Monday, March 25, 2013

Pastoral Formation at Mount Angel Seminary

The ABCs of Pastoral Formation
Story by Daniel Miller

To know one's ABCs is to know the basics.  The alphabet in this article is used to present the basics of Mount Angel Seminary's program for pastoral formation, which is one of the four pillars of the preparation the seminarians undergo.  The other pillars are Academic, Human, and Spiritual.  The information in these ABCs comes from the Pastoral Formation Blue Book and interviews with Fr. Paul Peri, Director of Pastoral Formation, and Ms. Linda Showman, Associate Director of Pastoral Formation.

A is for Administration, a task Fr. Peri says takes about 80 percent of a parish priest's time in a large parish and includes budgeting, personnel decisions, facility maintenance, and liturgy planning, among many responsibilities.

B is for Blue Book, the locus of materials on the philosophy, programs, and procedures involved in pastoral formation.  Each seminarian receives a Blue Book.

C is for Catholic Parish Administration: A Handbook, the pocket-sized, big-picture manual outlining pastoral duties by Fr. Peri.  Contained in its pages is a synthesis of pastoral formation to help seminarians learn how to function successfully as administrators.

Father Paul Peri
photo courtesy of the Mount Angel Abbey Communications Office

Ms. Linda Showman
photo courtesy of the Mount Angel Abbey Communications Office

D is for Diaconate, the transitional year when pastoral formation ups the intensity with pastoral internships in parishes, confession and Mass practice, courses in counseling and spiritual direction, and comprehensive exams.


E is for Ethics, the principles that guide a seminarian's behavior while being honed in pastoral formation.  "The seminary and the site do not form the seminarian.  The seminary and the site provide the opportunity," the Blue Book says.  "The seminarian, through his own application, effort, and openness, is formed and transformed through the work of the Spirit."

F is for Field Education, the primary shape pastoral formation takes for seminarians in College and Pre-Theology, though Theology students continue field education in addition to pastoral coursework.  Field education places seminarians in once-a-week assignments throughout the community serving as religious education assistants in parishes, volunteers in food banks, mentors for troubled youth, or sources of encouragement at assisted living centers, along with numerous other possibilities.  (To learn more about field education, read this story).

G is for Grades, something the seminarian receives as an indicator of learning but which is only a taste of future evaluation.  "Success is what kind of pastor he turns out to be in the years ahead," Fr. Peri said.  "I can give you a grade, but the real grade comes after ordination.  People vote with their feet."

H is for Homiletics: "Pastoral formation needs to emphasize the proclamation of God's Word, which is indeed the first task of the priest," the Program of Priestly Formation by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops says.  But beware, aspiring seminarians: Fr. Peri wryly admits he is infamous for falling asleep if a homily in preaching class doesn't keep his attention.

I is for Immersion, a one-day experience for seminarians in College One to be introduced to pastoral formation through ministry serving the community in Portland, reflecting on their encounter, and building fraternity.  College One seminarians do not have weekly field education assignments.

J is for Justice, a pivotal concept for seminarians working in pastoral placements that bring up issues of inequity.  "[Seminarians] also need to become aware of the social contexts and structures that can breed injustice as well as ways of promoting more just contexts and structures," the Program of Priestly Formation says.

K is for Knowledge of the Faith, the foundation for teaching with authority on behalf of the Catholic Church.  Pastoral settings provide the venue for practicing the fruits of academic formation.

L is for Least of These, the people that are often the focus of field education assignments by seminarians and are named in Matthew's Gospel: the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, ill, and imprisoned.

M is for Mass Practice, which occurs in presiding class the final semester of pastoral formation and entails the simulation of a full Mass without a congregation, wine in the chalice, or transubstantiation of the elements.

N is for Needs, which each aspect of pastoral formation prepares seminarians to meet.  Seminarians practice meeting the needs of the people through sacraments, preaching, service, administration, counseling, and the many functions of the priest.

O is for Overlap, which the Blue Book says will arise frequently among the four pillars of priestly formation.  The Mount Angel Seminary Rule of Life says, "All four pillars of formation are interwoven and go forward concurrently.  Still, in a certain sense, pastoral formation is the culmination of the entire formation process."

P is for Pastores Dabo Vobis, the apostolic exhortation by Blessed Pope John Paul II outlining the four pillars of priestly formation: Academic, Human, Pastoral, and Spiritual.  "All priests are called to become aware of how especially urgent it is for them to receive formation at the present time," he wrote.  "The new evangelization needs new evangelizers, and these are the priests who are serious about living their priesthood as a specific path toward holiness."

Q is for Qualities, the unquantifiable results of pastoral formation that are born in an individual through the rigorous skill-building demands of the program.

R is for Relationships, which Fr. Peri says are the core of being a pastor, including relationships to one's bishop, the people of the parish, parish staff, and other faith communities.  "It's about being able to lead," Fr. Peri said.  "To teach, to lead, to preach.  All of that comes down to how you relate to your people."

S is for Supervisors, who oversee seminarians in their field education.  "The key to the success of [pastoral formation] is to have supervisors who will ease students into whatever particular assignment they have and direct them and mentor them," Ms. Showman said.  "For the seminarian that involves simply observing, and then modeling what you've observed and then bringing your own self to the project."

T is for Thursday, on which no afternoon classes are scheduled to allow many seminarians to attend their off-campus field education.  Sack lunches and dinners are prepared, the seminary fleet of vehicles put to use, and seminarians venture as far as Portland to serve.

U is for Universal Sacrament of Salvation, as Blessed Pope John Paul II defined the Church in Pastores Dabo Vobis.  Seminarians need practice serving the Church so that they can lift it up "as a living sign and instrument of the salvation wrought by Christ through the word, the sacraments, and the service of charity," he wrote.

V is for Vocation, upon which pastoral formation forces seminarians to reflect as they practice many of the skills and responsibilities that will be required of them if they are ordained as priests.

W is for Witness of Faith, the role undertaken by each seminarian in the experiences that compose the whole of pastoral formation.  Whether in parishes, prisons, schools, or assisted living centers, seminarians are called to "enter into communion with the charity of Christ the good shepherd" Pastores Dabo Vobis says.

X is for Experiences, the cumulative impact of which forms seminarians to act in the person of Christ.  "The object is to give seminarians as many varied kinds of experience as we can," Ms. Showman said.  "And to try to address zones in the person that may be less well-equipped or areas where someone might be downright fearful."

Y is for You, a reminder that transformation can only take place when the individual seminarian seeks inward growth through personal reflection and challenging one's skills to expand.  "You are formed to be a pastor, a priest after the heart of Jesus," Fr. Peri said.  "You have to be man; you have to be mature.  If you don't transform it, you transmit it."

Z is for Zeal for Charity, a call in Pastores Dabo Vobis toward which seminarians must aim.  "This program is able to build on the zeal that the seminarians already have and on their willingness to try new things," Ms. Showman said.

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