St. Mary's Seminary & University

Propaedeutic Stage: Dimensions of Formation

All stages of priestly formation involve four dimensions: human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral. The pathway of formation through the Propaedeutic Stage can be traced through the aims, benchmarks, and programs of each of these four dimensions.

On this page:

Human Formation

While The McGivney House program addresses all four dimensions, it places particular emphasis on human and spiritual formation (PPF § 120). In its human formation dimension, the McGivney program seeks to help the seminarians move from “self-knowledge” to “self-possession” to “self-gift.” (PPF § 188) Their “human personality” becomes “a bridge and not an obstacle for others in their meeting with Jesus Christ.” (PPF § 182) “Following St. Thomas Aquinas,” the program is designed to be an “education in the human virtues perfected by charity.” (PPF § 204)

Upon completion of the propaedeutic stage, the PPF indicates that the seminarian should:

  • Have grown in self-knowledge, particularly recognizing his areas for growth.
  • Be able to form friendships, maintain appropriate boundaries, and have good social skills and a capacity for empathy and adaptability.
  • Grow in self-discipline in all areas of his life, i.e. chastity, time management, the use of technology and other goods, obedience.
  • Have well-developed habits of self-care.

To help the seminarian achieve these goals, the program includes:

  • Weekly morning sessions dedicated to presenting, discussing, and reflecting on a comprehensive range of topics related to the virtues, self-knowledge, and interpersonal relations.
  • Occasional workshops by experts in areas such as nutrition, conflict management, deescalation, and addiction.
  • Periodic presentations on and practice of skills related to common life and to liturgical life: such as kitchen skills, dining planning and etiquette and sacristan and chant practice.
  • Community building and cultural awareness through outings to fine and performing arts and sporting events, outdoor excursions, and pilgrimages.
  • Periodic communal fasting from technology and media.

Spiritual Formation
Aspirants pray in the original seminary chapel adjacent to the Blessed Michael McGivney Propaedeutic House of Formation.
Aspirants pray in the original seminary chapel adjacent to the Blessed Michael McGivney Propaedeutic House of Formation.

As grace perfects nature, so “human formation leads to and finds its completion in spiritual formation.” (PPF § 225) The aim of the Christian spiritual life is “to live in intimate and unceasing union with God the Father through His Son Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit.” (PPF § 226; PDV 45) In a statement that could have been taken from Olier’s own works, the PPF specifies that spiritual formation in a seminary promotes this union by helping the seminarian to “interiorize the sentiments and ways of acting of Jesus Christ.” (PPF § 228; cf. Catéchisme Chrétien 1) This formation is grounded in participation in the liturgy, particularly the Eucharist, which “is itself a participation in the heavenly Liturgy offered by Christ, our great High Priest.” (PPF § 229; Sacrosanctum Concilium 8)

By the end of the propaedeutic stage, the PPF (§ 235) indicates that the seminarian should:

  • Be familiar and disciplined with respect to public and private prayer.
  • Be able to make good use of spiritual direction.
  • Understand and incorporate silence in his life.
  • Have grown in understanding the spiritual dimension of consecrated celibacy.
  • Have grown in understanding the priestly vocation in a diocesan context.
  • Have a capacity to read and meditate with Sacred Scripture.
  • Have grown in his capacity to speak about his relationship with Christ in the Church.

The McGivney House program aims to help seminarians achieve these benchmarks by:

  • Centering the day on celebration of the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours that is faithful and beautiful. The McGivney House benefits from both the main Chapel of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin, built in 1808, and a new in-house adoration chapel. The seminarians will be trained in the basic duties of maintaining the chapels and sacristies and in basic liturgical chant.
  • Ample opportunity for both private and communal adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
  • Regular spiritual direction.
  • Three week-long retreats and other days of reflection throughout the year.
  • A weekly class, together with other presentations, introduces the seminarian to the full range of private and communal prayer, devotion, and spiritual discipline, as well as the thought and practice of the principal schools and key figures of Catholic spirituality.
  • Exposure to and participation in models of small-group faith sharing.

Intellectual Formation

As we cannot love that which we do not know, and we seek to know more about those we love, so “there is a reciprocal relationship between spiritual and intellectual formation.” (PPF 261) The seminarian’s study is aimed at enabling the seminarian both to have “personal knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ” and to aim to use that knowledge for the good of the Church, particularly in “the teaching office of the priesthood.” (PPF §§ 263, 265)

During the propaedeutic stage, the seminarian is expected to acquire and demonstrate:

  • A basic understanding of Catholic doctrine as taught in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (§ 268), and as found in the Fathers, the Councils, and as expressed in the lives of the saints. (§ 269)
  • A basic knowledge of Sacred Scripture. (§ 271)
  • Good habits of study, intellectual curiosity, and a love of learning. (§ 271)
  • An understanding of the Catholic priesthood, especially as an aid to vocational discernment. (§ 296)

Seminarians in The McGivney House programs will achieve these goals by participating in three courses over the span of the program, each meeting for two hours per week: The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Introduction to the Bible, and Introduction to the Catholic Spiritual Life. These courses will be pass/fail.

Bible and books for study.
Aspirants will study An Introduction to Scripture, Essential Catholic Doctrine (Outline: The Catechism of the Catholic Church), and the Traditions of Catholic spirituality.

These classes will be supplemented by presentations on Catholic art, architecture, literature, and music, with experiences designed to promote the seminarian’s appreciation of the sacred patrimony of the Church.

The program will seek to accommodate and assist those seminarians whose educational background indicates a need for further language study or other course work. (PPF § 271)

Pastoral Formation

From among the many feasts honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary, Fr. Olier chose the feast of her Presentation in the Temple (Nov. 21) as the patronal feast of the Society of St. Sulpice and the Seminary. He saw in the Virgin’s willing offering of herself to the service of God in the temple a most fitting image of that self-gift that he sought to imitate h imself and foster in those preparing to serve as priests. Pastoral formation offers seminarians opportunities to practice this self-gift, particularly in charitable works (PPF § 373), together with guidance as to how to integrate those experiences theologically. Enabled by grace to give of themselves to the service of God and the Church, they become more prepared for the later stages that will form them to be “true shepherds of souls after the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, teacher, priest, and shepherd.” (PPF § 369, PDV 57)

The PPF (§ 373) indicates that seminarians in the propaedeutic stage should:

  • Have contact with, and service to, the poor and the less fortunate.
  • Develop a habit of self-donation and spirit of generosity.
  • Demonstrate a capacity to work with people with different cultural backgrounds.
  • Grow in awareness of the pastoral situation in the local, national, and global Church.
  • Demonstrate an awareness of and capacity to comply with relevant professional and ethical standards. (§ 370n)
Food service at Our Daily Bread in Baltimore.
Numerous options for service exist in Baltimore, like the organization “Our Daily Bread.”

The McGivney House program helps seminarians meet these goals by using the many opportunities available in the Baltimore area for service to the poor and others in need. Seminarians will have opportunities to engage in weekly, supervised apostolates to those in need of food, to the elderly, to inner-city students, and others. Seminarians will also serve the McGivney community in their weekly house jobs.