Dimensions of Formation
There are four dimensions to priestly formation, each of which is fully integrated into the various stages of formation the candidate passes through.
Long an important element of St. Mary’s approach, recent experience has reinforced awareness of the crucial importance of sound human formation and the need to expend more resources, both in personnel and finances, to fulfill this key aspect of forming strong, mature, self-disciplined and effective priests. St. Mary’s has completely revamped its human formation program, self-consciously approaching this area proactively, based on a reliable model of healthy human development, growth, and maturity. Partnering with Caritas Counseling Center/Saint Luke Institute, Johns Hopkins Medicine, and other outstanding local institutions, St. Mary’s has committed its resources to providing effective human formation. A dedicated faculty position of Director of Human Formation has been instituted to coordinate all components of human formation so as to assure a balanced approach in relation to the other aspects of seminary formation (spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral).
Spiritual formation follows Fr. Olier’s principle se laiseer à l’Esprit (abandon yourself to the Holy Spirit). Spirituality is as unique to each seminarian as his own personality, character, and sense of identity. It begins with what the Church expects of all seminarians: daily Eucharist and Liturgy of the Hours in common; Exposition, Adoration, and Benediction; spiritual direction; the Rosary (together and alone); litanies, and ecumenical prayer services. Each seminarian is guided in discovering methods and practices most helpful to his own spiritual development. The wide variety of spiritualities found in Catholic culture and tradition are offered as aids to finding the best approach for each individual. No one spirituality is presented as the answer for all. Rather, seminarians are taught that Christian freedom must lead each to find the best way to deepen his spirituality in the full and authentic exercise of their diocesan priesthood.
St. Mary’s is known for its superior academic program. Our commitment to academic excellence continues unabated. A transitional period of faculty retirements and turnover has brought to St. Mary’s several outstanding new professors and priest-formators of sterling reputation. Concerted ongoing efforts ensure that academics fit into a well-balanced overall program of human, spiritual, and pastoral formation, while not compromising in any way our commitment to academic excellence. We believe seminarians are best formed to be credible and effective pastors when challenged to exert themselves, and by doing so to learn the kind of self-discipline and balanced lifestyle necessary for the demanding vocation they are embracing as diocesan priests. In addition to the outstanding support St. Mary’s provides international seminarians for mastering English language skills, a Spanish Language Track has been added with graduated courses in Spanish each semester of attendance for seminarians whose dioceses want them to develop outstanding pastoral Spanish language skills.
Pastoral formation at St. Mary’s, in collaboration with the Archdiocese of Baltimore and its many outstanding parishes, hospitals, and other institutions, is unsurpassed in quality. An “active learning model” is employed: seminarians first observe, in order to understand and articulate why a pastor is recognized for his effectiveness. They engage in theological reflection on what they have observed and its theological and pastoral significance. Through graduated learning experiences, they participate in parish-based pastoral ministry in learning teams, practicing skills of collaborative ministry: catechesis and teaching; sacramental ministry and preaching; the development of leadership skills as team leaders during Fourth Theology. Parish-based formation is bolstered by coursework focused on acquiring pastoral knowledge, skills, and sensitivity (every syllabus must describe how the course will help students become effective pastors) and attentive monitoring by the mentor of progress in pastoral formation.
Next, Stages of Formation