“Formation, as the Church understands it, is not equivalent to a secular sense of schooling or, even less, job training. Formation is first and foremost cooperation with the grace of God…Moved by that grace, however, we make ourselves available to God’s work of transformation. And that making ready a place for the Lord to dwell in us and transform us we call formation.” (Program of Priestly Formation, 68)
The formation program at Bishop White Seminary is specifically priestly. It helps a man to encounter and to understand his vocation as a beloved son of the Father, and prepares him to cooperate fully with the grace of God, as he proceeds to the next stage of priestly formation. In short, Bishop White Seminary provides men with clarity and freedom to become missionary disciples with the heart and mind of Jesus Christ.
An Initial Formation
The formation which Bishop White Seminary provides is initial. Before a graduate is ordained, there are at least four more years of formation at a theologate. Our graduates have gone on to study at a wide variety of seminaries:
- Patrick’s Seminary (Menlo Park, CA)
- Angel Seminary (near Portland, OR)
- Theological College/Catholic University of America (Washington, DC)
- Pontifical College Josephinum (Columbus, OH)
- Paul Seminary (St. Paul, MN)
- Pontifical North American College (Rome)
An Integrated Formation
“These pillars of formation and their finality give specificity to formation in seminaries as well as a sense of the integrated wholeness of the different dimensions of formation… They are neither discrete nor layered dimensions of priestly existence, but they are…interrelated aspects of a human response to God’s transforming grace.”
(Program of Priestly Formation, 5th ed., 72)
The entire formation program of each seminary is designed to help a man develop the qualities and characteristics of a priest of Jesus Christ in four distinct areas: human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral. These are the four dimensions of formation.
It is integral because it addresses all four dimensions of formation—with particular attention to the human and spiritual dimensions—to foster a healthy, masculine, priestly identity in a man. This initial, integrated formation takes place in the context of a community, and has a fundamentally missionary characteristic which is expressed in pastoral charity.
A Progressive Formation
The formation program at the college level includes two distinct stages: the Initial Engagement Stage and the Discipleship Stage.
In the Initial Engagement stage, a seminarian begins to come to grips with his identity as a beloved son of the Father, a man of the Church, and a man for others. He is challenged to develop strong habits of virtue, free from compulsions and free to engage and balance all four dimensions of formation. This initial stage lasts between one and two years.
In the second stage, that of Discipleship, the seminarian will develop a deeper understanding of his vocation and the mature freedom to embrace it fully while he embraces more responsibility for himself and others. In this stage, he is also engaged in the study of Philosophy and will complete his Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy. This stage lasts from two to three years, and culminates with his graduation from Bishop White Seminary and Gonzaga University.
In each stage, there are a set of benchmarks to be acquired for each dimension of formation. In order to be advanced to the following stage of formation, each seminarian is expected to provide concrete evidence that he has met those benchmarks. Throughout this entire journey the man receives help so that he will be increasingly more capable of cooperating with the grace of God.
Having demonstrated that he has achieved the benchmarks for the conclusion of the Discipleship Stage, the seminarian will be able to demonstrate, to himself and the Church, that he has acquired the clarity and freedom to move on to the next stage: proximate preparation for ordination to the Holy Priesthood of Jesus Christ.
Growth In Virtue
“A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions.”
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1803)
The formation program at Bishop White helps each seminarian to encounter the powerful mercy of the Father through the outstretched hands of Jesus Christ. Seminarians are challenged to develop the moral virtues by which they will grow in holiness and become more effective ministers of the Gospel.
The moral virtues are acquired through education and arduous human effort. It is not easy, and it will entail a significant amount of failure as a young man discovers where he needs healing and growth. This experience of human weakness—his own and that of others—when accepted with humility and good humor, builds character, patience, and compassion even as it inspires a man to strive for excellence in the moral life.