While it is recognised that the four dimensions of priestly formation are closely connected, pastoral formation offers the integrating element within the entire process of priestly formation. Here the different dimensions of human, spiritual and intellectual formation, are linked in the context of real-world practical experience in the midst of the people of God.
The Programme Year by Year
Pastoral formation is treated in a progressive manner. Students become engaged in a variety of pastoral settings from year to year. In the first three years, and then for Fifth and Sixth Years, all seminarians spend time every week during the semester in a supervised pastoral placement.
First Year students are placed in Catholic parish primary schools in the First Semester. Then, with a three-week pastoral intensive, they begin placements in institutions that care for the aged and disadvantaged.
Second Year students are engaged throughout the year in a parish catechetics programme for primary school children.
In Third Year, pastoral work centers on a Catholic secondary school.
Fourth Year students are generally given a parish placement, which includes an internship period of six months.
The time spent living and working in a parish is carefully planned and supervised. The activities of the student depend to some extent on the parish, but they include assisting with liturgies, preaching, catechetics, youth work, visiting, care of the sick and administrative support. The supervision includes:
regular meetings with the Parish Priest
regular contact with seminary staff
regular meetings with the other pastoral year students for formation and theological reflection
sessions with a “feedback group” of parishioners
For those in Fifth and Sixth Years, one of these years will normally entail a hospital placement. Other possible placements include particular diocesan agencies; centres of ministry focused on aspects of social welfare; and centres focused on serving those with disabilities, and the disadvantaged.
Deacons are assigned to a parish; and they also have practical formation sessions concentrating on liturgical leadership and the administration of the sacraments.
Supplementing practical work, seminarians undertake formal studies in best pastoral practice, considering it in its day-to-day experience: psychological, anthropological and theological.
All seminarians from Second Year onward, are engaged in theological reflection as they present the story of particular pastoral experiences. The primary purpose of this is to assist seminarians to interpret various pastoral experiences or activities in light of Sacred Scripture, Church Teaching and Tradition, and to appropriate and integrate the human, spiritual and intellectual insights gained in their formation into their lives. This seeks to develop the habit of critical reflection and bring the richness of the Christian tradition into dialogue with contemporary experience. Pastoral formation helps to cultivate a life-long practice of reflection during priestly ministry.
(Adapted from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Program for Priestly Formation 2015)