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Northwest is trailblazing a solution to new Vatican seminary requirements

The following story appeared in the August 27 Idaho Catholic Register.

Seminarians study at Bishop White Seminary, which is on the campus of Gonzaga University near downtown Spokane. Second from left is Diocese of Boise seminarian Carter Bushee. (Photo courtesy of Bishop White Seminary)

By Sam Alzheimer

and Gene Fadness

A seismic change is coming to Catholic seminaries that will affect every diocese in the world – and the Northwestern U.S. is among the first regions to respond.

Men who feel called to the priesthood – even those who have been fully vetted by their bishops – will not be starting seminary right away. Rather, the Vatican will soon require a “propaedeutic phase” for all men before they officially begin seminary.

The change is warranted because the cultural climate has shifted, according to Bishop Peter Christensen of the Diocese of Boise. “In our current day and age, youth and young men face a myriad of challenges that were not present in past generations,” he said. “They need a place to become more fully immersed into the life of the Church and to grow in self-awareness.”

Bishop Tom Daly of Spokane concurs. “Many men aren’t coming from intact families or Catholic environments as they did in the past,” said Bishop Daly. “As a result, these well-intentioned men are often lacking in basic Christian values and knowledge. Before they start studying for the priesthood, we need to fill in the gaps.”

This isn’t just a U.S. phenomenon. Many observers say the problem is more pronounced in Europe and South America, where even “cultural Catholicism” has waned dramatically. It has also been an issue in the States, as evidenced by the trend of “discernment houses” for men who feel called to the priesthood, but who need some time to mature.

Even some seminarians who have already past their first year will take advantage of the program. Zack MacKeller will be taking a propaedeutic year at St. Paul Seminary in Minnesota. (The Bishop White program is not ready to begin this year.)

“I will be one of the first in our Diocese to do this,” MacKeller said. “It is essentially a non-academic year of very intentional formation to focus on foundational elements on what it means to be disciples of Jesus Christ and to be a seminarian,” he said.

MacKeller compares it to a novitiate year in a religious order; a time when the potential seminarian can focus on his spiritual development and personal healing from family issues, addictions and other stress factors, and physical fitness. “Before these issues were addressed along with seminary studies, which meant you didn’t focus on

them as much because you were overwhelmed with 20 credits of

philosophy or 20 credits of theology,” MacKeller said.

Part of the interior development is an 8-month “media fast” from social media. “It’s a time to detach from the world and focus on the interior life and getting to know yourself,” MacKeller said.

MacKeller won’t be the only Diocese of Boise student at St. Paul Seminary. He will be joined by Mónico Heredia, a Theology I seminarian.

This introductory propaedeutic period, which will last one or two years, will soon be made mandatory by the Holy See, with the added requirement that living quarters remain “separate and distinct” from the seminary proper. Herein lies the biggest practical challenge for dioceses. Essentially an entirely new program is needed, necessitating new buildings, staff, and expenses.

McGivney Hall, above, on the Bishop White Seminary campus, is a solid structure that was originally built as a convent. Extensive remodeling will make it a suitable home for men preparing for seminary. The chapel will be named after St. Vin-cent de Paul, a great seminary reformer. Spokane Bishop Thomas Daly is hopeful that a Serra Club or Knights of Colum-bus councils will take on the challenge or raising funding for its renovation. (Photo courtesy of Bishop White Seminary)

In the Northwest, Bishop White Seminary in Spokane has emerged as a visionary leader to meet the need. Diocesan leadership has purchased a new building, not as an extension of the seminary, but to establish a distinct program with its own non-profit status.

The new building, re-named McGivney Hall after the priest-founder of the Knights of Columbus, will be renovated this summer, with the project’s total cost expected to be approximately $3.6 million.

The new program is called Cor Christi (“heart of Christ”) and will focus on developing strong Catholic men through a rigorous program that stresses prayer, virtue, and basic Catholic doctrine.

Father Daniel Barnett, who is spearheading the program, says that it will be a sort of spiritual training ground that offers a “cultural detox” for young men. “Our goal is to form mature Christian men who can set aside the distractions of the world – of social media, Netflix, and videogames – to focus on what matters: drawing close to the heart of Christ.” The program’s core values will include fraternity, sacrifice, masculinity, hard work, and generosity of heart.

Per Vatican guidelines, academic emphasis will be reduced in the propaedeutic phase, leaving room for focus on spiritual growth.

Some bishops worried this would add additional years to seminary formation, which already lasts eight years for a man who enters as a college freshman. Cor Christi, however, has a creative solution. Men will enter as freshman, but rather than taking classes at nearby Gonzaga University, all coursework will be taken in-house and focus on Church teaching and scripture. This fulfills the Vatican requirements while simultaneously making use of the student’s elective courses. He would then go on to enter college seminary, which will last only three years, not four years, as in the past.

Cor Christi will serve as a “launching point” for priests, serving at least nine dioceses in five Western States, including the Diocese of Boise. Bishops throughout the region have voiced support, including encouragement to Catholics to financially support the initiative, especially the costs associated with a new building.

“Cor Christi will allow us to cast a wider net when it comes to vocational recruitment,” said Bishop Christensen. “It will make it easier to take the next step in their discernment as a candidate or aspirant rather than a seminarian.”


For more information about the program offered through Bishop White Seminary, contact Chris Kreslins at Sam Alzheimer, based in Tallahassee, Fla, is founder of Vianney Vocations.

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it, please consider buying a subscription to the Idaho Catholic Register. Your $20 yearly subscription also supports the work of the Diocese of Boise Communications Department, which includes not only the newspaper, but this website, social media posts and videos. You can subscribe here, or through your parish, or send a check to 1501 S. Federal Way, Boise, ID, 83705: or call 208-350-7554 to leave a credit card payment. Thank you, and God bless you.

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