Formation Programme at Vianney College
Vianney College adopts the four stages of initial formation as outlined in the Ratio Fundamentalis (RF) and applies the programme as follows:
- Stage 1. The Propaedeutic Stage lasting 1-2 years, with emphasis on spiritual and human rather than academic formation.
- Stage 2. The Stage of Philosophical Studies (2 years) during which the seminarian concentrates on becoming a disciple of Christ.
- Stage 3. The Stage of Theological Studies (4 years), a time for the seminarian, having reached moral certainty concerning his call to the priesthood, allows himself to become more closely configured to Christ. Candidacy, lector and acolyte mark progress through this stage.
- Stage 4. Pastoral Stage (6 months or more) which involves a synthesis of what has gone beforehand and an application to the practical pastoral situation.
Note: the times shown above could be lengthened and there could be some further formation interposed between the stages.
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This programme attempts to follow the guidelines set out in The Gift of the Priestly Vocation, the Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis, (referred to in this document as RF) issued by the Congregation for the Clergy in 2016, which, in turn, develops the Apostolic Exhortation ‘Pastores Dabo Vobis’ of Saint John Paul II issued in 1992.
Before a student is accepted in Vianney College it will be necessary that he undergo a preliminary vocational discernment by a vocation director or another suitable person appointed by the Bishop or Religious Superior of the diocese or community for which he is to be formed. This discernment may include a psychological test, if it is thought advisable. (A psychological test is done by each student in his first months at Vianney College if it has not already been done.) Vianney College is responsible for what is known as “Initial Formation” in its four stages:
Stage One. The Propaedeutic Stage.
The purpose of this stage is to “provide a solid basis for the spiritual life and to nurture a greater self-awareness for personal growth”(RF 59). This is achieved by a programme which helps the seminarian to practice personal prayer, to understand and participate in the Liturgy, to become familiar with the word of God and with Christian doctrine as outlined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It will also lay the necessary foundations for discernment in the later stages.
In this stage steps will be taken to make up for anything that is missing in the seminarian’s general education. This usually includes some study of English, an overview of Christian Culture and History and the study of Latin. However this stage of formation is considered entirely distinct from philosophical studies.
Experiencing the formation programme of the Propaedeutic stage has also been found useful as a means of acculturation for seminarians newly arrived in Australia, even though they may have commenced seminary formation elsewhere.
The students in the propaedeutic stage are directed by a Propaedeutic Formator, appointed by the Bishop. The Propaedeutic Formator works with the Seminary Rector and other Formators to achieve the goals of this stage of formation. Together with the students in the Propaedeutic Stage he strives to form a distinct community within the larger seminary body. He helps the students under his care to learn the art of community life and leads them to some initial experiences in the parish setting and in charitable works. He also plays a major part in helping to discern the suitability and readiness of each student to move to the subsequent stages of initial formation.
The Propaedeutic Stage of Formation lasts at least one year and no more than two years. (RF 59)
Stage Two. The Stage of Philosophical Studies (or Discipleship).
At Vianney College, at present, this period lasts typically for two years. The focus of academic studies is exclusively on philosophy and related subjects. However, these studies form an integral part of the formation of the seminarian as a Disciple of Christ, helping the seminarian mature towards a definitive decision to follow the Lord in the ministerial priesthood.
The study of Philosophy at this stage of priestly formation is governed by the Code of Canon Law (c.250), the Ratio Fundamentalis (RF 66) and the Ratio Nationalis. The study of philosophy at Vianney College is also regulated and monitored by the requirements of the Pontifical Urbaniana University with which Vianney College is affiliated. Although at this stage Vianney College cannot offer a degree in Philosophy, these studies are a requirement for the Bachelor of Theology degree, granted by the Urbaniana University through Vianney College.
During this period the seminarian will experience some apostolic work, in conformity with his level of formation. There will normally be several hours each week devoted to a task, under supervision. Before he starts this period of formation (i.e. at the end of the propaedeutic period) and again at the end of the first year of Philosophical studies, the student will be allotted to a parish by the bishop, where, during the Advent period, he will experience something of parish life and assist in parish activities, insofar as he is able. At the end of this period of formation, (i.e. at the end of Year 3), the seminarian will usually be directed to enrol in a Clinical Pastoral Education programme at a hospital chosen by his bishop.
The seminarians in this stage of formation are assisted by a non-resident staff member who will be available to them as a Mentor, who acts as an advisor and co-ordinator, working together with the Rector, the Vice-Rector, the Spiritual Director and the Dean of Studies.
At the end of this period a decision is made as to whether the seminarian is ready for advancement to the third stage of initial formation which involves the formal study of Theology. This decision is made by the community of formators, with the help of the seminarian himself, and passed on as advice to the bishop who may confirm the decision or choose another course. Possibilities other than advancement may be: i) a year’s pastoral placement in a parish; ii) a period spent working or studying outside the seminary community but under some supervision and direction from the seminary; iii) (especially for religious seminarians) a return to the religious community to complete some stage of religious or spiritual formation; iv) the termination of priestly formation.
Stage Three. The Stage of Theological Studies (or Configuration).
“In this stage formation concentrates on the configuration of the seminarian to Christ, Shepherd and Servant, so that united to him, he can make his life a gift of self to others.” (RF 68) Theology is integrated with human, spiritual and pastoral formation to allow for the gradual grounding of the seminarian in the likeness of the Good Shepherd. (see RF 69).
The study of Theology and related subjects forms the core of academic life during this period which typically lasts for four years at Vianney College. The first of these years focuses on foundational subjects which are taught every year. The remaining three years are covered in a cycle programme, every subject being taught once in three years.
The details of the academic courses in this period, as in the study of Philosophy, are spelt out by the Urbaniana University which inspects our institute of Theology at regular intervals to enable our affiliation with that university to continue and thus make it possible for our seminarians to gain the Bachelor of Theology at the end of their academic studies. To gain this degree, seminarians must also complete three 4,000 word essays and sit for a comprehensive examination at the end of their course.
At the beginning of this third stage of formation it is possible to admit the seminarian among the candidates for Orders. This decision is made by the seminarian’s bishop following a formal petition from the seminarian and a recommendation by the Rector and his staff.
Early in this period of Theological Studies the seminarian is allotted a parish in his diocese where he will gain much of his pastoral formation. The pastor of that parish will assume the role of a formator, working in union with the seminary Director of Pastoral Formation. The seminarian will go to this parish for longer or shorter periods of placement as arranged by the seminary formators in union with the pastor of the parish. The seminarian will strive to get to know the parishioners who will also be encouraged to contribute, under the pastor, to the formation of the seminarian.
During this period of theological studies the seminarian will receive the ministries of lector and acolyte. Normally he will be considered for lector at the beginning of second year Theology and acolyte at the beginning of third year. These ministries involve liturgical and pastoral roles and the seminarian should be given ample opportunities to exercise them. However, for seminarians, these two ministries are seen more as a preparation for future service of Word and Altar.(see RF 72)
As with the second stage, the seminarians in this stage of formation are assisted by a non-resident staff member who will be available to them as a Mentor, who advises and coordinates, working together with the Rector, the Vice-Rector, the Spiritual Director, the Dean of Studies and where applicable, a Diocesan Director of Formation.
It is desirable that at some stage during the period of Theological Studies that an Ignatian retreat be arranged for each seminarian.
“At the conclusion of this stage, or during the following one, if he has been judged suitable by the bishop, after having heard the formators, the seminarian will petition to receive diaconal ordination.” (RF 73)
Stage Four. Pastoral Stage (Vocational Synthesis).
This stage is defined by RF 74 as “the time from leaving the seminary until the subsequent priestly ordination.” It is normally expected that the seminarian will enter this stage as a deacon, or receive diaconate soon after beginning this period, though there could be cases where this plan is not followed. It will be largely lived in a parish community away from the seminary, though under the supervision of the seminary formation staff. Ideally, the parish, which is chosen by “the Ordinary, by mutual agreement with the Rector,” (RF 76) will be the parish where the seminarian has done most of his pastoral formation, but this may not always be possible or desirable.
The Pastoral Stage must last at least six months but can be extended indefinitely until, in the opinion of all concerned, it seems appropriate to petition for ordination to Priesthood. This occurs at a time determined by the bishop and his advisors, including those who have played a part in formation.