Our seminaries offer superb priestly formation

By Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond, Clarion Herald Commentary

Last week you held Board of Trustees meetings for St. Joseph Seminary College and Notre Dame Seminary. How did those meetings go?

They both went very well. The bishops of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama – as well as wise and generous laypeople who are very interested in priestly formation – sit on the boards. The rector of each seminary – Benedictine Father Gregory Boquet at St. Joseph Seminary and Father Jim Wehner at Notre Dame Seminary – gave very detailed reports to the board on the quality of priestly formation that is taking place. That formation includes human formation, spiritual formation, intellectual formation and pastoral formation. It is a holistic approach to preparing men to serve as priests.

How are the seminaries doing financially?

They are both doing very well, and we always remain very grateful to those people who support our seminaries spiritually and financially. It is the generosity of God’s people that allows us to have two seminaries in our archdiocese.

What’s the snapshot of enrollment at each seminary?

St. Joseph Seminary College has 123 seminarians who represent more than 20 dioceses. Notre Dame Seminary has an enrollment of 146 seminarians serving over 20 dioceses and religious communities. Both of our seminaries are large. St. Joseph Seminary is the largest seminary college in the United States. Notre Dame Seminary is the third-largest theologate (graduate seminary) in the country. I’m well aware that the size of enrollment is not the ultimate criteria by which a seminary is judged. Not only are our seminaries large, but both also have excellent programs of priestly formation. I remain grateful to the dedicated priests, religious and lay professors who give of their lives in a generous way to help men discern their call to the priesthood and to prepare them spiritually, intellectually, pastorally and in human formation.

Next month, the bishops of the United States will meet to discuss and vote on a new “Program of Priestly Formation.” What is that all about?

We will consider a proposed document, “The Program for Priestly Formation: 6th Edition.” We will discuss it and make any necessary changes, and then the document will be forwarded to the Vatican for its final approval. Needless to say, seminary formation today is very different than it was even 10 or 20 years ago because times have changed greatly. Many men who come forward and are interested in the priesthood have not necessarily been involved in the life of a parish and sometimes do not have a good understanding of the teachings of the church or its spiritual practices. This reality is now incorporated into the guidelines of “The Program for Priestly Formation.” One of the new requirements calls for a “propaedeutic” – or preparatory – stage before a seminarian would begin his study of philosophy or theology. It’s an introductory phase of formation.

Isn’t Notre Dame Seminary already doing something that is reflected in some of the new guidelines of “The Program for Priestly Formation”?

Yes. Notre Dame Seminary is ahead of many other theologates in offering an extended, five-month internship in parishes for transitional deacons. This gives the transitional deacon direct experience in parish life and allows the deacons to be mentored by a pastor.

Is priestly formation one of your most important responsibilities as a bishop?

Yes. Admission to the seminary is taken very seriously. There are many documents that are required as well as psychological exams of the candidates. Through prayer, interviews and reflection, we decide whether a man has the potential and necessary qualities to serve as a priest. We are blessed in New Orleans to have 34 seminarians who are in the process of discerning God’s call in their lives. The admissions process gives us the opportunity to determine whether the person is ready for formation or needs additional time before entering the seminary. I am impressed by the quality of our seminarians and their demonstrated willingness to discern God’s call in their lives.

Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to clarionherald@clarionherald.org.

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