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What is Seminary Like?

The best education the Church has to offer

A man who thinks God might be calling him to be a priest should go to the seminary.  Often, however, major misconceptions prevent a man from applying at all.

First, some people might think that going to seminary is a commitment to becoming a priest.  Nothing could be further from the truth! The early years of seminary formation are a stage of discernment, albeit an significant stage.

Second, people might think that seminaries are like monasteries where people might walk around in silence and unwavering adherence to strict rules. This is neither a correct characterization of a monastery nor a seminary!

In reality, seminaries today are very much like universities, but with a very strong emphasis on forming the whole man. The aim of the seminary is the formation of body, mind, and soul. To this end, seminarians take classes in Catholic theology, Sacred Scripture, Church history, pastoral counseling, and other subjects. There are also opportunities for sports and recreation. Most importantly, the seminarian is expected to pray. He is taught how to pray liturgically and privately. In short, he is taught how to accomplish his life’s work: to become like Jesus!

Daily Seminary Life

What is daily life like for a typical seminarian?

Most days provide a schedule of study, work, and prayer familiar to any serious Catholic college student, but with some additions. Because the demands of priesthood are great, formation of future priests is somewhat more rigorous.

In addition to high-level academics, seminarians pray together daily, go to daily Mass, meet with their formation directors, go to pastoral assignments at local parishes, and attend meetings and workshops. Seminarians are also encouraged to cultivate personal interests, talents, and hobbies which help to round out their experience.

The Four Pillars of Priestly Formation

The priesthood is not a job, but the taking on of a new identity; the priest is an alter Christus, another Christ. To this end, the Church prescribes  a plan which covers all of these areas of formation and categorizes them into four key areas in order to be sure that each seminarian has a well-rounded formation.

  • Human formation: a seminarian learns to become a bridge to Christ so that he can be an effective witness to the Church. This includes interpersonal relationships, interests and hobbies, personal fitness and health, among other things.
  • Spiritual formation: because a profound personal relationship with Christ is necessary for being an effective priest, seminarians work to develop a strong prayer life through the liturgy and daily community and personal prayer.
  • Intellectual formation: by understanding the truths of the Faith and cultivating the skills to teach the Faith to others, a seminarian learns to help the Church know and love God.
  • Pastoral formation: learning how to be a “shepherd of souls” is a crucial part of helping parishioners draw closer to God through the joys and trials of life.

Three Levels of Seminary

Depending on when a man begins his formation, and his age, prior education and experience, he will begin at one of these levels.

  • College Seminary (Philosophy): College seminarians work to obtain a normal college degree (usually in Philosophy, the underpinning of Theology) while at the same time undergoing the other types of formation mentioned above in preparation for major seminary.
  • Pre-Theology: This is for men who already have a college degree before beginning seminary, but who need to satisfy the requirements of two years of formation and study of philosophy before entering major seminary.
  • Major Seminary (Theology): Men who have attended either college seminary or pre-theology will study master’s-level courses in theology for the final four years of priestly formation.

The application process

A man who wishes to go to seminary must be accepted by the Bishop as a seminarian. For this to happen, the man first must become familiar to the Vocation Director. He must also complete an application, undergo psychological testing and background checks. While some of this may seem a bit daunting, the application process can actually be a very enriching part of a man’s self-discovery and journey toward priesthood.

The formal application process can take anywhere from several months to several years. A relationship with the Vocation Director and Bishop will need to be developed, as this will provide them the familiarity with a man which enables them to make the decisions of whether and when to accept him officially as a seminarian of the Diocese. Often, there are personal issues which need to be worked through before a man can go to seminary, such as high debt or developing good personal habits and virtues.

Is there financial aid?

Yes, St. Mark seminarians receive a 40% tuition discount from Gannon University in Erie.  Other financial aid is available also for those who need it.  Please click here for  2016-2017 St. Mark Seminary Financial Information   No student is ever turned away from the Seminary because of financial aid.

What about debt?

Large amounts of debt can be problematic; however, smaller amounts may be permitted at the Bishop’s discretion.  Student loans are a different story.  These can be deferred while enrolled in classes, a man is permitted to carry student loans into seminary.   All debt concerns will be discussed with the Vocation Director.

Where do I start?

If you think that God may be calling you to discern the priesthood and enter seminary, the best thing to do is contact the Vocation Director. He will be able to give you the best direction to discern your vocation diligently.

If God is calling you, don’t be afraid to give seminary a try. It’s not only the best education the Church offers, but also a place to grow closer to God as you find your true vocation.