and 80′s.

Therefore, by a wisely planned training there is also to be developed in the students a due human maturity. This will be made especially evident in stability of mind, in an ability to make weighty decisions, and in a sound evaluation of (people) and events.

It remains hard for me to see how this could be cultivated within the sheltered life of a seminary. In my own college experience, I recall a friend considering an abortion, another friend having a breakdown mid-semester, other people I knew dealing with very traumatic issues of morality, stress, and personal discernment. Not that these don’t happen in seminary to a degree, but I’d think the exposure to the concerns of peers does not quite give the experience needed.

Or not … just a thought.

The students should be accustomed to work properly at their own development. They are to be formed in strength of character, and, in general, they are to learn to esteem those virtues which are held in high regard by (people) and which recommend a minister of Christ.

And a listing follows:

  • sincerity of mind
  • a constant concern for justice
  • fidelity to one’s promises
  • refinement in manners
  • modesty in speech coupled with charity.

And …

The discipline of seminary life is to be reckoned not only as a strong safeguard of community life and of charity but also as a necessary part of the total whole training formation. For thereby self-mastery is acquired, solid personal maturity is promoted, and the other dispositions of mind are developed which very greatly aid the ordered and fruitful activity of the Church. Seminary discipline should be so maintained, however, that the students acquire an internal attitude whereby they accept the authority of superiors from personal conviction, that is to say, from a motive of conscience (cf. Rom. 13:5), and for supernatural reasons. The norms of discipline are to be applied according to the age of the students so that they themselves, as they gradually learn self-mastery, may become accustomed to use freedom wisely, to act spontaneously and energetically, and to work together harmoniously with their fellows and with the laity.

Walking that difficult path: making the rote answers of childhood, and the authoritative statements of leaders one’s own.

The whole pattern of seminary life, permeated with a desire for piety and silence and a careful concern for mutual help, must be so arranged that it provides, in a certain sense, an initiation into the future life which the priest shall lead.

And this last charge is the trick, isn’t it? Do seminaries provide an initiation? Or is it a sojourn experience with one’s peers that leads into a totally different way of life for the parish priest?

The questions I’d ask is how bishops and clergy can cultivate more of this in the seminaries their trainees attend. Also, how can the laity be a part of this formation?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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