For Seminarians

The following information is for men who are just entering formation and for men who are just leaving. It is a collection of ideas from many men who have walked each path, some of them several times. This page is still under development and will be updated occasionally. Please share liberally.

If you have a thought to add based on your own experience in formation (or as a formator), use the contact tab.

Essential Information for Men Who Enter Seminary

  1. Introduction
    1. Formation is generally a wonderful and privileged time of unprecedented growth in virtue and knowledge
    2. You should know what you are getting yourself into from a practical point of view – not everything is idyllic
    3. Know your specific environment – this text is absolutely not a replacement for knowledge you can and must learn from your own cultural and ecclesial context
    4. Get to know the wisest men in your house and other relevant places, among your equals and superiors, and trust their judgment on particular matters whenever you are struggling with how to handle something difficult, in addition to trusting your spiritual director.
  2. Spiritual
    1. Formation will not prepare you for the priesthood – it is not supposed to. It is to prepare you for ordination, which is what prepares you for priesthood. The entire work of the formation program is to dispose you to God’s grace, not to replace it. Therefore, in the end, God is the primary formator.
    2. Realize the heights which you are ascending to are extremely dangerous, and without a radical awareness of and trust in God’s Tri-Personal activity within you and in the lives of those you serve it will likely end in catastrophe. Read the saints and great authors on this point.
    3. A formation house is a “bubble” for the sake of a contemplative environment in which to meet God through study, prayer, fraternity, and self-examination. From time to time men in formation (and people outside) will complain about “the bubble,” and how it needs to change for this or that reason. While it is important for most men to retain some sense of the “real world,” you have left that world with an express purpose of focusing intensely on developing your interior life, your personal habits, and your intellect together with other like-minded men. Furthermore, your main work of charity now consists in being immersed in the academic, social, and spiritual life of the house, not “projects” or even real apostolates unless directly under obedience. You are the project; you are the apostolate.
    4. God speaks through the formation program in various ways and with various degrees of directness. In most formation programs, obedience is not understood to mean blind adherence to the smallest detail of every word that comes from any superior; it is subtler than this and calls for some practical wisdom (to understand the “spirit” of the law), sometimes involving discussion with superiors about what they really mean and how much they really insist on some counsel or rule. Generally, you should use the sense of obedience which permeates the spirit of the house you are living in, unless it is manifestly unhealthy. Err on the side of being “too obedient.”
    5. Formators are human beings with their own weaknesses and inadequacies. Be patient with them as you would like them to be patient with you; and be aware that some formators who seem totally inept may not be quite as bad as you think.
    6. Men in formation are special targets of the Devil. You must avail yourself of spiritual disciplines which exceed what you are used to using, with due order and discretion. Draw especially close to Mary, Queen of the Clergy. If you have not been in the habit of praying a daily rosary, yesterday is the time to develop that habit.
    7. Find a good spiritual director. He should most of all be an intelligent and prudent man who is well-read in the spiritual classics; he is preferably holy himself, and he is therefore interested in your welfare much more than swelling his own ego. He should never insist that you come to him for direction instead of someone else, unless the relationship is already well-established and there is some evident reason why you should not change directors (such as if you deal with intense scrupulosity, or if you simply dislike his moderate advice because of your ego). You should not try to become “friends” with your director, lest you ruin the ability to be honest with him about your sins. Once you start concealing from him humiliating things going on in your life after becoming “friendly,” be assured it is time for a new director. See more advice here (page 280; this is also a good work to read in general).
    8. A vain kind of “spiritual competition” is an unfortunate reality in some seminaries, especially larger ones, wherein “spiritual cliques” can form. This should be shunned. Therefore, without becoming “unnatural” or “inauthentic,” it is always best to follow the advice of your spiritual director or confessor on when and how to pray and do penance, manifesting your temptations to him as well as your sins. To do all things under obedience is best.
    9. Attitudes about the use tobacco, alcohol, etc. can differ widely from house to house, diocese to diocese, etc. Find out what the “average” use is and aim to be at least a little bit under that.
    10. Consider giving up smoking; consider giving up alcohol; consider giving up “unsavory” music and film; consider giving up any other worldly habits that might be unhelpful for you, unless doing so will lead you into bitterness, despair, neurosis, or especially pride: if you quit a worldly habit, be sure not to look down on others who have not, most of all the men in your house, or else your “asceticism” will be worse than their lack of it.
    11. Do not take on penances that are unusual or conspicuous without permission from your spiritual director; be ready to explain why you need these strange penances rather than normal and less visible ones. The saints and great authors are united on this point.
    12. Avoid making private vows of any kind without the explicit permission of your spiritual director.
    13. Resolve firmly upon entering formation to have no higher aspiration in the hierarchical Church than to be a pastor of a parish or some other very “minor” minister. Desiring higher offices – especially the episcopacy – basically implies you see yourself as fit for them, which is hubristic and can sometimes even be mortal sin; check your ego and consider how much more severe the day of judgment will be for those to whom more has been entrusted.
    14. If possible, and the relevant superior agrees, do an extended silent retreat (such as the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises) before arriving for your first day at the formation house. This will hopefully help you to detach yourself from the world and also from your previous life in the world; it will mark a clear moment of changing from being a normal layman to being in a program of formation.
    15. If you have decided to enter formation without a firm resolve to see through the whole process (i.e. you just want to “try it out”), be advised that this could mean trouble for you later. If after a year or two, you are still not resolved to make it to ordination or solemn vows out of pure motives (rather than simply being afraid of leaving and what that entails), it was likely a mistake to enter when or how you did, and you should probably discuss with your spiritual director a plan to leave until you are ready to make a more serious commitment.
    16. Spiritual reading, especially about how to be a good priest/religious, and also about the lives of the saints, should become a very important part of your daily regimen. However, be cautioned that some classic works will need to be contextualized to your own situation with due prudence; just because a saint did or said something does not mean you must now imitate or obey without discretion.
    17. There are many disciplines in the spiritual life a seminarian or brother in formation should take on, and programs of formation normally insist on the most basic ones (viz., daily Mass, the breviary, frequent confession, etc.). However, a daily Holy Hour (an hour of prayer outside of Mass, preferably in front of the Blessed Sacrament without interruption) is not insisted on strongly in all houses of formation, but it is a crucial practice, as the saints all agree. Making adequate time to prepare oneself for Mass and to give thanksgiving afterward are also noted by the great authors as important, despite some programs’ neglect on this point.
    18. Let the writings of the saints and classic authors augment your program of formation without allowing for unhealthy contradictions of the program or the direction of formators. Use common sense.
    19. In some places, men are tempted not to speak very directly about the Lord and the operation of His grace. This is rooted in attempt to “fit in” – they will prefer to speak about “the Church” and “the diocese/order/community/province.” Be a leader and fight against this temptation by setting an example of moderately vulnerable pious conversation; don’t overdo it.
    20. Do not be the most “charismatic” man in the house. If you are “laying hands,” “speaking in tongues,” or other such things, you should probably stop. There are theological, prudential, and moral reasons for ceasing such activity; the latter is clearly the temptation to see yourself as the most spiritual man in the house.
    21. Consider creating a “rule of life” (regular/habitual resolutions, such as commitment to prayer, penance, and other disciplines exceeding what is required by the program of formation already) that will help to keep you from settling for mediocrity. Discuss its content and rigor regularly with your spiritual director, as well as how you are doing with following it.
    22. Be ready for temptations to backslide, especially in the life of prayer, on long trips away from the seminary. This is true most of all on visits to family. Do not take the “vocation vacation.”
    23. The greatest excuse to do something mediocre is to appeal to the example of other seminarians and clergy: “They do it, so it must be okay.” Remember always that your example is primarily Christ, and then the saints who have gone before you, and then the most outstanding men of your contemporaries whom you most admire. If you can’t see any of the priests you look up to the most doing whatever it is you are doing (all things being equal), it is probably a good idea not to do it.
    24. If you are in an area that is very dangerous for seminarians, you should prepare yourself before entering for the possibility of the worst, without expecting it to happen. Realize what risks you are taking in terms of safety, for yourself and for others close to you.
    25. Strive to do the ordinary things in formation extraordinarily well, that is, with as much prudence and charity as you can; extraordinary things will then become easy for you over time.
  3. Psychological
    1. Your community or diocese may have given you a psychological evaluation before allowing you to enter formation. If so, this data will likely play a limited part in your house’s personalized program of formation for you. In some cases, you may have a right to know what your psychological report says about you – but you should review it with a trained professional, if you review it at all.
    2. Many men are very nervous in their first year or two of formation; it is normal to feel a little anxious, but it is not normal to be paranoid or to become a “perfectionist,” which will bring everyone down. Accept that you will make mistakes. (In extremely rigid houses of formation, which are multitudinous in certain parts of the world, it is true that the smallest outward mistake can mean dismissal – often this leads to invisible or hidden moral and spiritual compromises, or an extremely lax and wicked life after initial formation is over; avoid this at all costs, and turn yourself more and more over to prayer and to the counsel of good and prudent priests/religious who have gone through the same system. Remember the unnecessary pressures and the specific problems they cause, perhaps even keeping a journal, so that if and when you are a formator in the same system you will be clearer about what should change and why.)
    3. It is good to expect your formators and the program to be wholesome and reasonable, but it is stupid and dangerous to expect them to be perfect; you will set yourself up for disappointment, frustration, and tension if you have unrealistically high expectations.
    4. Entitlement and narcissism can become large problems in seminaries, especially for men who have not lived in the real world of salaried work and who therefore struggle to appreciate the privileged gift of having almost everything provided by other people’s hard-earned money. If you find yourself complaining about your accommodations, or the food, or your stipend, then consider how much the average family in a poorer parish that your diocese/community ministers to would appreciate having all the same amenities for the same amount of work that you do, and how much they would be hurt to hear you complaining about the free room and board they are graciously helping to pay for you to have so that you can one day have the privilege and joy to serve them as a priest.
    5. Bitterness, resentment, and unhealthy sarcasm can slowly encroach on the joy and openness with which young men typically approach formation, which is a sad but frequent phenomenon deriving from various sources, such as one’s expectations about formation not being met, an inadequate ascetical life, or a failure to form meaningful friendships among the brethren. Frequently, these things can be learned from more senior men in the house. Realize that it is not good to “fit in” by matching the negative attitude of other men who are further along in the pipeline, however tempting it may be, as it is easy and feels good. Rise above this “cheap power,” and consistently stay above it beyond your first years when it is not too difficult, and you will eventually slowly begin to draw men up with you. On the other hand, being artificially cheery and optimistic will often not be appreciated. Sometimes moderate commiseration is really the most appropriate thing, although this too should be turned toward charity as much as possible.
    6. Generally speaking, if there is a genuine problem in the house or in your life of formation, try to complain primarily to those who can do something about it. To “vent” to one or two trusted friends in the house is fine, as long as there is no detraction or gossip, but to tell everyone who will listen to you is unhelpful and can lead to trouble.
    7. Some programs of formation, especially in certain parts of the world, are truly stressful. Many programs are incredibly relaxed, but men will nonetheless think they are stressful; if one is in doubt, he should find someone in medical school to talk to about a day’s work – an education program which is only ordered toward promoting and protecting the health of the body, not the health of the soul as the priest will serve, a much more complex and important task.
    8. Many houses of formation offer the regular opportunity to meet with various counselors or psychologists (generally you could also easily request to see someone if it is not offered). You should not feel any kind of stigma or shame in going to speak with such professionals. They are usually well aware of how formation works and what kinds of problems men deal with; they will not think you are “weak” for coming to them to get their help in working through a problem, in fact, it could be quite the opposite. Do not let vanity keep you from availing yourself of a resource which can ultimately help you become a better human being and a better priest or religious.
  4. Social
    1. Making the transition to seminary or religious life fundamentally changes one’s relationship with friends who are living normal lives in the world, but primarily on one one’s own side. Unless your friends outside have had the experience of formation, they are unlikely to understand your life and its joys and challenges. You should focus almost all of your social energy then on getting to know other men in formation and in your diocese or community, as well as people in any apostolates you are given. Maintaining many relationships outside of your new world will distract from your immersion in the formation program.
    2. While you might have the ability to influence some old friends in the world for the good, realize that many will struggle to see you as having changed from the time before your entry into seminary; this goes double for family members. If you want to reach out to such people, maybe try introducing a brother seminarian to them, who will have much more “moral authority.” Focus your pastoral energy on apostolates given to you by your superiors and on people you encounter by Divine Providence.
    3. Your family is an important part of your formation process, albeit mostly in an indirect way, through prayer and other kinds of support. They can also give you advice in a way that others who know you less well could not. If they oppose your decision to enter formation, you should consider their reasoning seriously, and if you decide to persevere, their opposition can become a heavy but special cross. Helping them get to know other men in formation could help them to come around.
    4. A few young women are acceptable to have as distant casual friends if you got to know them well before entering formation, but they are no longer acceptable to spend much time with, especially alone, most of all alone in private. Even if a man thinks himself to be above any temptations which may come his way – which is foolish, as all the saints agree – he may also lead young women into temptation and will likely cause unnecessary gossip about what he and she are up to if he is not very careful. If for some serious reason a man must spend some extended time alone with a young woman in public, let alone in private, he should tell his immediate superior or at least a few equals so that he can protect himself and keep himself accountable. (Due to the watchful eyes of weak souls in our fallen world, this could often even extend to spending time in public alone with one’s own female siblings, cousins, etc. – unless every onlooker is likely to know you are related or not know you are a seminarian, they are likely to wonder what you are up to, which is best avoided. Consider going out in a group or staying at a family residence.)
    5. Some women are very aggressive in their pursuit of seminarians and clergy, whether they realize it or not. Any young woman who seems to be trying to get you to “notice” her should be avoided, even if she is married (i.e., she is constantly flattering you for your alleged piety or wisdom, she is always trying to pull you aside to talk to you alone after Mass, she wants you to meet with her to give her “spiritual direction,” etc.). Generally speaking, the following guidelines will be best to follow: do not take on pastoral problems of young women individually (viz. no individual counseling sessions); do not accept more than one personal gift per year from young women who are single; do not accept or make phone calls to young single women late in the evening, or respond to their texts or emails late in the evening; forward any written communications from women which are suggestive or inappropriate to your immediate superior; never go to the home of a young woman without other people present unless you are told to go by a superior or there is some real emergency, in which case you should make the visit as brief and as professional as possible and communicate with your immediate superior about what happened as soon as you can, even letting him know that you are there in the moment if possible by phone; do not open up very much emotionally or “spiritually” to young women who are not your relatives. If a necessary pastoral situation places you in front of an emotionally vulnerable young woman, when she wants to cry, offer a tissue, not your shoulder. Stay away from the fire, or else you will eventually be burned.
    6. Depending on the specific circumstances of your formation house and local environment, seminarians and religious can become generally publicly known figures. Be sure always to carry yourself well in public, assuming that someone who sees you knows you are in formation even if you are not wearing clerics or a habit.
    7. Many diocesan seminaries and religious communities have a “mold” that a man is more or less expected to fit into by a certain point (normally First Theology). A failure to “fall in line” can lead to difficulty relating with peers and can even be perceived as a formation problem. Many men are sent to seminaries which are well-suited to their own needs where they will have a basically smooth and happy time “falling in line” with the mold. A man who finds himself not fitting in with the other men in his diocesan seminary due to major social differences and personal habits, after discussing with the appropriate figures the possibility that he is simply in need of self-amendment, should discuss also the possibility that another seminary could be more freeing for him to focus on studies, prayer, etc., rather than focusing on trying to “fit in.” After a year or two, the seminarian will likely have had the opportunity to visit other houses of formation, and he will probably at least know a few men who are in other houses, so he can easily enough get an idea of the differences in the social milieu. Men who do not have the option to change seminaries must find a way to get along without repression.
    8. The larger the house of formation is, the easier it is to “disappear.” This is not a healthy thing, though it can be tempting, especially for men who don’t quite fit the mold or are otherwise having a difficult time. If you are “submarining” then make a conscious effort to force yourself out of your room and to engage with the life of the house. If you notice another man is “disappearing,” try to help him out in a natural and authentic way.
    9. Fraternal correction is a difficult subject which requires some practical wisdom – generally, with regard to minor personal habits which men observe among each other that are found annoying or inappropriate by a majority of people, it is good to approach the man directly, face to face in private or in a very small group of equals (such as classmates), and politely and humbly ask him to consider changing his behavior (i.e. loud music, bad hygiene, inappropriate clothing, violating some minor rule of the house, etc.). Avoid correcting someone on the first instance of a mistake unless the correction comes organically, and avoid telling a formator about habitual minor issues you notice before you have tried speaking with the man himself or know that someone else already has. Major issues should really not be handled by seminarians among themselves (i.e. inappropriate relationships with women, consistently effeminate behavior, problem drinking, heavy gambling, serious misconduct in apostolates, etc.)
    10. It can be a good idea to keep your door open while you are in your room unless you absolutely need privacy or some particularly intense focus (it is an old Dominican practice). This helps keep you accountable to others who will see you working – or not working – and it can help you be present to the community of your house in a healthy way. (On the other hand it is usually good to lock your room while you are gone, if possible, but it is suspicious to lock your door while you are inside.)
    11. Diocesan seminary is not about “making friends.” The men you should intentionally become close with are those with whom you will be spending the rest of your life around, viz., men from your diocese or neighboring dioceses. They may not be the men you enjoy the most, but it doesn’t matter, and in fact, if this is the case it will only make growing in charity a simpler task than if you naturally enjoyed them. It is not “wrong” to make friends with other men, but it should not be near the top of your priorities. You are in formation to improve yourself, not to get to know people.
    12. In recent years in many places, there has been major progress regarding the non-admittance of homosexual men to formation programs. However, this is still a phenomenon which occurs, sometimes knowingly, sometimes unknowingly. (It is more common in some places of the world than others.) Realize that there is probably very little you can proactively do about such men (or do for them) if you encounter them, other than praying for them and their superiors, unless you can produce some kind of serious evidence of grave misconduct to a superior you personally trust. If you yourself are ever even close to being solicited in any way, whether by a brother in formation or by a superior, tell someone in authority immediately, ideally in person and in writing, according to the protocols of your house and diocese or community.
    13. Some houses of formation do “peer evaluations”; if they are anonymous, a system about which there are many opinions, it is probably often best to treat the exercise as if there is a medium-level chance that the people you are evaluating will find out that it is you who said such-and-such about them, either from inference or a leak in information. This keeps you fair. You may even consider telling your brothers individually what you anonymously said about each of them to help keep paranoia about who-said-what to a minimum and to open a chance to address any real issues you perceive in someone. As someone being evaluated by your peers, realize that they are in the same position as you are with respect to them – knowing what peer evaluations are like to give to others, do not take large amounts of criticism as personal attacks or even as something really serious unless your formators indicate that it is such.
    14. Avoid at all costs a combative, “secretive,” or manipulative attitude with the formation team and individual formators. When you start to think in terms of “us against them,” or “what can I get away with,” you know you are in trouble and need to reassess your approach to formation. Manifest these thoughts to your spiritual director.
    15. Seriously consider giving up hobbies that you do not think would befit the priests or religious you most admire, or which have a tendency to suck you away from healthy socialization and prayer. Chief among such hobbies would include video games/computer games and binge-watching television/streamed content.
    16. It is often best not to “stick out” too much in formation except in the following ways: being exceptionally prayerful and pious (without seeming “fake” or “saccharin”) or being generally virtuous, especially as a good follower and a good leader; being very athletic or perhaps musically talented; excelling at academics, principally by getting good grades; making yourself incredibly useful around the house.
    17. Be deferential to the older men in the house – those older in class and those significantly older in age. However, don’t assume that they are wise simply by having spent more time in formation or on Earth.
    18. Sometimes, there will be “favorites” in the house. Don’t resent men who are well-liked by the formation team, even if you rightly think their special treatment is not deserved. Do not try to become a “favorite,” or the subsequent resentment from brother seminarians will be well-earned.
    19. Do not be weird. If you have to ask someone if what you are doing is weird, then it is probably weird, and you should stop. If you don’t realize what you are doing is weird, someone will probably let you know, and then you should stop.
  5. Ecclesiastical
    1. Seminarians and religious who have not been ordained as deacons are “laymen with an asterisk.” One might think that the asterisk brings more esteem and authority among the clergy and religious of the diocese. Sometimes this is true, but it can often be quite the opposite – including once one is a transitional deacon or even a new priest. The paradigm of formation is that you are the one who needs to learn. Realize that many times, even if you are relatively well-read and experienced in some ways, you may think you know more than you really do. You are in formation to learn, often by making mistakes.
    2. In general, until you are a priest or are in solemn vows, you are very vulnerable and somewhat easy to “discard.” As someone in formation, your vulnerability (and normally your youth) removes almost every obligation to correct a superior (viz., any priest) except in the most extreme circumstances. Normally, problematic clergy are already well-known as having issues, and you are not likely to get them to change unless perhaps you can befriend them and gain their respect and trust, which could take a considerable amount of time and energy (often better spent doing something else). Overall, clergy are generally not receptive to being told how to do clerical things by seminarians or young religious, and you are rarely obliged to try to get another cleric to do the correcting either. It is best to keep your head down, be quiet, and get ordained, except in the most extreme cases. In situations where you feel forced to participate in something immoral, such as low to medium level liturgical abuse (i.e. doing the wrong readings for Mass, setting out glass vessels, “preaching” as a layman, using inappropriate postures, etc.), generally assume that you are not at moral fault for such cooperation, despite its seemingly “direct” and serious character; feeling displeasure with such cooperation is good, but refusal is not often actually obligatory. In cases of doubt, it is normally best to go along with your superior and then to take counsel with a trusted mentor after the incident. Grave cases of liturgical abuse can warrant some immediate correction or outright refusal (i.e., being told to read the Gospel at Mass as a layman, being told to treat the Eucharist in a directly sacrilegious way, being told to recite the words of the Eucharistic prayer like a concelebrant, etc.) as well as other serious moral offenses, especially those which touch on civil law. You are also generally not responsible for correcting any cleric’s theology, although sometimes asking respectful and tactful questions can be helpful.
    3. Avoid expressing strong opinions about controversial topics in Church “politics” except with very close friends, and then remember to be charitable. If you do not know what topics are controversial then avoid expressing any opinion at all on such things, just ask genuine questions instead and educate yourself. Often, it is better to remain quiet anyway. Nobody asked you for your opinion on who the next bishop of such-and-such a diocese should be, so why are you bothering to share it? If they did ask, realize that they probably should not have.
    4. It goes without saying that you should to get to know the men in your diocese/community who have made it through formation; but you should especially get to know men who went to the same house for their studies, particularly those who recently graduated, and ask their advice as often as you need to.
    5. If you live near your diocese while in formation, you should take every reasonable opportunity you can to go visit different parishes and apostolates without disrupting your studies or other obligations. You should be frequently studying your diocese (or community/order) to learn who’s who, what’s what, how things work, and the character of the challenges which might await you once you are done with formation, so that you are ready to face them when they come.
    6. There are very different ideas about what constitutes healthy communication with one’s bishop or regional/provincial superior depending on the diocese or community. In some smaller dioceses, bishops are open to receiving regular emails and even text messages from seminarians – in some major metropolitan sees, this is unthinkable, and to behave in such a way would be seen as a problem with following channels of communication or even perceived as “clericalism.” Find out how the men in your same position relate with the bishop or other superiors and do as they do. When in doubt, ask an immediate superior his advice.
    7. As every man will quickly discover, there are two “forums” in a formation house – the external, and the internal, which generally includes information disclosed in private spiritual direction in addition to confession. It is important for everyone’s sake not to mix the two together. In general, it is better not to make confession to formators except your normal or designated confessor (or any specially designated confessors for the house), as this protects both you and them from unnecessary tensions. Typically, your regular confessor or spiritual director, as well as official house spiritual directors, will be forbidden from discussing you at formation meetings or making any formal recommendations about you (viz., voting on your advancement in formation), which frees you to be open in the internal forum about your real problems, fears, and desires. While it is important not to conceal major habitual challenges from other formators, it is usually not expected or even desired that you put all of your personal problems (or opinions) out into the external forum for judgment. In cases of doubt, talk with your spiritual director or confessor and follow his advice.
    8. If your spiritual director starts to blur lines between the internal and external forums, it might be a good idea to find a new director if possible, for his sake and yours.
    9. Divest yourself of social media if at all possible, as it is very liable to waste your time and is a snare for you in many ways. Also refrain from posting comments in “comboxes” or carrying on discussions on message boards, which can easily suck you in, often without much fruit ever manifesting. Whatever you do, do not blog/vlog, make highly public statements (i.e. through news sources), or run a website without explicit permission. If you must have an online presence, assume that everything you write/say will end up in your file even if you think your anonymity or content is protected. If a news outlet (including a Catholic one) approaches you for an anonymous statement about something controversial in your diocese, seminary, etc., direct them to ask an immediate superior if you may do so; you are likely to be found out anyway, and even if you are not it is unbecoming of seminarians to do such things.
    10. While practices vary from place to place, many diocesan seminarians, especially those in Theology, wear clerical attire. As with most things, while in a formation program you should basically find out what is the normal practice and follow it, excluding outliers – men who disdain clerical attire altogether, and men who essentially sleep in a collar. Once you are a cleric, you should feel freer to make your own decisions – though you should generally look for reasons to be in clerical attire rather than the other way around. A good rule of thumb can be that if you are the only one in a group of seminarians and/or clergy, and nobody else is wearing clerics, and you are not the senior man or near to being such, you should probably not wear clerics.
    11. Depending on your local circumstances, it can be an extremely unwise decision to wear a cassock outside of liturgical events where it is required. Find out what is the normal practice among other men and do likewise. Any attempt by a seminarian to insist on wearing a cassock because it is “better” despite it not being the outward norm not only risks unnecessary external pressures but also can threaten to swell your ego, even though it is true the Church officially indicates the cassock as the norm.
    12. Liturgy is a very touchy subject in general in the Church in many corners of the world, especially (but not exclusively) about the Extraordinary Form (the “Traditional Latin Mass” of Trent) “vs.” the Ordinary Form (the “Novus Ordo” of St. Paul VI). Be advised that taking strong public stands on liturgical issues as a man in formation can be unnecessarily damaging to yourself and divisive for the house. In general, stay away from the extremes on both sides of a question and educate yourself about what is at stake in the discussion, what are the foundational documents, etc. Do not become part of the trope, “Ask three seminarians, get five opinions.”
    13. Learn your whole rite and its proper language, however you can without danger.
    14. Do not share with anyone except your closest friends in formation any strong opinions on secular politics, except issues which involve intrinsic evils in a very direct way (i.e. abortion, euthanasia, Communism, transgenderism, etc.). In general, other political affairs “as such” are beneath the interests of the Church anyway (tax rates, most parts of immigration policies, gun control plans, etc.).
    15. Avoid talking much about “conspiracy theories” in the Church, even well-founded ones. This would include but is not limited to the “Bella Dodd recruits,” Freemasons, the “St. Gallen Group,” and the “Lavender Mafia,” together with the many authors/bloggers/commentators who frequently speak about these issues. All of these problems may be quite real to some extent within the Church, but it is better to keep your opinions on these things to yourself. Do not muse about sedevacantism (in any of its forms), even privately to yourself – this is not a well-founded conspiracy, historically, canonically, or theologically.
    16. As a seminarian or a brother in simple vows, you are almost definitely not called to be a great “reformer” of anything in the formation program or your diocese/community (let alone in the Church) other than yourself. In general, you must really consider which “battles” are worth fighting. Remember that you are just beginning your ecclesiastical career, and the reputation you gain now will influence how you are treated later on by those with the most power. Even when a superior does something unreasonable, it usually does not fall to you to point out the mistake, and you should be obedient as you can be within reason; this can often include following orders which the superior may not actually have the real authority to give. However, you should also take stands when appropriate, or else you risk becoming a scarecrow-cleric who never actually does much good for anyone because he is afraid it might compromise his ability to do more good at a later time, a time which never seems to come. Use careful prudence, yes, but temper it with fortitude, faith, and charity.
  6. Professional
    1. As a diocesan seminarian, you will likely receive income from only two sources; the diocese, and personal gifts. It is a good practice to be very open with your immediate superior in your diocese about any financial support you are receiving, especially larger or habitual gifts. In finances, it is always better to over-communicate than to under-communicate. This habit will also serve you well if you are ever an administrator in the Church (i.e. a pastor, a rector, etc.), a role over which suspicion of financial misconduct is growing in some parts of the world.
    2. There is no canonical prohibition on diocesan seminarians earning an income, but in most contexts this is a colossally bad idea without explicit permission from your immediate superior, and probably even your bishop.
    3. The way religious poverty is lived varies widely from community to community – learn the character of poverty in your community and order, and err on the side of being too transparent and too outwardly poor.*
    4. You should assume that every written communication you make to someone who is even tangentially related to your formation program (including priests in your diocese/community) will go into your file. If you must leave a paper trail of your interactions, which occasionally can be a good idea if there is a confusing situation (to “set the record straight”), make sure it is primarily to clarify facts in a respectful and deferential way proper to your position as someone in formation, not to “argue” with people or to “whine,” let alone to badmouth a brother or most of all a superior.
    5. Sell your nice car and buy a cheaper one that is still robust enough to be reliable and useful. Don’t buy the nicest clothes and newest technology unless you really have to. Perhaps you could aim to live just below what is average for a family in your diocese or local community.
    6. Personal liturgical items (i.e., vestments, books, etc.) should be invested in much more than your personal “life” items, and the investment must be done with a mind to glorify God rather than to make people think you are holy (which can be seriously sinful) or even simply to suit your own “tastes” unless the matter is truly objectively “indifferent.” If you are not concerned at all with your appearance on the altar except to “get by,” then this should probably be brought up in your next confession – liturgical vestments and implements should be pristine if possible because they are the outward instruments of our glorification of God, which reveal our interior disposition of reverence for Him and the things of Him.
    7. Formation is generally not a time to hone technical/professional skills you bring from outside, as that can be quite distracting, although skills which authentically serve the good of the community can and should be used after asking permission from the superior of the house (i.e. if you are an auto mechanic, an IT specialist, a medical doctor, etc.), although you do need to keep in mind that you have started a new phase of life and are no longer doing your previous work as your life’s work; men who bring professional skills which are more “creative” and athletic should generally strive to set these things aside for the time being, at least to a large degree.
    8. In many places today, ecclesiastical men are hunted by unscrupulous lawyers and other greedy or disturbed opportunists. Go out of your way to know and follow the rules and best practices of your diocese or community regarding sexual harassment and child protection (and also finances). Even without doing anything immoral, you can still accidentally make yourself an easy target. For instance, it is generally a good idea to avoid being alone with a minor without an open door or a window. It is also worth considering keeping a meticulous (but not neurotic) calendar, marking down the who, what, when, and where of each day, even after the fact, so that you can protect yourself and others from false accusations of misconduct. A little vigilance can go a long way on this point. (A study of the famous case of Cardinal Pell could be instructive.)
    9. If your seminary does not teach basic finance and accounting, take it upon yourself to find a way to learn these skills. Plenty of laymen will likely be very happy to help you for free. There are also some options to learn this online or in special programs.*
    10. Learn about the policies related to taxes, health insurance, car insurance, etc. of your diocese/community.
  7. Recommended Reading on Formation (In general, men in formation should read the major documents in the genre of “how to be a good priest,” from older and newer sources; they should also read the great classical spiritual masters, as well as the more recent “synthetic” commentators, like Garrigou-Lagrange, Tanquerey, Aumann, etc. Here is a list of reading more geared toward flourishing in formation “as such” over and above simply developing the spiritual life and clarifying the nature of priestly ministry):
    1. Scripture – all of it (don’t get ordained without having at least read the whole Bible)
    2. Canon law – the whole Code should be studied continuously (in particular, the sections on the Sacraments), with good commentaries, but these are especially important parts to read, some depending on your circumstance
      1. Latin
        1. C. 232-293 (Sacred Ministers or Clerics)
        2. C. 368-430 (Particular Churches and the Authority Established in Them)
        3. C. 469-494 (The Diocesan Curia)
        4. C. 573-606 (Norms Common to All Institutes of Consecrated Life)
          1. C. 607-709 (Religious Institutes)
          2. C. 710-730 (Secular Institutes)
          3. C. 731-746 (Societies of Apostolic Life)
        5. C. 515-552 (Parishes, Pastors, and Parochial Vicars)
        6. C. 897-958 (The Most Holy Eucharist)
        7. C. 1008-1054 (Holy Orders)
      2. Eastern (under construction)
    3. Ancient monastic rules (these help to describe good ideals for living in common, though they must obviously be adapted to your own situation)
      1. The Rule of St. Augustine
      2. The Rule of St. Benedict
      3. Others
      4. Also various “anecdotes” from the Desert Fathers about formation
    4. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 179-189 (On various states and duties in life)
    5. Writings and biography of St. Charles Borromeo (principal visionary and founder of the seminary system)
    6. Various writings of St. Francis de Sales (“Finding God’s Will for You,” his letter to a young man discerning religious life [see the anthology of his letters, “Thy Will Be Done”], etc.)
    7. Various works of St. Alphonsus Liguori (any of his writings on clerical life and on doing the will of God*)
    8. Ecclesiastical Seminaries,” entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia
    9. The “Trochu biography” of St. John Vianney, especially the chapters leading up to his ordination (this is the classic early biography written based on the canonization process testimonies; other biographies are available – Fr. Miller’s text is especially good but is more reflective)
    10. Magisterial texts on formation
      1. Pastores Dabo Vobis
      2. Optatam Totius
      3. Older texts
    11. Local legislative documents on formation (e.g. “The Program of Priestly Formation” for Americans)
    12. The relevant governing documents for the formation program of your diocese and seminary (read the handbook of your seminary cover-to-cover at least twice!)
    13. Various papal and curial documents and speeches
      1. Redemptionis Sacramentum” (read in light of what was said about vulnerability and mitigated responsibility)
      2. Familiaris Consortio” (helpful for understanding questions on pastoral ministry to families, a very sensitive subject today in some places)
      3. Speech to Seminarians,” Pope Benedict XVI (World Youth Day, Cologne, 2003)
      4. Letter to Seminarians,” Pope Benedict XVI (October 18, 2010)
    14. Books on the history of your seminary and diocese/community/order
    15. Books on leadership and habit formation
    16. Books on the state of the Church in general
    17. A Guide to Formation Advising for Seminarians (a practical step-by-step introduction to the [American] formation process)
    18. Social Manual for Seminarians (perhaps a bit outdated or inappropriate in some ways for certain cultures but still great if you can get your hands on a copy)
    19. The Art of Manliness (an excellent blog for developing “human” skills especially proper to men)
    20. Goodbye Good Men (especially for Americans – this is the classic text on the troubles of American seminaries starting the 60’s)

Essential Information for Men Who Leave Seminary

  1. Introduction
    1. General advice can sometimes be hard to give
    2. Experiences differ widely; for some, exiting is like combining the negative social and professional elements of being released from prison with the emotional pain of a divorce. For others, it is completely the opposite.
    3. Just as often as it is a peaceful and happy time to exit, it is a difficult experience
    4. If you have had a difficult exit, know that there are many other men who have a hard time after an exit as well
    5. Whatever the case, this is a time of purification if endured well
  2. Spiritual
    1. Know that Jesus Christ remains the Lord; He remains God the Son, together with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, each of Whom loves you perfectly and wants your friendship forever, and that only this will make you truly happy regardless of your state in life. Do not leave the Church – rather, leave your old ideas about the Church and about Christ. Do not go off and “release energy” by sins or generally reckless living.
    2. It is completely normal to feel very upset and confused, especially after a dismissal. Do not think it is a sin to have negative emotions, and even if you go to some excesses be patient with your weakness; you are not a saint yet, and it is prideful to assume you are already so spiritually perfected as to deal with such a shock with complete solicitude.
    3. Leaving or being dismissed does not make you a failure as a human being – only final impenitence does that.
    4. The time after an exit is a period to examine yourself and your time in formation honestly. Questions you might ask yourself, perhaps together with a spiritual director, could include, “Why did I enter in the first place? Was that a valid motivation?” “What kept me there as long as I was?” “Why did I leave/why was I dismissed? Was this really a valid reason? What can I learn from it if it was/wasn’t?” “Do I perceive any desire within myself to return to formation? If not, why? If so, what could be drawing me still? Is that a reasonable and authentic desire, or is it a cover for some deeper and impure motivation?” On the other hand, introspection should not become self-obsession or a neurotic worry about the past or the future. You can only go forward, and you can only go forward day by day.
    5. If your desire for ordination or religious life endures after an exit, it will be especially important to examine the purity of your motivation to re-enter formation. You should be wary of feeling that it is your responsibility “ex nihilo” to return to formation. You don’t have to be a priest/religious “just because.”
    6. In unhappy exits, especially dismissals, attempts at encouragement after the fact from formators or superiors who had a role in the situation may seem like unbearable condescension. Remember that they probably really mean what they say, and that they do not take pleasure in the work of giving hard advice or difficult news; if they do not mean what they say, or they do take pleasure in giving difficult words, then they are really terrible priests, and you should pray for them and love them all the more.
    7. If you were dismissed and the superior insists you may not return, know that it is absolutely impossible that it is God’s will for you to be a priest/religious with the diocese/community which asked you to leave, at least at this time; due to the “grace of state” which comes with his office and is manifested by what he makes obligatory or impossible, the superior infallibility discerns the will of God in this case, even if he discerns it without the virtue and wisdom proper to his office. This is true even if the superior’s reasons are clearly petty, malicious, or based on falsehood, as God’s reasons are not these things.
    8. You may be very tempted to speak badly about many people, especially clergy, who were part of your formation process and who also helped decide to dismiss you or who may have made you so upset that you decided to leave; remember that these clerics are mere human beings, and that you want to see their ministries flourish for the good of souls and whom you want to be friends with forever in Heaven. Part of your sanctification now is holding your tongue and loving those who treated you badly and rejected you, just like Christ, Who was and is much better than you and Who was and is treated much worse than you.
    9. Being treated badly by the hierarchical Church is a special cross which Christ gives to those whom He wants to bring very close to Him; you have a privileged opportunity to love the Church the way Christ loves the Church, that is, selflessly.
    10. God has a better plan for His glory in your life than what you were previously pursuing in formation, even if He really wanted you there for some time in the past; perhaps you are supposed to use your formation in a different way to serve Him, or perhaps you are supposed to return to formation at a later time, but in either case you always have what you need in order to do the will of God, Who has led you to the present moment in His inscrutable Providence and perfect Love.
    11. As much as possible, retain the spiritual disciplines and regimen that you had while in seminary; allowing yourself “space” and “time” should not mean space and time away from God in prayer. However, if you are falling short, even simply due to a lack will, know that your effort to continue living like a seminarian or religious without the external helps of the formation program is the result of virtue, even if not yet perfect virtue. Once you settle into a normal routine of work outside of formation, your prayer life will help to point you in the right direction of whether to attempt a re-entry or not.
    12. If you were dismissed under controversial circumstances, many kind and pious people will offer you the same anecdotes of saints who persevered through difficult periods of formation. While it may be frustrating to hear over and over about St. John Vianney’s bad Latin, at bottom these are not banal platitudes and are also well-meaning attempts to encourage you coming from people who probably really care about your welfare. Also remember two things, each humbling in its own way. First, while it is true that many saints had trials in seminary and even were told to leave, many non-saints also had the same experience; you are not a saint yet. Maybe you really were a bad seminarian or religious and needed to go. Second, you can and should use this experience to become a saint, whether it was just or unjust to ask you to leave.
    13. Many people might have bad opinions about you after you leave. Consider in fairness whether they are justified; if so, strive to amend yourself. If not, take it as a great opportunity to grow in charity and the awareness of God as the only stable Friend you can really have, along with the saints in Heaven.
    14. It should be a consolation that there are many saints who were not priests or religious; on the contrary, it should not be a consolation that there are many bad priests and religious, a thought which if willfully allowed to become delightful inordinately swells the ego and greatly displeases God, Who hates that there are bad priests and religious upon the Earth.
    15. So many things about your experience “do not matter.” Focus more and more on what positive gain you had from your time in formation so that you can channel that towards whatever is coming next.
    16. Do not be a Pelagian. Your salvation comes through habitual sanctifying grace, not by “doing things.” It is good enough simply to exist, in charity, recognizing yourself to be loved by God because of His superabundant goodness. If you do have deep wounds to heal, simply allowing yourself to be calm and peaceful will be more helpful than “self-help activism” or a “plan.”
    17. If you were dismissed, resist at all costs the temptation to “prove yourself” by getting accepted into another formation program. This attitude is sometimes appropriate for the entertainment business but never for an ecclesiastical career. It is not God’s will that you “prove yourself,” to others, to yourself, or to Him.
    18. Maybe you are really not called to religious life or priesthood, a consideration which can reasonably bring great sorrow if you have invested a lot of time and energy in pursuing an ecclesiastical career. Strive to keep the perspective of eternity: in Heaven, you will be a religious at least, just like everyone else. Until then, God may want something else from you which you will be better at and happier doing for Him.
    19. An exit, especially if not done peacefully and on one’s own will, is a wonderful opportunity to grow in humility, the font of all the virtues.
  3. Psychological
    1. Calm down! Your life is continuing, and that is a happy thing. God wants you to be alive and be in His peace and joy.
    2. Look at the positive aspects of not being in a formation program – there are many, and the more you focus on them the happier you will be; God has given you the gift of a new journey free from various burdens and nonsense that only come with formation programs.
    3. As soon as you can, write down an account of your experience of formation and what led to your exit; share it with your spiritual director and discuss it. Save the document and re-read it in a few weeks, then in a few months, etc. You might want to amend it over time, but you should save the old copies as well. This can be a helpful way to process what happened and to work through it with a trusted spiritual director or other close mentor.
    4. Brace yourself for feelings of real loneliness. You will not be living in close quarters with dozens of like-minded men anymore. Nobody will be checking on you regularly, and there will not be a schedule bringing people together for prayer, for meals, or for recreation.
    5. Realize that brooding over injuries is not going to fix injustices or the people who caused them; realize also that you may not be seeing things quite rightly while you are processing your exit. Some reflection on what happened is helpful and necessary, but constantly replaying things in your mind and wondering how you would have rather reacted is not healthy.
    6. You might find that you suddenly lack a clear sense of purpose, in stark contrast with the life of the seminary and its well-defined goals for you. It is normal and acceptable to feel lost and aimless, but doing ordinary work like an ordinary person is not without purpose… And as long as it is done with love for God, it will be for a good purpose.
    7. Psychological scarring can occur from a traumatic dismissal or even from an unhappy choice to leave. In some cases, there can be severe anxiety and major depression, rooted in a kind of adjustment disorder. Some experts say the closest thing to such situations is the pain of a hard divorce, or even the death of someone very close.* In some cases, one should find a good Catholic therapist with whom to work through the pain and confusion, which can sometimes be a seriously disorienting medical problem and therefore impervious to a sincere and virtuous will to “push through it” or “get over it.”
    8. If you were drinking heavily before your exit, stop. If you start to drink heavily after your exit, stop. If you can’t stop, get help.
  4. Social
    1. Expect not to have regular contact with very many men who are continuing in formation or are priests/religious of your diocese/community. Don’t shun it, but don’t seek it out in general at least for a little while. This goes double for you if you were dismissed; while some men are simply not empathetic of your pain or are unaware of it, some might simply want not to associate with you for various reasons. Perhaps they think it is a distraction to their work, or perhaps they feel they are risking themselves to interact with you, so be patient with them. Think of how you may have failed to reach out to men who had left while you were still in formation. It may even be a good idea to go find other men who have left to talk with them, as they will be likely to understand your situation and empathize.
    2. If and when you do reach out to some former brethren who are continuing on, you might find out that you had fewer friends in seminary or religious life than you thought; brace yourself for the possibility of real feelings of isolation, alienation, and rejection.
    3. It is a good idea to talk with a few people who will understand your situation empathetically and give good concrete advice; it is not a good idea to talk with everyone you possibly can, as it will distract you from moving forward rather than actually help you heal; you may end up committing many sins of the tongue as well, which helps no one.
    4. Many times, your friends from outside of seminary/religious life will generally be unchanged in their relationship with you from their perspective; it could be good to spend time with them quite intentionally; the same is often true for family.
    5. It is generally inadvisable to rush into a romantic relationship unless you feel perfectly peaceful with being out of formation; otherwise you will be greatly tempted to various excesses and also may feel inclined to use a woman emotionally, especially by magnifying your ego.
  5. Ecclesiastical
    1. If your rector/superior/etc. is amenable, it might be worth having an exit interview to share your experience, but do not insist on it; see it only as a way to help the formation program grow for the sake of the men who will continue in it, and ultimately for the building up of the Church.
    2. It is generally best not to send written communications containing any negative comments about your experience unless you are asked to do so, in which case you should indicate as much in whatever you write; you want to remain off the radar for a while. “Sounding off” will likely reinforce any negative opinions about your maturity, docility, humility, prudence, etc., and any written messages will likely be placed in your file.
    3. Be advised that your file is kept indefinitely; if you wish to enter formation again, your file will almost undoubtedly be sent to whomever is the gatekeeper for the diocese or community you want to enter.
    4. If you were dismissed and have a close friend or ally who is well-established in the community or diocese who watched your case unfold, it could be worth seeing if he would write a short account of the situation from his own perspective right away so that you have a contemporary document to help vouch for you if you ever wish to return to formation
    5. Read the section in your local legislation on formation about the category of seminarians/religious who leave or are dismissed so you are well-informed of your situation from the legal point of view
    6. Do not run to the nearest diocese or community that you know is desperate for vocations and is likely to take you for this reason. First, this is not a mature discernment method, and second, the place you are running to likely has serious problems that make them lack vocations in the first place.
    7. If you were dismissed due to a manifest injustice, gather what records you can that demonstrate this fact, wait a while (perhaps a year), and then you should be plenty free to present yourself to another diocese or community.
    8. Some cases of exiting might lend themselves to a man continuing his theological education elsewhere, especially in Rome where it is relatively cheap to go to school and where there is easy access to an endless variety of new opportunities within the life of the Church
  6. Professional
    1. Unless you have already had a meaningful career in the world, you should prepare for some difficulty entering the workforce above the lowest-tier positions.
    2. If you have not been wisely saving money throughout seminary, then you will find out just how unwise it was upon exiting. It is uncommon for diocesan formation programs to give any kind of financial assistance to men who leave, let alone to men who are dismissed. Some religious communities might give a small amount of assistance, but it is best to have a good cushion in case you leave. (On the other hand, few programs are hard-hearted enough to give no kind of assistance if you remain on good terms and ask politely, expressing your financial trouble.)
    3. Being a seminarian is not a “job” except in a qualified sense. When employers ask about “previous employment,” do not think that you are obliged to list your time in seminary, even if it included some paid parish internships. It is not lying; it is a broad mental reservation which is usually justifiable. If asked about a gap in employment (during which time you were in formation) you can perhaps just say you were in such-and-such a school. Only Catholic employers will have the awareness to know what that means and may or may not ask for more information. Some secular employers may find the fact that you were in seminary a bit strange or even off-putting. Unless you are directly asked then do not feel compelled to share the fact of your time in formation. Even if you say you were there and were asked to leave, you should not feel compelled to dive to deeply into your personal life to explain your situation – simply say it was not a good fit, they decided it was best for you, etc. Very few employers in most parts of the world will probe for more information.
    4. Not many priests will have very good career advice, unless they are offering you a job themselves. Ask good Catholic laymen for their opinion instead, especially those who are well-established and business savvy. The same goes for finding a place to live.
    5. There is a range of professional assets which time in seminary will usually give a man who has spent a few years there; a large professional network, good communication skills, adaptability, etc. All of these can and should be added to a CV. You can maybe also leverage your entrance to seminary as a way to explain your willingness to throw yourself into something with all your energy, as long as you can square that with your decision to leave (if applicable).
    6. It could be worth asking around through friends – in another diocese or community especially – if they have any possible leads on jobs, and for which they could maybe give you a good reference
    7. Secular employment can be a real shock to the system, especially for someone who did not have a real career “in the world” before entering formation. Be prepared for an environment with little to no concern for real morals other than what is “polite” and in line with “best practices” and civil law. The world of ordinary work is primarily about making money, not about flourishing as a child of God.
    8. It could be a good idea to work for the Church after an exit, but this should be considered carefully with a good spiritual director – you may really need to gain some perspective on the work of the Church, which a “normal” job could help to give you, especially if your exit was unhappy.
    9. If you were dismissed and wish to return to formation in the future, you must use your time away from formation very wisely in order to demonstrate your readiness to return. If you are given reasons for your dismissal, try to establish a pattern in the next few years which shows improvement in those areas specifically, even if you don’t think they are real problems; your future diocese or community will probably want more than just your word that the reasons indicated are not real, not serious, etc. Military service could be a good idea for some people.
  7. Recommended Reading
    1. (under construction)