In 2019, a gunman opened fire in a Walmart store in El Paso, killing twenty-three people. The local parish priest was a man who had been ordained barely two months before. A year before that, a priest from a large rural diocese who had been ordained for just two years was asked to serve as the pastor of a cluster of six parishes, most with rapidly dwindling populations. This past year, newly ordained priests all over the world had to negotiate the first months of their priesthood by serving the Body of Christ as it faced severe physical and emotional isolation from family, friends, and even churches.
I am the rector of a Catholic diocesan seminary, and all of these scenarios were experienced by recently ordained graduates. Rectors of other seminaries could share similar accounts.
Compared to the relative order and structure of the seminary world, the world new priests are plunged into can be chaotic, because everyday life is neither scripted nor predictably controlled. The degree to which a man can flexibly adapt to such changes while remaining true to his priestly identity provides a measure of the relative success of his seminary formation. A parish priest who is inflexible and rigid—whether in his personality, his ideology, or his spirituality—will almost certainly fail to be a true bridge to Jesus Christ for others.
I describe here some of the ways that Catholic seminaries today are addressing these challenges in response to the needs of an ever-changing landscape in American parishes.
Read more at The Public Discourse