The Core Elements of Priestly Formation Programs: A Collection of Readings. Volumes 1 – 4. Washington, DC: National Catholic Educational Association, 2005. Pp. 81 / 85 / 57 / 82. ISBN 1-55833-357-6 / 1-55833-358-4 / 1-55833-359-4 / 1-55833-360-6.
Reviewed by Mike JONCAS, University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN 55105

All those involved in the formation of candidates for the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church in the contemporary North American context will find food for thought in these essays. Written for and/or appearing in Seminary Journal over the past decade, the articles represent a variety of viewpoints on topics and issues confronting seminary formation today. Each volume gathers its articles around a particular theme.

Volume One considers “Theological Foundations and Cultural Understandings for Seminary Formation”. Outstanding contributions include: Lawrence Terrien’s “Reflections on Pastores Dabo Vobis, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and Recent Theological Writings” in which the author highlights changes in the understanding of priestly identity between Trent and Vatican II, the kind of human formation needed as foundational for priestly spirituality, and raises questions about configuration of the priest to Christ the Head of the Church, about the theological relationship of diocesan and religious priests, and about the realism with which theological reflection is grounded in the actual lives of priests; James Bacik’s “Diocesan Priesthood: Emerging Patterns” in which the author describes theological, organizational, personal, relational and ecclesial tensions facing contemporary priests and proposes responses to these tensions; and Katarina Schuth’s “A View of the State of the Priesthood in the United States” (published in 2005) in which the author recounts four notable themes relating to priesthood today: 1) that priests generally are satisfied with their ministry, though many experience considerable stress from the excessive demands it makes on them, 2) that priests are deeply and negatively affected by the sexual abuse scandal, 3) that the perceptions and views of younger priests generally are traditional and at odds with more progressive middle-aged and older priests; and 4) that there are growing distinctions between and relationships among order priests and diocesan priests.

“Human and Spiritual Formation” is the organizing theme of Volume Two. While the articles on selecting, screening, and testing candidates for seminary education are helpful and others on emotional and spiritual growth are thought-provoking, I found the most interesting articles to address the formation issues arising from “Gen-X” candidates. Victor Klimoski’s “Teaching a New Generation” notes five characteristics of the contemporary seminary student body: 1) academic preparation no longer follows a predictable pattern based on a common approach to undergraduate education; 2) in a field of study that is heavily text dependent, faculties find large numbers of students who are inefficient and/or disinterested readers; 3) students demonstrate a preference for application of information over and interest in foundational issues and grounded theory; 4) students do not seem curious or drawn to probing beyond the surface of an issue; and 5) there is far-ranging diversity among the students in terms of intellectual ability and training, socio-economic and cultural background, ideological perspective, age, and life experience. James R. Zullo’s “God and Gen-X: Faith and the New Generation” surveys sociological and cultural literature to describe the faith journeys of those born between 1965 and 1980, viewing them as deeply affected by post-modernism; marked by a search for meaningful and sensitive relationships with others, a desire to serve others, and a search for meaning in life and their purpose in the universe; and mentored by communities of imagination, invitation, and affirmation.

Volume Three reflects on “Intellectual and Pastoral Formation”. Articles on field education, pastoral internship, and mentoring and supervision signal the integration of praxis in contemporary seminary education. More foundational articles include: Thomas J. Rausch’s “Forming Priests for Tomorrow’s Church: An Ecclesiological Approach” in which the author lists six ecclesiological principles that need to shape the ministry of priests: 1) catholic inclusivity; 2) legitimate diversity; 3) community and institution; 4) primacy and collegiality; 5) united in liturgy; 6) committed to evangelization; and Robert Leavitt’s “The Formation of Priests for a New Century: Theological and Spiritual Challenges” in which the author records theological and pastoral evaluation of modernity, analysis of the historical achievements and failures of Catholicism, theological premises and pastoral understanding of religious pluralism, and inculcation of better methods of interpretation and skills at communication among the theological challenges and cultivating a lively sense of the divine, a new spirituality of selfhood and its formational consequences, a practical spirituality of celibacy, and a communitarian spirituality styled by and for American individualists among the pastoral challenges. Jeremiah McCarthy’s “Theological Education in a Postmodern Era” is especially good in responding to some of the issues raised in Volume Two.

“Addictions and Ministry Formation” is the topic of Volume Four. Honestly, I would have placed many of these articles in Volume Two under the rubric of human formation, but perhaps the editors felt that the issue of addictions – alcohol, drugs, sexual – is so prevalent and so pressing among our culture and among seminarians that it deserved a volume of its own. These articles reflect a healthy respect for the human sciences assisting in the identification and healing of emotional and affective disorders.

The Seminary Department of the National Catholic Educational Association is to be commended for making these “best practices” articles available to those who may not have a subscription to Seminary Journal.

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