Saint John's Introduces the Propaedeutic Year - Saint John's Seminary
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Saint John's Introduces the Propaedeutic Year

August 25, 2023

The Propaedeutic Stage “is a time of vocational discernment, undertaken within community life, and a ‘start’ to the following stages of initial formation.” Ratio, 60

Saint John’s Seminary introduces men who are discerning priesthood to the depths and richness of Catholic culture through the Propaedeutic Year.

Propaedeutic: preparatory study or instruction.
pro·pae·deu·tic /prōpē ' doodik/

Following the Program of Priestly Formation (6th Edition) description of the propaedeutic stage, Saint John’s offers a robust year of discernment where participants begin to develop “a life of prayer, study, fraternity, and appropriate docility to formation.”

The propaedeutic year is a year of discernment for men who feel called to the priesthood, before they enter the rigorous studies of seminary formation. In general the program provides:

  • Introduction to spiritual direction, lectio divina, and daily lessons in spiritual practice.
  • A community of daily prayer and worship distinct from the broader program of priestly formation at Saint John’s.
  • Seminar-style classes with a view toward supplementing the seminarian’s general education, honing study skills, and fostering a love of learning. In the following pages of this newsletter you will gain insight into why the year was established by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and what the experience was like for a faculty member who has already experienced such a year in his own formation. The program will be launched in August 2023 and will become part of the framework of formation at Saint John’s Seminary moving forward.

The Propaedeutic Year: It's Plan and Purpose

In every age of the Church’s history, new challenges to living and sharing the Gospel have confronted the faithful. Our time and place are no exception. Such challenges can appear daunting. They can cause us to grumble and even pine for simpler times. These attitudes get us nowhere. However, when we begin to see our challenges under the graced light of Divine Providence, we perceive them for what they are: an invitation from Christ to enter into His life more profoundly.

For every generation of His followers, the Lord raises up priests to guide and strengthen them so that they may persevere and flourish in their life of discipleship. Priests, therefore, must be keenly aware of the unique trials of the time and place that the Lord has given them to exercise their ministry. In order to equip their people to face these challenges, those who have heard Christ’s call to the priesthood must first be equipped themselves. All of what we do here at Saint John’s Seminary aims at equipping seminarians to equip others.

In order to help our seminarians better meet the needs of the faithful, the Holy See and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have added an introductory intensive year, the Propaedeutic Year, focused on spiritual and human growth to the program of priestly formation. Before diving into the realm of philosophical and theological study, men preparing for the priesthood must first come to know in a real and personal way the One from whom all wisdom flows. Prayer is the heart of the propaedeutic year. Turning so intently toward the Lord can’t help but shed light on who we are in His loving gaze. To know the Lord so deeply is also to know the human heart He desires to have as His home. This is the second focus of the year: growing in self-knowledge, integrity, and the capacity for friendship and communion that is so essential to the ministry and life of priests.

By spending their first year in priestly formation immersed in prayer and fraternity, our future priests will be even better equipped to help their people cut through the isolating distractions and anxieties that burden our society. They will be even better prepared to build up the next generation of Catholics to be a light to their unique time and place.

Implementing the Propaedeutic Year at Saint John's

Saint John’s Seminary is pleased to begin our new level of formation in August 2023. The Propaedeutic Stage is the first of four stages of Formation. “It is a time of vocational discernment, undertaken within community life, and a ‘start’ to the following stages of initial formation.” (Ratio, 60) The principal objective is to provide spiritual and human formation. “Its objective is to provide a solid basis for the spiritual life and to nurture a greater self-awareness for personal growth.” (Ratio, 59).

Gospel living comes from an authentic life lived in the mystery of Christ. The principal objective of this stage is “to provide a solid basis for the spiritual life and to nurture a greater self-awareness for personal growth” (Ratio, 56). This is a time of discernment before beginning the full-time studies at the Seminary. It is a time of preparation and a deepening of one’s baptismal call. Understanding oneself and one’s relationship with the Lord is the focus of this year. The primary end is to answer the call of discipleship. The four dimensions of formation—human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral—are to be integrated within each stage.

The Propaedeutic Year is a deep dive into the human and spiritual dimensions. Formation Conferences will consist of input with integration and reflection of the topic. Human Formation Conferences and Spiritual Formation Conferences will alternate weeks so that the men receive a balance of input from these key dimensions of formation.

There will be additional input given by others who specialize in the fields of Human Formation, Personal Growth, Discernment of Vocation and Spirituality as well as other complementary topics pertaining to this level of formation—integrating the four dimensions of formation: human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral—where appropriate.

Classes, Seminars and Conferences that will be offered: Introduction to the Old and New Testament, Introduction to Spiritual Direction, Catechism of the Catholic Church, Life of Christ, Living in Community, Discernment, Family of Origin, Conflict Resolution, Good Communication Practices, Devotions, Preferential Option for the Poor, Lectio Divina, Healthy Living and Self-Care, Time Management, Liturgy, Proper use of Technology and Social Media.

Fr. Michael MacInnis will serve as the Coordinator of the Propaedeutic Program and will be assisted by Fr. John MacInnis. Two adjunct formators will offer formational insight, input, and expertise throughout the year. These adjunct formators are Dr. Vincent Lynch and Colonel Mike Manning. Each week one of them will present on Human, Spiritual, Psychological, and Developmental topics and will lead the processing and integrating the material—drawing on the seminarians’ reflections, questions and assimilation of key concepts.

The Propaedeutic Year will begin in the same fashion as the proper Saint John’s Seminary Formation Program with an initial Orientation at the end of August followed by an Opening Retreat.

Fraternal Living: The men will live in a dedicated wing within the Seminary. At this initial stage of formation there is a great emphasis on fraternal bonds being fostered. They will share a fraternal life of prayer, study, ministry, and recreation. The men will have scheduled Masses, Holy Hour and communal liturgical prayer in a dedicated Chapel.

Ministry will be varied, drawing on opportunities of service to those on the margins: the poor, the immigrant, the elderly, the homeless in Boston and the surrounding communities. These opportunities of service will highlight our interconnectedness to our suffering brothers and sisters. The desire is to foster a heart like the Lord’s—a Good Shepherd’s heart.

There will be regular weekly group processing and debriefing of formational materials and ministry experiences; connecting the Gospel message of discipleship with their lived experiences. The year is meant to be one of discovery, discernment, and a deepening of one’s commitment to follow the Lord more authentically and freely. The men will meet with their Spiritual Director every other week. The Director of Spiritual Formation, in dialogue with the Propaedeutic Formators, will assign an in-residence Spiritual Director.

Summer Integration Program

The Seminary Formators will run the Summer Integration Program at Saint Anselm’s in New Hampshire as the concluding formative aspect of the Propaedeutic Year. The Program will begin with an 8-day Retreat This will be an immersion in a retreat-like environment with Human and Spiritual Formation input and will synthesize the formation received thus far and will be preparatory for the next stage in formation. Seminary Formators in collaboration with the community of Saint Anselm’s will oversee the eight-week program.