St. Mary's Seminary & University

Propaedeutic Stage: Introduction/Overview

To Live Supremely for God in Christ Jesus

Rev. Phillip J. Brown, P.S.S., President-Rector
Rev. Phillip J. Brown, P.S.S.

These are the words Fr. Jean-Jacques Olier used to describe the aim of the Seminary of St. Sulpice. It was a house to help men conform themselves to Jesus Christ in an apostolic community centered on the Lord’s presence in the Blessed Sacrament. Living supremely for God, they could truly say with St. Paul “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Pietas Seminarii 1; Gal. 2:20)

Since Olier’s founding of the Sulpician Fathers in Paris in 1641, the Society of St. Sulpice has been dedicated to the formation of diocesan priests. Our mission expanded with the establishment of St. Mary’s Seminary in 1791, the first Roman Catholic seminary in the United States.

Now we bring that history and tradition to a renewed vision of priestly formation for the twenty-first century as articulated by the sixth edition of the Program for Priestly Formation (PPF). After wide collegial consultation and at the request and encouragement of several bishops, we have established The Blessed Father Michael McGivney House of Formation, a program of St. Mary’s Seminary & University and the Society of St. Sulpice, at the original site of St. Mary’s Seminary.

The McGivney House is a program of formation for the propaedeutic stage as envisioned by the new PPF. The Society of Saint Sulpice is excited to offer a home to seminarians beginning their preparation for the priesthood on the site where priestly formation began in our nation. It is a regional program primarily serving St. Mary’s Seminary & University in Baltimore and Theological College in Washington, D.C., and a number of dioceses from the Eastern and Mid-Atlantic regions, the South, and beyond.

Our Propaedeutic House gives seminarians an opportunity to get to know each other, discern  reflectively, develop a sense of prayer, and deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ. We are confident that seminarians will find in The McGivney House the spirit, community, and space they  need to begin their formation for priestly service in their local churches.

Built Upon a Long and Faithful Tradition

Impressed with the Society’s success in France and concerned to provide for the growth of the Church in the new United States, Bishop John Carroll invited the Sulpician Fathers to come to Baltimore to establish the nation’s first Catholic seminary.

St. Mary’s Seminary on Paca Street in the 19th century.
St. Mary’s Seminary on Paca Street in the 19th century.

Acquiring an inn known as The One-Mile Tavern, the Sulpicians founded St. Mary’s Seminary in 1791. The seminary eventually expanded into several buildings, including the Chapel of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin. In this Chapel, which is still standing, the McGivney community will gather regularly for prayer and the Eucharist. It was here that then-seminarian and now Blessed Michael J. McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus and patron of our propaedeutic house, was formed to serve as a priest for the Diocese of Hartford. Mother Mary Lang, founder of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, also made her profession in this same chapel.

Former convent on the grounds of the original St. Mary's Seminary, Paca Street, Baltimore.
The former convent on the grounds of the original St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore—now being renovated and expanded into the new Blessed Michael McGivney House of Formation.

In 1929 the seminary expanded to include a new campus in Roland Park. Later, in 1974, the program was consolidated at the new site and the old seminary building on Paca Street was demolished to  make way for the present St. Mary’s Park. The Society of St. Sulpice retained several of the original buildings, however: the chapel, the house that the Sulpicians gave to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton when she was forming her community, and the former convent for the sisters who served in the seminary. This convent is being renovated extensively and expanded and will serve as the main house for the program, accommodating up to twelve seminarians and two priest-formators. An auxiliary building is capable of housing additional seminarians and visitors.

The McGivney House Program

Program of Priestly Foramation (6th edition)Fr. Olier founded the Society of St. Sulpice to renew the Church by renewing the priesthood. “Three good priests can transform a diocese”, Fr. Olier once said. Renewal of the priesthood comes from a commitment to the triune God through Our Lord Jesus Christ incarnate as essential to the Church’s growth in holiness. The McGivney House unites Fr. Olier’s vision and the tradition it inspired to the PPF’s vision of a propaedeutic stage as the beginning of seminary formation.

As stated in the PPF:

The propaedeutic stage seeks to provide seminarians with the basic groundwork they need to engage in priestly formation. Through no fault of their own, the requisite qualities for formation are often missing in new seminarians. A significant imbalance is present between the lifestyle promoted by contemporary society and priestly formation. There are many generous young men open to a priestly call who nevertheless need more intensive preparation before they are ready to enter into the discipleship stage of formation; thus, a propaedeutic stage prior to the discipleship stage is essential. (PPF § 119)

To fulfill this vision, The McGivney House provides:

  • An intentional community of men devoted to Christ, to the Church, and to a year of growth, particularly in virtue and the spiritual life.
  • A clear commitment to all four dimensions of formation, as appropriate to the propaedeutic stage, emphasizing the human and spiritual formation grounding necessary for the fruitful pursuit of seminary formation in the later stages.
  • A facility distinct from the major seminary designed to foster the apostolic community envisioned by Olier and the PPF.
  • An urban location that provides both easy access to pastoral and cultural opportunities in Baltimore, as well as a secure, private, and beautiful house, chapel, and grounds that foster a balance of contemplation and common life.