The whole formation imparted to candidates for the priesthood aims at preparing them to enter into communion with the charity of Christ the Good Shepherd. Hence, their formation in its different aspects must have a fundamentally pastoral character”
The pastoral formation program at Bishop White Seminary is designed to help seminarians acquire the personal integration of human, spiritual, and intellectual formation necessary for the effective exercise of pastoral charity. The purpose of pastoral formation at the college level is discernment, as well as to help develop the virtue of zeal, or “the ardent desire to bring all people closer to the Lord” (PPF, 239).
It is remote preparation for ministry, not proximate preparation. The goal is not to impart specific skills to a seminarian which he may use in ministry. Rather, the purpose is to help each seminarian develop the heart of a pastor by accompanying him to various aspects of ministry and guiding him in a profound theological reflection on that ministry.
By the time a seminarian moves on to theology studies, he will have experienced pastoral ministry in three basic areas which comprise priestly activity: liturgy, catechesis, and works of mercy. During later theological studies, pastoral formation will introduce the seminarian into progressively more diverse situations, requiring a greater degree of pastoral skill, theological reflection, and personal integration.
The seminarian needs to understand that the proclamation of God’s Word is the first task of the priest (Presbyterorum ordinis, 4). Bringing God’s Word through preaching and teaching requires that the seminarian “couple the deepest convictions of faith with the development of his communication skills so that God’s Word may be effectively expressed” (PPF, 239).
A pastor is to be a man of communion and shepherd of a flock. Although limited in the amount of time which he can commit outside the seminary, the college seminarian is still encouraged to be involved in activities in his parish and diocese, when possible. The college seminarian should also recognize that the seminary itself is his community. This requires his attention and care through generous use of his talents and abilities to build up the community of men with whom he lives, prays, studies, and serves.
Benchmarks of Pastoral Formation
The following are benchmarks for which a seminarian should strive to provide concrete evidence:
Initial Engagement Stage
(First 1-2 Years at BWS)
Goal: Each Bishop White seminarian will demonstrate that he lives a balanced life of prayer, study, and fraternity, and apostolic charity, with an appropriate docility to formation.
(Final 2-3 years at BWS)
Goal: Each graduate of Bishop White Seminary will demonstrate that he understands his vocation, has acquired the freedom to embrace it, and, if he is called to the Holy Priesthood, is prepared to begin proximate preparation for Holy Orders.
Ordinarily, a first-year seminarian will only be assigned to be involved in a liturgical role of a parish. As he progresses through more years of formation at Bishop White Seminary, in addition to serving at the liturgy he will be introduced to other areas of ministry that he has not yet experienced either at Bishop White, in his home parish, or during his summer assignments. In addition to the liturgy Seminarians are expected to serve 2 hours per week in their pastoral assignment.
Although the seminarian cannot celebrate the sacraments as a priest does, he can accompany priests who do and he can prepare those who participate in them (PPF, 239). Seminarians at Bishop White Seminary are encouraged to assist at Holy Mass when they are home at their parish, especially on Sundays, in such roles as acolyte, reader, or Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. Or, if such roles have already been assigned to others, the seminarian can assist in a less formal Master of Ceremonies role. Having the seminarian present in the sanctuary can remind the faithful to pray for vocations, and can encourage other young people to consider a call to the priesthood or consecrated life. This experience also gives the seminarian a sense of future priestly ministry.
By the time he graduates from Bishop White, a seminarian will have had the experience of teaching the faith to children, peers, and adults in an ordinary parish setting. This will take the form of being an assistant in a Religious Education, RCIA, or Sacramental Preparation program of a local parish, under the guidance of a Director of Religious Education. This also allows a seminarian to gain valuable experience in working collaboratively with other parishioners.
At the college level of priestly formation, the focus of pastoral formation is not primarily on acquiring specific skills for ministry; those will be learned later. At this stage, the focus is on acquiring the heart of a pastor with a preferential love for the poor. This begins by allowing seminarians to truly encounter them. Typical assignments for college seminarians include serving as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion to the Homebound for one of the local parishes, helping the Missionaries of Charity visit a local nursing home, and helping the Missionaries of Charity visit and distribute food to homeless persons in downtown Spokane.