This weekend we celebrate World Day of Prayer for Vocations. In our Diocese of Baton Rouge this year, at the end of the month, we will celebrate the ordination of two new priests, Todd Lloyd and Brent Maher. That’s always a special moment in the life of the local Church community. Priests are an integral part of our Eucharistic-centered religion. We Catholics want young men to consider becoming priests and are thrilled when they answer God’s call with a generous “yes!”
Many people, however, are not really aware of what’s involved in becoming a priest. Sure, most know that a special kind of education and formation is required, in a school known as a “seminary,” but are unfamiliar with details beyond that. I thought this week I’d mention the highlights.
Really, two kinds of seminaries exist: college and graduate school. (For many centuries seminary formation began at the secondary school level. In our country, our bishops and people now generally agree instead that a standard college-prep education in a regular high school setting is best. We want adolescents to be socialized and educated in typical fashion before beginning to specialize in a life choice.)
I’ll talk about college seminary this week. College seminaries provide first of all a more in-depth introduction to the focused priestly lifestyle of constant prayer and “other oriented” self-discipline. In college seminary, a priestly candidate also begins the study of philosophy, which is a prerequisite for his later graduate studies. If a man has already finished college when he enters the seminary, he is required to take one or two years at least of college-level formation, so that his personal religious life and knowledge of philosophy can “catch up.”
For me, one of the most treasured times of my life were my years at our local St. Joseph Seminary College in St. Benedict, Louisiana just north of Covington. It’s probably where I “got my act together” as a person and as a ministerial student. Looking back on that time in my life, although I was restless and impatiently anxious to move on with priestly studies, it afforded me the opportunity to learn to pray according to the rhythms of the Church’s official prayer. It taught me a lot about the Church’s priorities. I made good friends, one of whom was the Lord Himself. And, looking back, that’s precisely what the seminary college was supposed to do.