St. Mary's Seminary » Spiritual Formation

Spiritual Formation

The spiritual formation of every priest is the core which unifies and gives life to his being a priest and his acting as a priest. The program of Spiritual Formation helps the seminarian live in communion with God as a deep communion with the totality of the paschal mystery. [PDV 45] The seminary has a team of spiritual directors – priests with experience and training in the art of spiritual direction – who serve as guides and mentors for the seminarians and seminary community. Each seminarian chooses a spiritual director from among the members of this team and meets with him every two weeks. The Spiritual Directors have written a Spiritual Life Formation Handbook which is distributed at the start of each school year and outlines the expectations and hopes for the spiritual life of each seminarian.

Spiritual formation “should be conducted in such a way that the students may learn to live in intimate and unceasing union with God the Father through his Son Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit. Those who are to take on the likeness of Christ the priest by sacred ordination should form the habit of drawing close to him as friends in every detail of their lives. They should live his paschal mystery in such a way that they will know how to initiate into it the people committed to their charge. They should be taught to seek Christ in faithful meditation on the Word of God and in active participation in the sacred mysteries of the church, especially the Eucharist and the Divine Office, to seek him in the bishop by whom they are sent and in the people to whom they are sent, especially the poor, little children, the weak, sinners and unbelievers. With the confidence of sons they should live and reverence the most Blessed Virgin Mary, who was given as a mother to the disciple of Jesus Christ as he was dying on the cross.” [Optatam Totius, 20]


Prayer is an act of faith and charity which brings the person who prays to be with the One whom we know loves us (St. Teresa of Avila, The Way of Perfection). During time in the seminary, the way of Christian prayer should be sought, learned and cultivated. Christ will remain at the center of the seminarian’s life and ministry through a persevering prayer life giving glory to God (Jn. 14:12-13).
Prayer requires familiarity with God’s Word and will be enriched to the degree that it is nourished with the Word. Suitable preparation and disposition for hearing God’s Word at the Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Hours and in personal prayer in private are nurtured through reading, study, meditation and putting the Word into practice by living it.

Prayer requires an interior silence. Interior silence is the ability to listen at a deeper level. It is an abandonment of self to God, thus seeking everything from God (Matt. 6:33). Seminarians cultivate this interior silence by giving themselves to times of silence on a daily and consistent basis.
Prayer requires an exterior silence. It is the responsibility of the seminary community to help create an atmosphere of silence and reflection at appropriate times of the day and during days of recollection and retreats.

Lectio Divina

Prayer becomes more an attitude and outlook than a method or system to follow; however, most people will find it necessary to learn to pray through following a particular way of prayer and meditation. A seminarian should develop this during his seminary years.
An essential element of spiritual formation is the prayerful and meditated reading of the word of God (lectio divina). (PDV #47) Lectio Divina as a method of listening, meditating, praying and contemplating the Word of God is a helpful way in which God forms us in the knowledge, love and following of Jesus as disciples. Each seminarian is encouraged to develop this intimate relationship with Jesus through this meditative and contemplative method.

Liturgical Life

  • The Eucharist

    The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the fount from which all her power flows. (Sacrosanctum Concilium #10) Priestly identity and ministry flow from the Eucharist. In the sacrifice of the Mass, priests act in a special way in the person of Christ, Who gave Himself as a victim to sanctify others. Priests are invited to imitate what they handle (Presbyterorum Ordinis # 13). Each seminarian should seek to deepen this reality in his own life. The daily celebration of the Eucharist is essential. It is this sacramental celebration of Christ’s presence in the midst of the Christian community that the priest is called to bring and make present each day for the People of God.
  • The Liturgy of the Hours

    The Liturgy of the Hours is central to our communal prayer at St. Mary’s. We celebrate Morning Prayer (Lauds) and Evening Prayer (Vespers) in common. Each seminarian is expected to join the community for both of these and is encouraged to pray the other Hours (Office of the Readings, Midday Prayer and Compline) as well. By the time a seminarian is accepted for Candidacy (in Third Theology), he should have acquired the four volume set of the Liturgy of the Hours and be in the habit of praying all five Hours each day.
  • Eucharistic Adoration

    The centrality of the Eucharist should be apparent not only in the worthy celebration of the Sacrifice, but also in the proper adoration of the Sacrament. A special time of Eucharistic adoration could be during the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, which constitutes a true prolongation, during the day, of the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving which has the Holy Mass as its sacramental centre and source. (Congregation for the Clergy, Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests, #50). Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction are a weekly part of the community devotion at St. Mary’s. During the yearly seminarians’ retreat there is all night adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The last Day of Recollection is devoted to all night adoration of the Blessed Sacrament as prayer for the deacons who are to be ordained to the priesthood that year. A way to deepen the Paschal Mystery in a person’s own life and to grow in intimate relationship with Christ is through regular visits to the Blessed Sacrament (Eucharisticum Mysterium, n.49, 50). Each seminarian is strongly encouraged to develop the practice of visiting the Lord in the Eucharist outside of the Liturgy of the Eucharist
  • Sacrament of Penance

    Those who are preparing to be priests should regularly avail themselves of the sacrament of Penance. Confessions are heard throughout the week in the chapel. Monthly or bi-monthly reception of this sacrament is recommended. Each seminarian is asked to discuss the practice of confession with his spiritual director and make the reception of the grace of forgiveness a means for his spiritual development. Frequent confession is not a mere ritualistic repetition nor some kind of psychological exercise, but it is the careful work of perfecting the grace of Baptism so that while we carry in our bodies the death of Jesus Christ, we allow the life of Jesus more and more to be manifested in us (Rite of Penance, Introduction, n.7). A communal Penance service is offered each semester, at which each seminarian attends. Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick and Communion for the Sick
    When requested by a seminarian who is to undergo an operation or to be hospitalized, the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick may be administered and celebrated in the Community Chapel at a Mass or in private. If a seminarian is sick he should advise his Formation Director, directly or through a fellow seminarian of his desire to receive Communion. The person responsible (Deacon or Eucharistic Minister) is to receive the consecrated host at Communion time in a pyx to bring to the sick seminarian.

Community Life and Events

Community Life
All growth whether human or spiritual, takes place with others in community. A diocesan priest is very much involved with a community, especially in parish settings. A priest’s spirituality develops and grows from the experience of being part of the parish community and through his ministry to his brothers and sisters in the parish. A diocesan priest must cherish being in a community and being for a community.
Fundamental to continued growth toward priesthood, and later as a priest, is the experience of being an active and integrated member of the seminary community and thus being accountable to others. Jesus called his disciples together as a community prior to sending them to bring the Good News to others. During that time they experienced a deep communion with Jesus and with one another as fellow disciples in him. During the years of seminary formation the seminarian is co-responsible with all the members of St. Mary’s Seminary to build this common bond based on a lived experience of the Word and the presence of Christ in the midst of his disciples.
This communal formation in Christ, together with contacts in field education and with others outside the seminary community, will prepare the seminarian to be an integral part of the local presbyterate. With the numerous ministries that are developing in parish communities, the seminarian develops the ability to collaborate with others and to bring all the ministries into an experience of communion.

Days of Recollection
At least two Days of Recollection are offered during each semester. These days are of utmost importance since they allow time to remove ourselves from the normal activities of the semester and to concentrate on our prayer life with the Lord. An individual needing a private Day of Recollection should contact his Spiritual Director for permission and to work out the details.

An annual retreat is offered each year. Seminarians in Pre-Theology through the Pastoral Year make a directed retreat led by a renowned, experienced director in January. This retreat may be on the seminary grounds in a time of Grand Silence, or at a selected retreat center. The seminary spiritual directors have designed a specific retreat for the seminarians who will be ordained to the diaconate at the end of Third Theology. This retreat fulfills the canonical requirements for the retreat to be completed before being ordained a deacon. Seminary deacons who will be ordained to the priesthood at the end of Fourth Theology make plans for their own canonical retreat.

Pastoral Spirituality Institute
Those seminarians on Pastoral Year conclude the Pastoral Year program in May with a Pastoral Spirituality Institute at a retreat center. The purpose of this Institute is to give time for the seminarians to reflect on their experiences both of C.P.E. and of parish life. Opportunity is also provided to share these experiences in a prayerful, relaxed community setting with fellow seminarians and spiritual directors. The Institute also helps the seminarians as a transition for their return to seminary life to complete their formation and theological studies.

The Institute for Priestly Formation at Creighton University, Nebraska
The Institute for Priestly Formation is strongly recommended to each diocese for their seminarians. This 10week program can be taken either before beginning theological studies or in one of the summer sessions. Our seminarians and young alumni priests consistently report about the spiritual benefits they have received from the content and experience of this program.

Devotional Life

Devotion to Mary
The Second Vatican Council spoke of Mary as Disciple and Mother and Model. Mary is totally dependent upon God and completely directed towards Him, and, at the side of her Son, she is the most perfect image of freedom and of the liberation of humanity and of the universe. It is to her as Mother and Model that the Church must look in order to understand in its completeness the meaning of her own mission (Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation, March 22, 1986). Through a close relationship with Mary one experiences her maternal love and finds in her the model of Christian life for sanctification and daily exercise of priestly ministry. Developing a love for and a devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is integral to growth as a Christian and formation as a priest.
The Angelus throughout the year and the Regina Coeli during Easter season are recited daily before supper. Feast Days of Mary are celebrated, especially the Feast of the Immaculate Conception as patroness of the United States and Our Lady of Guadalupe as patroness of the Americas and the Philippines. Other celebrations include veneration of Mary under different titles, for example Our Lady of Lavang by the Vietnamese community. Praying the Rosary is strongly encouraged as part of the daily schedule for individual or small group prayer; and once a week the Rosary is prayed as a community in St. Mary’s Chapel.

Other Forms of Devotion
Spiritual reading, journaling and personal devotions are encouraged as important and helpful for personal spiritual growth. Different forms of prayer such as Taizé evening prayer, charismatic prayer of praise and worship, chaplet of the Divine Mercy are encouraged for use by individuals, groups and the community. During Lent the Seminary Deacons lead the community every Friday in the Stations of the Cross.


Celibacy is a counter-cultural, prophetic sign of the kingdom of God breaking into human society. It is an indispensable sign of the permanent and eternal love of Christ for his people. It is a sign of commitment and an expression of the priest’s pastoral love in the person of Christ. In the Gospel, Christ speaks of men and women being called to and accepting the charism of celibacy and virginity for the sake of the kingdom (Mt. 19:12). Saint Paul speaks of its excellence (1 Cor. 7:32-35).

The celibate is called to express a type of relationship which speaks of the parenthood of God in whom there is no stranger and in whom everyone becomes brother or sister. The celibate also participates in the generative nature of life in a spiritual sense through generating Christ in others and bringing them closer to salvation. These thoughts on celibacy imply, of course, a healthy sexuality. Celibacy requires a mature shaping of sexuality toward these goals and not a repression of sexuality in order to be ordained. During time in the seminary, the seminarian pays attention to the development of his sexuality and seeks out the necessary means to grow in a healthy, mature understanding and appreciation of both marriage and celibacy. The seminarian seeks to foster healthy relationships within the seminary and outside. For the celibate, relationships should always become more inclusive and less exclusive. This is a sign of a healthy understanding of sexuality as a celibate.
Chastity in all its forms is a further sign of a healthy and mature sexuality. Chastity in thought, word and action should be fostered at all times in order to grow in Christ. Developing a mature and healthy understanding of sexuality and a positive understanding of celibacy strengthens the seminarian’s ability to love all people with a pastoral love in imitation of Christ the Good Shepherd.

Simplicity of Life
Poverty in the Gospel sense is not a matter of having less or living in a way that is undignified for children of God (Mt. 6:19ff). Rather it is another means to freedom, leading to the greater love to which God calls ministers for the sake of the kingdom of God on earth. Poverty also remains a counter-cultural, prophetic sign to which the whole Church is called, witnessing to the proper use of the world’s material goods and for their proper distribution among all peoples in the world. Poverty expressed by a simple lifestyle renders our preaching credible, in favor of the poor. During this time in the seminary, each seminarian seriously examines his use of material goods and the value he places on them in his life (Mt. 6:19-25). In doing so, the promise of Jesus of the hundredfold (Mk. 10:28-31) is remembered and experienced.
Many dioceses have stewardship programs asking the people to give and share their time, talent and treasure. The seminary is sustained by the generosity of the people of the dioceses. Simplicity of life is seen in the responsible stewardship for the care of seminary property through weekly work order, generosity in volunteering for community activities, concern for not wasting food in signing up or out for evening or week-end meals.

Jesus was obedient to death, death on a cross (Phil.2:8) and in fact learned obedience through what he suffered (Heb. 5:8). A mature obedience in freedom is required of all who wish to serve in the name of Christ (Rom. 13:1-5). This obedience finds its foundation in a deep love of God and of the Church. It is imperative that a seminarian comes to experience the freedom that obedience offers as a fruitful means of serving all. The seminarian’s relationship with the authorities in the seminary and those of his diocese will be the means for learning to live obedience. A fruitful ministry in the priesthood is closely grafted into the unity in love that a priest shows his bishop and his fellow priests.

Sacrificial Love
The priest is one who not only offers the sacrifice of the Lord ritually in the Eucharist, but is one who, with all the baptized, must offer himself as a living sacrifice to God the Father for the good of the Church and all those he will serve (Phil. 2:17). Above all, when a seminarian places this spirit of love in everything he does – prayer, studies, field education, community activities, the practice of poverty, chastity and obedience (1 Peter 4:8) – he learns to grow deeper in love with the Lord, and learns to grow in a more generous, committed love through service to those to whom he will be sent.

Commitment to Social Justice
Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appears to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel (Justice in the World, 1971 Synod of Bishops, n.6). During his time in the seminary the seminarian should become informed, concerned and active in the particular social issues of his diocese, nation and the world itself.
There are opportunities to express social concerns through field education social ministries and also in sharing time, talent and treasure for helping others at Thanksgiving with food baskets and at Christmas with gifts for children. Some seminarians have become involved in some of the issues facing the Church in our nation, such as Pro Life Advocacy. The World Mission Committee has also given some seminarians an opportunity for first hand experience of people in economically deprived areas of the world.