Catholic Voices - Forming our future priests

  • Written by Father Bryan Dolejsi
  • Published in Catholic Voices
Photo: Shutterstock Photo: Shutterstock

Amid recent revelations of clergy sexual abuse in the news, as the director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Seattle, I would like to provide some background on how the church currently screens and trains our seminarians.

A man considering priesthood has several ways to discern God’s will — and the church has many opportunities to evaluate him — before he even applies to seminary. I personally get to know him during one-on-one meetings and at priesthood discernment events. Depending on his situation, I encourage him to receive the sacraments regularly and grow in prayer, provide reading materials about priesthood, connect him with a spiritual director, ask him to become involved in ministries at his parish, encourage ongoing education, organize a seminary visit to shadow our Seattle seminarians, have him speak with his pastor, and perhaps have him live in a house of discernment (Vianney House) I oversee.

Father Bryan
Father Bryan Dolejsi

I also ask the candidate about his relationship with Jesus, family background, whether he has discerned marriage or dated, and who his friends are and why. If, over the course of a year or more, it looks like he could make a good candidate for seminary, I provide him with an application.

The application is 35 pages and includes questions about family of origin, sense of calling by God, gifts and limitations, and personal interests. The candidate also goes through a full independent psychological assessment. We are looking for a faithful, healthy, well-balanced, bright individual who has the gifts necessary to serve as a priest. The psychologist looks for any personality disorders and also asks questions regarding sexual history and the candidate’s ability to live the vow of celibacy in a healthy way. The applicant also completes a physical, obtains letters of recommendation and academic transcripts, and goes through a comprehensive background check, safe environment training and a social media background check.

The candidate then goes through an interview with the admission board — myself, one of our auxiliary bishops, two local pastors, the archdiocesan HR director, and the chief of staff of our clergy office. The candidate then meets one-on-one with the archbishop, who also reviews his entire application including the admission board’s recommendation. If accepted by the archbishop, the man is officially a seminarian of the Archdiocese of Seattle. He then goes through a similar application at his seminary. The process usually takes three to six months to complete — and that’s after a year or more of initial discernment.

Seminary formation lasts between five and nine years depending on the candidate’s academic and ministry background. Following the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Program of Priestly Formation, there are four pillars of seminary formation: spiritual (regular reception of the sacraments, common and personal prayer, retreats, spiritual direction, etc.); human (physical health, celibacy formation, healthy relationships, counseling if needed, time and stress management, etc.); academic (studying philosophy and theology); and pastoral (developing ministerial skills such as teaching, works of mercy, etc.).

Each seminarian has a formation director who regularly checks in on all areas of formation and writes an annual evaluation with input from the seminary faculty and formation team. I also engage through seminary visits, evaluations, and other regular check-ins. The archbishop and auxiliary bishops get to know our seminarians well through annual gatherings, retreats and seminary visits. Each summer a seminarian participates in continuing formation such as Spanish-language immersion, hospital chaplaincy, parish assignments, retreats, etc.

In the Rite of Ordination, the archbishop asks if I can attest that a man has been found worthy of ordination. Following this thorough process of discernment, application and formation, I can confidently say yes — our future priests are able to faithfully serve God and the people of our church, and live the promises of obedience and celibacy in a fruitful way for the Gospel of the Risen Jesus.

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Northwest Catholic - October 2018