Stages of Seminary Formation

“Formation for the priesthood begins with a focus on the seminarian’s relationship with Jesus Christ. After becoming a disciple of Christ at his Baptism, formation allows a man to grow as a disciple who is discerning and preparing for ordained ministry. The gradual development of the future priest has holiness as its goal, to become configured to Christ, Head and Shepherd, Servant, and Spouse”

Program of Priestly Formation, sixth edition, 118

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations outlines guidelines for seminarian formation in a document titled the Program for Priestly Formation. In 2022, the USCCB released the sixth edition of this document. This new edition”comes from reflecting on the lived experience of seminarians and the Church in the United States (PPF, 3). The committee also took inspiration from Ratio Fundamentalis, the 2016 Church document detailing the formation and vocation of the ministerial priesthood. This opened the door to a new chapter in seminarian formation.

Instead of a rigid reliance upon academic standards and strict years of formation, the new stages of formation outlined in the Program of Priestly Formation allow a more organic and integrated growth to occur within the heart of the seminarian, without losing the rigor or thoroughness of the intellectual studies of philosophy and theology. 

The Propaedeutic Stage


The word “propaedeutic” simply means “introductory,” and all diocesan seminarians begin formation in this phase, which typically lasts one year. For those entering seminary as an undergraduate student, this phase occurs during college seminary. Those who have already obtained a college degree will enter into the Propaedeutic Year at Mount St. Mary’s. Regardless of where seminarians are at in their academic journey, those in this phase reside in community with each other, gradually being introduced to the many facets of seminary formation and focusing on their identity as beloved sons of the Father.

“Since formation is a lifelong journey, it is important to lay a solid foundation for this journey in the Propaedeutic Stage, especially in the human and spiritual dimensions. Thus “the Propaedeutic Stage is an indispensable phase of formation with its own specific character” (Ratio Fundamentalis, no. 59). This stage allows the seminarian to lay a foundation for a new way of life through prayer, study, fraternity, and appropriate docility to formation” (PPF, 120).

The Discipleship Stage


“In the Discipleship Stage… there is a systematic and rigorous formation that has at its core the goal of growing in an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ through the life of meditation, contemplation, philosophical study, and the training of one’s character in Christian virtue” (PPF, 132). This is an opportunity for seminarians to deepen their interior life and create greater capicity for discernment, emphasizing self-awareness and living well within a community. This phase may occur at undergraduate seminary or, for those who already have college degrees, at graduate seminary.

“The seminarian intensely discerns his vocation to the priesthood during the discipleship stage, and thus he can clearly articulate his call and his conviction to be a priest” (PPF, 134).  “The study of philosophy occurs during the discipleship stage,” (PPF, 132) and, assuming there is adequate growth and maturity, typically lasts between two to three years.