Fr. Shayne Craig says seminarians will start their studies with a year of personal reflection.


Fr. Shayne Craig says seminarians will start their studies with a year of personal reflection.

June 4, 2012

Becoming an ordained priest in Edmonton is getting a bit more intricate or perhaps more labour intensive.

St. Joseph Seminary is introducing an extra year to its formation program to give seminarians more time for reflection. As a result, it may now take nine or more years to become a priest.

The year being added is called a propaedeutic year and is described as "a year of personal reflection" to allow the priestly candidate to enter a quiet space and reflect on his relationship with Christ. During this year, priestly candidates will live and work among the poorest of the poor, just as Jesus did.

Father Shayne Craig, seminary rector, said the propaedeutic year will be added at the beginning of the formation program to give candidates the necessary basis for entrance into theological studies.

Father Sylvain Casavant has been appointed director of the program.

This is the latest change in the seminary formation program. About a decade ago, it added three years of philosophy to the program bringing the formation period to eight years of higher education.


The philosophy program has just been transferred from Concordia University College to St. Joseph's College at the University of Alberta, where it will be offered as a four-year program.

The word "propaedeutic" comes from the Greek "propaideuo," meaning "to teach beforehand." In seminary formation, it designates a year of preparation offered before a seminarian begins studying theology.

Craig said during the propaedeutic year the candidate's prayer life will be deepened through lectio divina, spiritual direction, retreats, days of recollection and the Eucharist.

An introduction to the Catechism of the Catholic Church will be integrated into the program as well as a missionary dimension in which the seminarians will live and minister to the marginalized. This year is also one of personal formation and synthesis, focusing on human, spiritual and Christian formation as a disciple.

The need for sufficient preparation prior to seminary formation was first suggested at the Second Vatican Council and was repeated by Pope John Paul II almost 30 years later.

St. Augustine Seminary in Toronto began offering the propaedeutic program this year. While the overall focus of pastoral formation at St. Joseph Seminary is to introduce candidates to the specific priestly dimensions of pastoral ministry, during the propaedeutic year emphasis is given to promote the growth of the candidates as mature and active disciples of Christ.


To achieve this end, candidates will spend every Thursday in an assigned apostolic work such as serving the poor at the Marian Centre, visiting the sick at hospices and nursing homes, journeying with residents of L'Arche communities and assisting in programs in First Nation communities. Candidates will reflect weekly on these experiences.

The idea here is to enable the candidates "to be truly conformed to the unconditional love Christ has for the least of our brothers and sisters."

In addition to the weekly apostolate, in January the candidates will participate in a month-long immersion either at L'Arche or with the Madonna House Apostolate in Edmonton's inner city.

There are currently 40 seminarians at St. Joseph, including four doing their pastoral internship. Eleven of the 40 are studying for the Edmonton Archdiocese. The rest come from dioceses across Western Canada.


Preparation for the priesthood at St. Joseph's is accomplished in four mutually supportive programs: human formation, spiritual formation, academic formation and pastoral formation.

The integration of these programs nourishes the seminarian and assists him in discerning his call as well as preparing him to effectively fulfill the duties and tasks required of today's priest, said Father Stephen Hero, who will replace Craig as rector in June, in a recent WCR interview.

Since the Second Vatican Council, the Church has had universal norms for the formation of priests.

Normally in North America, a seminarian would have a bachelor of arts degree focusing on philosophy, which takes four years to complete. Then at the seminary he would do a four-year master of divinity degree.


But seminarians come to St. Joseph's with different educational backgrounds. Some already have a bachelor's degree. In that case, "we do not want them to do another bachelor degree" but to just to make up the basic requirements in philosophy, which could take about two years, Hero explained.

Seminarians must have a lot of education because today's priests need to know and be conversant in the sources of the tradition, he said.

The new propaedeutic year will help candidates discern whether they indeed have a call to the priesthood. Craig notes that not all seminarians necessarily become priests. Many leave after realizing the priesthood is not for them.

Last year the seminary had only one deacon. This year it has seven, including Miguel Irizar, 25, who will be ordained a priest for the Edmonton Archdiocese July 2. There are also two ordinations coming up for the St. Paul Diocese, two for Calgary and two for Saskatoon.