Stages of Formation
According to the sixth edition of The Program of Priestly Formation (PPF), there are four stages of formation for the Roman Catholic priesthood: the Propaedeutic Stage, the Discipleship Stage, the Configuration Stage, and the Vocational Synthesis stage.
The propaedeutic stage of formation serves simultaneously as a period of transition to priestly formation and as a foundation for this formation. Given that a “significant imbalance” (PPF, 119) is present between the lifestyle that one typically experiences today and the environment in which priestly formation ought to take place, a period of transition is needed wherein a student develops “a life of prayer, study, fraternity, and appropriate docility to formation” (PPF, 120). St. Mary’s does not provide a program for the propaedeutic stage, but rather leaves that to the Society of St. Sulpice.
The discipleship stage corresponds to the philosophical component of a seminarian’s intellectual formation. Just as one cannot begin theological studies without sufficient grounding in theology, so one cannot commit one’s life to the Church without growing in the virtues and without developing a “life of meditation and contemplation” (PPF 132).
Having build a foundation of Christian character and philosophical acumen, the seminarian advances to the configuration stage, which corresponds to the theological portion of his intellectual formation. In addition to learning theology, which itself will aid him in his growth in his spiritual life, he will also focus on learning how to “[model] his life on the self-donation of Jesus Christ, Shepherd and Servant, as he prepares more immediately for Holy Orders.”
Vocational Synthesis Stage
The vocational synthesis stage is one of transition, where a man who has recently finished his seminary education begins a life of ministry, typically in a parish setting. As this stage of formation takes place outside of the seminary, the primary formator of a candidate at this stage is typically a priest in a parish, who models the priesthood for the candidate and helps him adjust to parish life.