A seismic change is coming to Catholic seminaries that will affect every diocese in the world—and the Diocese of Spokane is among the first to respond.

Men who feel called to the priesthood—even those who have been fully vetted by their bishops—will not be starting seminary right away. Rather, the Vatican will soon require a “propaedeutic phase” for all men before they officially begin seminary.

Why the change? According to Spokane Bishop Thomas Daly, it’s because future priests need a more solid foundation before beginning seminary proper. “Many men aren’t coming from intact families or Catholic environments as they did in the past,” Bishop Daly said. “As a result, these well-intentioned men are often lacking in basic Christian values and knowledge. Before they start studying for the priesthood, we need to fill in the gaps.”

This isn’t just an American phenomenon. Many observers say the problem is more pronounced in Europe and South America, where even “cultural Catholicism” has waned dramatically. It’s also been an issue in the United States, as evidenced by the trend of “discernment houses” for men who feel called to the priesthood, but who need some time to mature.

This introductory period, which will last one or two years, will soon be made mandatory by the Holy See, with the added requirement that living quarters remain “separate and distinct” from the seminary proper. Herein lies the biggest practical challenge for dioceses. Essentially, an entirely new program is needed, necessitating new buildings, staff, and expenses.

The Diocese of Spokane has emerged as a  leader in meeting this need. In close collaboration with Bishop White Seminary, a new building was purchased nearby, not as an extension of the seminary, but to establish a distinct program with its own non-profit status.

The new building, re-named McGivney Hall after the priest-founder of the Knights of Columbus, will be renovated this summer, with the project’s total cost expected to be about $3.6 million.

The new program is called Cor Christi (“heart of Christ”) and will focus on developing strong Catholic men through a rigorous program that stresses prayer, virtue, and basic Catholic doctrine.

Fr. Daniel Barnett, who is spearheading the program, said  it will be a sort of spiritual training ground that will offer a “cultural detox” for young men. “Our goal is to form mature Christian men who can set aside the distractions of the world—of social media, Netflix, and videogames—to focus on what matters: drawing close to the heart of Christ.” The program’s core values will include fraternity, sacrifice, masculinity, hard work, and generosity of heart.

Per Vatican guidelines, academic emphasis will be reduced in the propaedeutic phase, leaving room for focus on spiritual growth. Some bishops worried this would add additional years to seminary formation, which already lasts eight years for a man who enters as a college freshman.

Cor Christi has a creative solution. Men will enter as freshmen, but rather than taking classes at nearby Gonzaga University, all coursework will be taken in-house and focus on Church teaching and scripture. This fulfills the Vatican requirements while simultaneously making use of the student’s elective courses. He would then go on to enter college seminary, which will last only three years, not four, as in the past.

Cor Christi will serve as a launching point for priests, serving at least nine dioceses in five Western States. Bishops throughout the region have voiced support for the program, including encouraging Catholics to support the initiative financially, especially to help with renovation costs.

Bishop Liam Cary of the Diocese of Baker, who plans to send men to the program, said, “The Cor Christi program is shaping up to be an excellent training ground for men to grow in faith and discern their path to the priesthood. It’s truly a worthy cause, deserving of our prayers and financial support.”

Learn more and watch a video about Cor Christi at BISHOPWHITESEM.ORG/COR-CHRISTI