I can’t say I think Optatam Totius 3 presents an entirely positive idea. Nearly all minor seminaries in the US have closed, and it’s probably a good thing, in my opinion. I’d have serious questions about the actual freedom involved for a person who has been in seminary since early adolescence. I’d have the same questions about a person living in a multi-year betrothed state with a future spouse. So does the Church, in that regard.
That said, here’s what OT 3 does say:
In minor seminaries erected to develop the seeds of vocations, the students should be prepared by special religious formation, particularly through appropriate spiritual direction, to follow Christ the Redeemer with generosity of spirit and purity of heart.
Don’t know why this couldn’t apply to all Catholic high school students …
Under the fatherly direction of the superiors, and with the proper cooperation of the parents, their daily routine should be in accord with the age, the character and the stage of development of adolescence and fully adapted to the norms of a healthy psychology.
A healthy psychology can be thwarted by isolation from female peers, work and secular responsibility, and a system too controlling of many of the small details of life. A person cannot give up what he (or she) has never known in the first place.
Nor should the fitting opportunity be lacking for social and cultural contacts and for contact with one’s own family.
In its day, I imagine this was a revolutionary thought.
Moreover, whatever is decreed in the following paragraphs about major seminaries is also to be adapted to the minor seminary to the extent that it is in accord with its purpose and structure. Also, studies undertaken by the students should be so arranged that they can easily continue them elsewhere should they choose a different state of life. With equal concern the seeds of vocations among adolescents and young men are also to be fostered in those special institutes which, in accord with the local circumstances, serve the purpose of a minor seminary as well as among those who are trained in other schools or by other educational means. Finally, those institutions and other schools initiated for those with a belated vocation are to be carefully developed.
There’s no doubt that many thousands of priests benefitted from minor seminary. Just like many married couples were solid after an adolescent courtship and early marriage. But there’s no question this section of OT operates from questionable and potentially damaging presumptions, that last sentence for one. The notion that a vocation can be “belated” might be as damaging as any single obstacle the Church throws up to potential clergy. We don’t speak of people waiting till 40, 30, or even 25 as having a “belated” marriage. Indeed, the conventional wisdom is that for many individuals, waiting to get married has long been seen as a positive development, a mature approach.
That’s not to say that values appropriate for clergy cannot be cultivated before a person is ordained. Indeed, many of the suggestions in this section: appropriate spiritual direction, cultivating generosity and purity of heart–these can and should be applied to all adolescents. The virtues are appropriate to any and all Catholics. The call is a special grace. Would that we had an attitude that the fostering of virtues made way for the actual call, when it can be fully realized.
That’s probably enough for now; any thoughts from the commentariat?