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Lived experience: Pastoral formation helps seminarians learn to live the ministry of a priest

Pastoral training is often seen as on-the-job training for future priests.

But it’s much more than that and continues to evolve, according to Sulpician Father Phillip Brown, president-rector of St. Mary’s Seminary and University at Roland Park, and Father Andrew Baker, president-rector of Mount Seminary. St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg.

Pastoral formation is one of the four fundamental disciplines in the formation of seminarians along with human, intellectual and spiritual formation.

The pastoral work of seminarians in parishes, schools, homeless shelters, hospitals and prisons is where a seminarian can develop passion for how he wants to lead his life as a priest.

St. Mary’s College seminarian and seminarian Mark Donohue visits a patient at St. Joseph’s Medical Center, University of Maryland, Towson on May 11, 2022 as part of the Towson Medical Center Spiritual Care Team. (Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff)

“When the rubber hits the road, it’s about discovering themselves and seeing what their skills are,” said Father Baker, a diocesan priest from Allentown, Pennsylvania, and rector of Mount St. Mary’s since 2015. In their pastoral work, they really see what God has given them, how God wants to use them, and discover what they really like about doing His work.

Father Baker said that of the 157 seminarians at Mount St. Mary’s, about 125 have pastoral missions in which they will participate for four years. They work primarily in the archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington, DC; and the dioceses of Arlington, Virginia, and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

In addition to parishes, schools, and hospitals, some are also responsible for assisting and serving Catholic charities and the courts.

“We try to form in seminarians an expression of Christ as priests,” Father Baker said. “The focus has become much more centered on missionary work and evangelism; reach out like the apostles. In our time and in this culture, it is more and more important to bring the Word to people.

The ultimate goal is to train enriched priests, according to Father Baker.

“Pastoral training is about training great pastors,” he said. “The fruit of all training is that he will be pastor and shepherd of the flock.”

At St. Mary’s, the nation’s oldest seminary, leaders use a team concept to prepare seminarians for the priesthood with teachers and pastors, Fr. Brown said. The university has 73 seminarians in its internal theological school, and all of them have pastoral assignments — one of the signatures of its program, Fr. Brown said.

Seminarians spend time in a single parish in the first, third, and fourth years and do more intense pastoral work in a hospital, prison, or charity site in the second year. The first year is devoted mainly to observation, the second year is more interactive, the third year is devoted to educational programs such as religious education and the fourth year is devoted to the development of leadership skills.

It is an intense program of study, introspection and practical work.

“These guys really have to get down to business when they’re ordained priests,” said Fr. Brown, rector of St. Mary’s since 2016. “Before, they spent four or five years after ordination as parish assistant somewhere. We no longer have that luxury.

Father Baker said the mission is to provide God’s people with the pastors they deserve.

“It’s important that seminarians grow as humans and leaders,” he said, “and that we try to create that pastoral awareness. The goal is to develop good collaboration and leadership skills. They must be an animating and consoling presence.

Transition Deacon Jim Bors chats with fellow Transition Deacon David Ray ahead of the April 11, 2022 Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland. (Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff)

Father Brown said it is important that new priests learn to be spiritually available to parishioners in times of need.

Seminarian Mark Donohue, 31, a second-year theological student at St. Mary’s Seminary, said his work over the past academic year in the spiritual care department at the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson helped him become a priest. and strengthen his faith.

“Especially this year, I think I’ve experienced the most growth as we learn to lay down our lives for the good of others,” said Donohue, who earned a business degree at the University of Maryland at College. Park before deciding to enter the seminary. . “You see some pretty shocking things, people dying and suffering. It is an opportunity to enter into suffering and to accompany people with compassion.

During his first two years in seminary, Donohue worked in pastoral training with Catholic Charities at Our Daily Bread in Baltimore and assisted people with disabilities at Gallagher Services in Timonium.

“At St. Joseph, they really took us under their wing at first, but then let us go to grow as we serve patients and their families,” said Donohue, who grew up as a parishioner. of St. Christopher on Kent Island and attended St. Mary’s High School in Annapolis. “We also served the staff, who were going through a difficult time with the stress of the pandemic.”

Donohue, who is set to be ordained a priest in 2025 for the Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware, says he is blessed to have had pastoral experiences.

“It really helped me mature and live my Catholic faith in a deeper and more meaningful way,” he said.

Deacon James Bors, 61, who will be ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Baltimore in June after more than three decades as a businessman and father, said he appreciates the focus of Mount St. Mary’s on pastoral training.

“It is important for seminarians to learn what life is like as a priest,” said the Naval Academy graduate and parishioner of St. Andrew by the Bay, Annapolis. “It was very enlightening for me. I was very active in my parish for three decades, but I didn’t have much direct experience of what it was like to serve as a priest.

Deacon Bors served his pastoral year at St. John in Westminster and also served at St. Bernardine in Baltimore, Our Lady of Grace in Parkton and St. Peter in Libertytown. Additionally, he taught 11th and 12th grade theology at St. Maria Goretti High School in Hagerstown and organized college evangelistic trips for other seminarians.

“Mount St. Mary’s does a good job of preparing you for all the experience of what life as a priest will be like,” said Deacon Bors, who will begin his work as a priest in the Our Lady of the Chesapeake pastorate and St. Frances de Chantal in Pasadena.

He stressed the importance of learning the administrative and financial aspects of running a parish.

Michael Boris, a 26-year-old from Dallas, Pennsylvania, who is to be ordained to the transitional diaconate in May for the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania, said seminarians enjoy the pastoral training experience. The former Kings College student who has been studying at St. Mary’s for four years spent the last year working with Father Bill Keown at Our Lady of Victory in Arbutus.

“Pastoral work is very invigorating,” Boris said. “It may be some necessary work, but I think most guys really enjoy it.”

Boris said he especially enjoyed sharing what he learned in seminary while leading an RCIA class.

“It’s a nice experience to pass on what you’ve learned to others,” he said.

St. Mary’s Seminary recently received a $1 million grant from the Lilly Endowment which it is using to strengthen its pastoral training process. The seminar is developing two new courses with part of the funds – one on pastoral leadership theory and the other on pragmatic pastoral work skills.

“The grant helps support and aligns with what we are already trying to do,” Fr. Brown said. “We will engage administrators and faculty members to be part of a team to reinvigorate pastoral studies.”

Email Gerry Jackson at [email protected]

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