Given that priests are called to be “set apart” for ministry, the Church has long seen the value in having her future priests literally set apart for much of their formation, offering some space from the all-pervasive voices of conventional culture. The seminary is thus intended to be a “seed-bed” within which priestly vocations can develop and be nourished, and in which future priests can grow in holiness and virtue.
Of course, diocesan priests are not called to be monks but rather to a ministry that is immersed in the life of the parish. As such, there is a degree to which the apartness of seminary life—necessary though it is—can take some getting used to. And indeed, the closer a seminarian is to ordination, the more involved he normally becomes in parish ministry and other pastoral experience.
The seminary provides an opportunity for men to live in a community of brothers who share a love of Christ and a desire for the priesthood. They are able to support and challenge each other, and their common experience often builds bonds of friendship that last a lifetime.
Seminary life is not without difficulties, and it is not unusual for some men to subsequently discern that the priesthood is probably not for them. In preparation for the obedience he will owe to Christ and his bishop as a priest, the seminarian is asked to voluntarily forego certain freedoms he may have once enjoyed. However, the challenges of formation also help seminarians to grow in faith and personal holiness, and to prepare them for the challenges of parish ministry.
In his Apostolic Exhortation on seminary formation—Pastores Dabo Vobis—Saint John Paul II highlighted four key areas that should be emphasised in the formation of priests, which have come to be known as the “Four Pillars” of formation.
The purpose of Human Formation is to assist seminarians in their task of becoming men of integrity who are able to serve as bridges—not obstacles—in people’s encounter with Christ. As such, the seminary’s community life and related coursework aim to help the Church’s future priests grow in genuine human freedom, cultivate a resilient moral character, advance in charity, and develop the human traits necessary for effective pastoral ministry such as good interpersonal skills, sexual maturity, responsible stewardship, and appropriate care of their physical well-being.
Every Christian is called to be rooted in Christ, and to constantly draw nourishment from the fount of Eternal Life. This is particularly the case for priests, who are tasked with facilitating the encounter with Christ for others. The seminary therefore encourages men to grow in their relationship with Christ through the Mass, daily prayer and contemplation, regular spiritual direction and confession, Adoration, personal devotions, and simplicity of life.
A priest cannot share the faith if he does not understand it, and so an integral part of seminary formation is a thorough program of philosophical and theological studies, with the latter including units in Scripture, spirituality, Church history, liturgy, sacramental and pastoral theology, and Canon Law. Underlying this academic formation is the development of intellectual habits that will aid the seminarian in his future preaching, teaching, and ongoing study as a priest.
Pastoral Formation is in a sense the culmination of the other areas of formation, in that the seminary aims to form a man who is able to represent Jesus Christ in the community as the Shepherd of the Church. Priests not only need to know and love their faith, but to be able to share it effectively, and to apply the Church’s teaching to specific people and situations. To this end, in addition to regular voluntary work and training in the practical skills required for priesthood, it is common for seminarians to spend extended periods of time on pastoral placement in a parish. Some seminarians may also undertake a program of Clinical Pastoral Education in a hospital or care facility.
Seminarians for the Archdiocese of Perth come from a great variety of backgrounds. Some enter seminary shortly after high school, others enter after university studies and some work experience, and a few enter after pursuing a long professional career. These experiences all contribute to the unique make-up of the priesthood and to the individual ministry of each priest. The standard program of seminary formation takes seven years, though an accelerated program of formation is sometimes offered depending on a man’s prior academic and professional experience.
Most candidates for the Archdiocese of Perth undertake their formation at St Charles’ Seminary, Guildford, in collaboration with the University of Notre Dame, Australia. More information about St Charles’ Seminary and its program of formation can be found at their website:
The Archdiocese of Perth also has a seminary for candidates who are members of the Neo-Catechumenal Way community. Information about Redemptoris Mater seminary can be found at their website: