To Hear God’s Call — The path through seminary

Very Rev. Martin A. Linebach

When discussing discernment to the priesthood, it is often necessary to describe the path of a man through seminary. There are generally two paths for men through the seminary leading to priesthood:

  • A man without a college degree: propaedeutic stage, college seminary and major seminary
  • A man with a college degree: propaedeutic stage, philosophy studies and major seminary

Propaedeutic Stage

The newest “Program of Priestly Formation in the United States of America” (Sixth Edition) was approved by the USCCB and fully enacted Aug. 4, 2023. 

Part of this new vision for the formation of men in seminary was the institution of the propaedeutic stage of formation. The propaedeutic stage is a preparatory period lasting at least 12 months for men wishing to attend seminary. 

It is used to ensure men have a solid prayer life and knowledge of the teachings of the church. These are often achieved by instructing the men in the use of the Liturgy of the Hours (consisting primarily of psalms supplemented by hymns, readings and other prayers and antiphons prayed at fixed prayer times each day) and a detailed review of the catechism of the Catholic Church (“The Apostle’s Creed,” the Mass, the sacraments, the Ten Commandments, and the “Our Father”). The cost of this stage is paid by the Archdiocese of Louisville.

College Seminary

In college seminary, the course of study will primarily be in philosophy. Many college seminaries work in cooperation with a local (usually Catholic) college where the seminarians attend class. The men live in the seminary and they take courses at the college. 

Upon completion, they will be awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy. They are living in a seminary community, attending to the requirements of formation and going to college. 

The fraternal element is a seminary with other men discerning God’s call to the priesthood. They have community prayer, Mass and other activities in the seminary. They meet regularly with a spiritual director and other formators to evaluate their human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral development. 

The cost of college seminary is shared between the Archdiocese of Louisville and the seminarian and/or his family.  

Major Seminary

Most of the time, major seminaries are self-contained learning and living communities with only seminarians. However, there are some major seminaries where classes are taken at a local college and the men live in the seminary. 

Major seminaries can accommodate those who have an undergraduate degree in philosophy, whether from a college seminary or another institution. These men will study four years of theology at the major seminary. 

Major seminaries can also accommodate those who have a degree in something other than philosophy. This happens more often than most imagine. In the Archdiocese of Louisville, there are currently major seminarians with undergraduate degrees in history, pharmacy, finance, architecture and accounting, to name a few. These men with an undergraduate degree will study two years of pre-theology (philosophy) followed by four years of theology. 

In major seminary, spiritual directors and formators continue to assist men with their human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral development. 

Upon completion, most major seminaries will award graduates with a Master of Divinity or Baccalaureate in Sacred Theology. The cost of major seminary is covered by the Archdiocese of Louisville.

Regardless of the path a man takes to discern the vocation of the priesthood, it must always begin with a call from God to enter this state of life. Time in seminary is a constant process of discernment of the call to priesthood. It is a lengthy process of education and formation like that of a medical doctor, which is meant to ensure the person is knowledgeable and capable of fulfilling the necessary aspects of the role. 

If a seminarian concludes that God is not calling him to be a priest, he may work with the vocation director to leave seminary and pursue another state of life (single life, married life or consecrated religious life). 

Ideally, the vocation director, formation team and the man’s spiritual director will assist the seminarian in this discernment.

All those discerning a call to priesthood need our prayers to strengthen them and to aid in their response to God’s call in their life.

Father Martin Linebach is the vicar for vocations and the vocations director for the Archdiocese of Louisville. For more information on vocations or discernment, contact him at mlinebach@archlou.org.

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