PROPAEDEUTIC SEMINARY FORMATION
(A Reflection on Intermediate Seminary Formation to mark the 40th Anniversary of Daham Sevana Seminary, Kaluthara)
What actually is Propaedeutic Formation? In brief Propaedeutic means ‘preparatory’. It is a preparatory stage of formation in between the minor seminary formation and that of the major seminary. How come this word is quite unfamiliar even among circles of clergy? The reason is that even the very concept of a Propaedeutic Formation is relatively new, and the usage of the word is quite restrictive.
Optatam Totius, the Decree on Priestly formation of Vatican II, does not mention anything to the effect of a stage of formation which is preparatory to the stage of formation in a philosophate. But by 1980, already we begin to hear and read the need for a preparatory stage of formation before the candidates begin studies in philosophy and theology. Footnote 93 of Pastores Dabo Vobis has the following:
The Congregation for Catholic Education recommended, already by 1980, that this initial stage should be offered: “The need to intensify the preparation of aspirants to Major Seminary has become pressing, not only from an intellectual point of view but also, and more especially, from the human and spiritual perspectives”, Congregation for Catholic Education, Information Document The Propaedeutic Period (10 May 1998), III, n. 1.
The Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, in a Circular letter of 25 April 1987, expressed its hope that the propaedeutic period might be “a prolonged period of vocational discernment, of growth in the spiritual life and community life and, if needs be, a period in which cultural preparation can be supplemented with a view to the study of philosophy and theology”: Enchiridion Vaticanum 10 (1989), 1214.
The next time we hear about it in an official Church document is in Pastores Dabo Vobis, the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation by Pope St John Paul II of 25th March 1992, no. 62.
“While there is increasing consensus regarding the need for preparation prior to the major seminary, there are different ideas as to what such preparation should contain and what its characteristics should be: Should it be directed mainly to spiritual formation to discern the vocation or to intellectual and cultural formation? On the other hand, we cannot overlook the many and deep diversities that exist, not only among the individual candidates but also in the different regions and countries. This implies the need for a period of study and experimentation in order to define as clearly and suitably as possible the different elements of this prior preparation or “propaedeutic period”: the duration, place, form, subject matter of this period, all of which will have to be coordinated with the subsequent years of formation offered by the seminary.
In this sense I take up and propose to the Congregation for Catholic Education a request expressed by the synod fathers: “The synod asks that the Congregation for Catholic Education gather all the information on experiments of such initial formation that have been done or are being done. At a suitable time, the congregation is requested to communicate its findings on this matter to the episcopal conferences.”
However, it is important to note the circumstances under which this stage of formation is suggested:
- The non-existence of minor seminaries in many countries. (Such preparation, at least until a few decades ago, did not create particular problems. In those days most candidates to the priesthood came from minor seminaries, and the Christian life of the community offered all, in general, a suitable Christian instruction and education).
- The deep diversities that exist not among the individual candidates but also in different regions and countries.
Hence, it is clear that the concept of a propaedeutic stage is born out of necessity. There arose a crisis of vocations especially in Europe, and minor seminaries had to be closed down. In fact, in such countries minor seminaries are almost non-existent now. Consequently, any candidate who wishes to join the seminary after secular studies in school, had to, reluctantly though, be admitted directly to a philosophate, for which he was not sufficiently prepared; not just intellectually, but more in other aspects of personality. In this regard Pope St. John Paul II made the following request to seriously think and introduce a preparatory stage of formation, picking lines from Pope St Paul VI’s Evangelii Nuntiandi No 48: “It is a good thing that there be a period of human, Christian, intellectual and spiritual preparation for the candidates to the major seminary. These candidates should, however, have certain qualities: a right intention, a sufficient degree of human maturity, a sufficiently broad knowledge of the doctrine of the faith, some introduction into the methods of prayer and behavior in conformity with Christian tradition. They should also have attitudes proper to their regions, through which they can express their effort to find God and the faith.“
The suggestion was taken seriously, and slowly but surely, in places where no minor seminaries were found, there arose Propaedeutic Seminaries, and where there were minor seminaries, bishops began to contemplate Propaedeutic Seminaries, and where there were Intermediate Seminaries, they gradually became Propaedeutic Seminaries.
Years passed, and Propaedeutic seminaries slowly have become a common entity. However, whether they were compulsory or not was rather uncertain until Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis of 2016 made it clear that Propaedeutic formation is an indispensable stage of Priestly formation.
The propaedeutic stage is an indispensable phase of formation with its own specific character. Its principal objective is to provide a solid basis for the spiritual life and to nurture a greater self-awareness for personal growth. In order to launch and develop their spiritual life, it will be necessary to lead seminarians to prayer by way of the sacramental life; the Liturgy of the Hours; familiarity with the Word of God, which is to be considered the soul and guide of the journey; silence; mental prayer; and spiritual reading. No. 59
Finally, many doubts are cleared and we are told in no uncertain terms what we ought to do at the Propaedeutic stage of formation in our seminaries. Outlined below are the expectations of the Ratio Fundamentalis 2016 regarding the Propaedeutic stage of formation:
- To provide a solid basis for spiritual life (…to lead seminarians to prayer by way of the sacramental life; the Liturgy of the Hours; familiarity with the Word of God, which is to be considered the soul and guide of the journey; silence; mental prayer; and spiritual reading).
- To allow a ‘real time for discernment of one’s vocation within community life. (it must always be a real time of vocational discernment, undertaken within community life, and a ‘start’ to the following stages of initial formation).
- To nurture a greater self-awareness of personal growth (Human Formation)
- To provide a basic familiarity with Christian doctrine through the study of certain sources.
- To develop the dynamic of self-giving through experiences in pastoral settings and charitable works.
- To build up communion with the Bishop and the Presbyterium.
- To provide an opportunity to make up for anything the candidates have missed in their secular studies.
- It emphatically also states that the studies of the propaedeutic stage are always to be considered entirely distinct from philosophical studies.
- That the Propaedeutic Seminary must be in a separate place, away from the Major Seminary.
- That it should with its own formators provide a solid human and Christian formation and a careful selection of candidates for Major Seminary.
- The propaedeutic stage can be adapted according to the culture and experiences of the local Church.
Thankfully, now the paradigms and parameters are clearer. Now, it is up to the Bishops and Formators to draw up their programs to realize the objectives proposed. It also means that programs of Propaedeutic Seminaries can no longer be haphazardly designed at the whim and fancy of the formators.
Before saying anything about the situation in Sri Lanka, we need also to clarify the title Pre-Philosophate. At one stage, the Church was contemplating a Pre-Philosophate as the preparatory stage before the candidates begin formation in the Major Seminaries with studies in Philosophy. In fact, some time ago, the Pre-Philosophate was part of the Philosophate itself in many places; often within the same edifice and premises. But, the title gave the impression that this stage is more academic in perspective, and hence, is concentrating more on intellectual formation. Although the title Pre-Philosophate is still in circulation, the new Ratio seems to prefer the term Propaedeutic which certainly is more comprehensive and accommodating for that particular stage of formation.
In a way, now we are talking of a Pre-Philosophate of a sort, which is away from the Major Seminary; one which does not concentrate only on intellectual formation; but more on spiritual and human formation while other aspects are not neglected.
From being an Intermediate Seminary to a Propaedeutic Seminary in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has witnessed, at least in the case of Diocesan clergy, both Prep-Philosophates and Intermediate Seminaries. In Ampitiya itself, many of us already had our Pre-Philosophy year within the same edifice and the same community. In reality, it was more study-oriented. In Jaffna, from the late nineteen eighties up to 2015, the Major Seminary had a Pre-Philosophate; at the beginning in the same edifice, but later in a separate house within walking distance from the main Philosophate. The students of the Pre-Philosophy, once separated from the main community, had a separated program of formation, and did not mix up with the students studying philosophy proper.
In Haputale(Hawarden), the Archdiocese of Colombo started an Intermediate Seminary in 1961, in a stunning scenic setting; a house bought by the Servant of God, the late Most Rev. Dr. Thomas Cardinal Cooray. In the beginning it was the ‘Holiday House of the Archdiocese of Colombo, and since 1961 it served also as the Intermediate Seminary of the Archdiocese of Colombo, until it was closed down in 1979, with the intention of shifting it to Kaluthara from 1980. However, there was an interim period of about six months, during which the Colombo Intermediate Seminary was temporary housed at the Catechetical Centre in Thammita, Negombo, under the guidance of late Fr Artie Amaratunge. The Intermediate Seminary in Kaluthara was begun in 1980; the first batch of nineteen students arrived on the 30th September, and the Mass of the Inauguration held on 4th October 1980, presided over by late Very Rev Fr Ignatius Gamlath as its first Rector. The original Archdiocesan Intermediate Seminary by this time had already become an Inter-Diocesan Seminary with students from the Dioceses of Galle and Chilaw also joining the first batch(Note that there were seminarians from a few other diocese already in Haputale before it was shifted to Kaluthara). However, it was clearly decided that this Intermediate Seminary would be totally administered by the Archdiocese of Colombo under the guidance of the Archbishop of the Colombo, while welcoming and offering its program of formation to seminarians from other dioceses of Sri Lanka. Slowly but surely other dioceses began to join and since 2016, with seminarians for the Diocese of Jaffna(the last Diocese to join Kaluthara) also joining, Daham Sevana Propaedeutic Seminary is now a National Propaedeutic Seminary administered by the Archdiocese of Colombo.
When did we actually change over to Propaedeutic from being Intermediate or from being a Pre-Philosophate? It was gradual and very recent. The present writer could do well to testify in this regard since he was Rector during the period 1998-2001, and now again from 2015. At the earlier tenure of office, there was hardly any talk of being Propaedeutic. But having done some personal reading and study, he was already aware of the Propaedeutic concept of formation which was in the making, especially Pastores Dabo Vobis. Consequently, when drawing up the program of formation (having consulted many senior formators of that time, and reading all possible resource material in this regard), it was already aimed at realizing the envisioned objectives of the Propaedeutic stage of formation.
The Current Situation
It is with gratitude to God that we joyfully offer the current program of formation in Daham Sevana Propaedeutic Seminary of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, in Kaluthara, Sri Lanka. Our aim is to offer a solid foundation for the spiritual life of the young seminarians who come here, after some years of strenuous academic work and pressure; having sat for G.C.E. O/L, G.C.E. A/L and of course the National Seminary or Jaffna Major Seminary Entrance Examination. Along with Spiritual formation comes many programs aimed at Human Formation of the students. While these two aspects are given priority, the Intellectual and the Pastoral aspects are not undermined either.
What is important at present is that we have, according to the guidelines given in the Ratio Fundamentalis 2016, adapted certain things according to the cultural experience of the local Church.
The Eucharist is the most important activity each day, and we try our utmost best to celebrate it with full fervor; breaking the Word of God every day with a homily, relating it to the life of formation at present and to the mission in the future. The celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours is given pride of place too; Laudes, Vespers and Compline always fully chanted. A special Orientation Program is conducted at the beginning of the year to explain to the students the spiritual, theological and liturgical reasons for praying the Liturgy of the Hours. Seminarians are trained to exercise contemplation, silence and meditation regularly while the Sacrament of Reconciliation is offered to them frequently, with spiritual direction. Many other exercises and activities related to spiritual and liturgical life are conducted here; innumerable in fact, but in a brief write-up like this, mentioning all those is not possible.
For Human Formation, the strategy followed is mainly that of Group Dynamics. Students work mostly as Groups; mixed up deliberately among themselves, so that they have to work with companions from different ethnicities, cultures and regions. Their youthfulness is deliberately challenged with the aim of boosting up their self-confidence(the annual camping program introduced in 1998, being one such), and they are exposed to a comprehensive variety of special subjects so that the horizons of their sensible imagination are widened and deepened. These activities are always accompanied with regular assessments which are seriously taken, so that the momentum of progress could be deciphered.
The language of English, in preparation for their studies in Philosophy and Theology, is very strictly the medium of communication, and the students are given a flavor of the basics of Christian doctrine by regular reading of some of the Documents of the Vatican II Council. In order that they may understand the importance of emotional maturity, a special course is conducted on the Theology of the Body, based on the catechism in that regard provided by Pope St John Paul II. Spirituality of Diocesan Clergy and Study Methods(Methodology) are two of the other academic disciplines dealt with here. In addition, there are many other subjects, especially brought in as special programs and exposure, during which the students have precious opportunities to learn immensely.
The Deanery in which we live is considered the context for Pastoral Formation of the seminarians, and many opportunities are offered to students to actively take part in pastoral activities in the parishes of the deanery. In order that the Seminarians experience self-effacing love, each week they are sent to assist at the Marc Sri Homes where a large number of differently abled people are housed.
- There has been so much done to form formators. Within the many limitations faced by the Local Ordinaries, many such efforts are truly commendable. However, formation of formators who really understand the uniqueness of the mission of formation still remains the biggest challenge. Ratio Fundamentalis once again reiterates the need to provide the best among the priests of a diocese for this task. It is an uphill task; to find competent priests, to train them and to ensure that they remain in formation for a considerable period of time without interruption. Often, finding the right combination of the team of formators is no easy task. This challenge has to be overcome by earmarking possible candidates to be trained as formators, already during the final stages of the formation of seminarians in the major seminaries; of course following them up with necessary initial and subsequent specialized training.
- There have been many adaptations which have been suggested and even tried out to find the right model of formation suitable for a country like ours, while remaining faithful to the objectives and the spirit of the ratio Fundamentalis. This is the reason why, we are requested to formulate a Ratio Nationalis, which would eventually be endorsed by the Holy See. The right model suitable for our socio-economic situation and culture, seems rather illusive, and still remains a major concern.
- The links among the different stages of formation still remain subjects which need further assessment and study. In the opinion of the present writer these links and change-overs, though certainly not effected deliberately, still contain a few jerks. There seem to be creaks and frictions at the baton-change moments at each stage, and these could develop into jolts of bolts at the final baton-change instance from the Major Seminaries to Diaconate and Priesthood.
- The tension between the extent of freedom allowed in using modern means of social communication, and the restrictions applied due to possible aberrations remain huge challenges. On one hand, students hail from a milieu which is predominantly social-media saturated, and there is justifiable need for requesting facilities such as Wifi routers, mobile phones and multimedia. On the other hand, the risks involved are real and huge.
The list above is certainly not exhaustive. There are a number of other challenges. But efforts aiming at the best possible ways of forming young seminaries to become holy and committed priests in the future continue unabated.
The Propaedeutic stage of seminary formation, no doubt is a decisive period of time within the whole process of formation of a candidate towards Priesthood. As per now, more than ever before, the paradigms are less hazy. As such, the Propaedeutic stage could be viewed as a spring board which provides crucial thrust for a candidate to gain the depth and the distance necessary to be grounded in what is truly priestly in the ministerial sense of the word.
Prayer, incessant reflection and regular assessment are essential at all levels-Local Ordinaries, Formators and Seminarians- in order that the vision for formation at the Propaedeutic stage becomes truly effective and fruitful. This must be team-work, and not the work of a few individuals who are assigned to carry on the task.
In reality, what is meant by Propaedeutic at present must embody a major part of what is known as Pre-Philosophy and Intermediate. It needs to become a ‘harmonious’ blend, and not a jerky-sparky fusion.
Fr Cecil Joy Perera,
Rector – Daham Sevana Propaedeutic Seminary,
13th June 2020