Katarina SCHUTH.  SEMINARY FORMATION: Recent History, Current Circumstances, New Directions. Collegeville MN: Liturgical Press, 2016.  pp. 187. $24.95 pb. ISBN 978-0-8146-4800-1.Reviewed by Anthony J. POGORELC, PSS.  The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC.


This book is a must read for bishops, seminary administrators, faculty members, board members and all who are interested in the essential ministry of formation in the Church.   Katarina Schuth surveys the breadth and depth of the topic employing a solid methodology and substantial data to discuss significant issues related to the history and current status of theological schools in the U.S.  The central question that frames this discussion is: How well have seminaries and schools of theology responded to the intentions of Vatican II?

Te book consists of seven chapters covering the following areas:

  1. The effects of Vatican II on the present state of seminaries and theologates
  2. Mission, vision and structures
  3. Leadership: boards, administration, and faculty
  4. Seminarians and Lay students
  5. Human and spiritual formation developments
  6. Intellectual and pastoral formation programs
  7. New Directions in the future  

Schuth concludes each chapter with a thoughtful summary and analysis. There are also five commentaries by experts on leadership, generational differences, human formation, scripture study and preaching preparation and a theme from Pope Francis “the culture of encounter.”

Chapter One looks at the history of seminaries. For 400 years, the Council of Trent shaped seminary formation and stressed following Christ and saving one’s soul as key motivators for becoming a priest.  The Second Vatican Council stressed the integration of the spiritual, doctrinal and pastoral dimensions and how formation was meant to enable effective service of the People of God.   The documents of Vatican II substantially influenced writings on priestly formation for the first quarter century after this council. 

The second chapter examines the five editions of the Program for Priestly Formation (PPF) for the U.S. (1971-2005) and charts their citation of church documents. Over time Pastores Dabo Vobis (John Paul II 1992) and the 1983 Code of Canon Law are cited more frequently than Vatican II documents.  This reflects the development of contention around the interpretation and implementation of Vatican II.  Schuth examines contrasts between the mission statements of diocesan seminaries, which focus primarily on preparation for parish ministry and religious order houses of formation which focus on mission to the world as well collaboration with lay students.  She laments that many bishops prefer clerical and lay students to be in separate classes and suggests the 2008 Vatican visitation reinforced this view.

Chapter Three examines institutional leadership. The development of boards has expanded those with influence on theologates.   However, she asserts that they should include members who can offer a range of perspectives on formation as well as those who can advise about material resources.  The number of administrators has grown. Top administrators tend to have a preference either for the external function: presidency or the internal function: rectorship.  She analyzes how their backgrounds and skills influence their preferences. The composition of faculties is changing. While the number of priests has decreased, their responsibilities have increased. The number of laymen has increased most, followed by lay women.  More faculty members have doctorates.  She provides data on credentials and concentrations. She also discusses how newer and older faculty tend to have very different experiences of church and society. 

Chapter Four examines clerical and lay students.  She is concerned about the educational backgrounds of those beginning theological studies and believes programs of preparation need to be fortified. The Church needs both clerical and lay ministers who can effectively collaborate.  Pastoral needs are great, but replacement rates for both clerical and lay ministers are low. Requirements for seminary admission are now more stringent.  The racial and ethnic profiles of lay students tend to mirror that of the church, while there is an imbalance with seminarians.

All students are expected to engage in human and spiritual formation.  PDV made human formation fundamental. In Chapter Five, Schuth shows how earlier versions of the PPF conflated spiritual and personal formation. In PDV (1992) John Paul II differentiated spiritual and human formation.  While some outcomes of spiritual and human formation are similar, the approaches and rationale are distinct.  She outlines the methods seminaries use in the process of formation.  Edition by edition, she examines how the PPF has treated the presentation of celibacy. The fifth edition discusses celibacy under human formation and addresses concerns raised by the sexual abuse crisis.  She stresses that faculties must be prepared to implement changing approaches to seminary formation or seminarians will be shortchanged.

Chapter Six speaks to concerns about the quality of academic formation. Responding to a survey about the adequacy of academic programs to prepare seminarians for ministry, two thirds of president-rectors expressed satisfaction.  Also, three fourths of them do not think their programs are too demanding. She makes a detailed examination of M. Div. curriculums and their requirements in scripture, systematics, moral theology, historical studies, and pastoral theology.  Because many seminarians lack broad parish experience and familiarity with church ministry in general, it might be expected that the importance of pastoral courses would increase. However, required pastoral credits have decreased as has enrollment in CPE programs. Increases in lay faculty members also may challenge the capacity to draw out the pastoral implications of courses. 

In Chapter Seven, Schuth remains hopeful that seminaries and formation houses will pursue directions that respond more fully to the spiritual needs of the people as well as requirements of the new evangelization.  She offers these recommendations:

  1. All programs need to be reviewed in light of current knowledge of the situation of the Church in the US.
  2. There needs to be an honest appraisal of what has alienated many Catholics and especially the millennial generation.
  3. Future clerical and lay ministers must be taught how to effectively collaborate with one another.
Schuth provides solid data that can be a springboard for further research.  She stresses the importance of such research for the sake of the Church and offers some direction for it.  In the 1960s Norbertine Father Robert Brooks called for major research on seminaries as institutions.  Over 50 years later this project remains undone.  A major question has to do with how open Church and seminary leaders are to such research and to the findings it might generate.