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Catholic Life Features

Vocations: Priestly formation adds year to unplug before study


If the smartphone had never been invented, what would you do with all the extra time you would have?  This is one question posed in the new “Propaedeutic Year” which has been added to the Program of Priestly Formation. Requested by Rome, and implemented in different ways by each diocese, the Propaedeutic Year is similar to a Novitiate Year for candidates in religious orders. It’s a time to deepen spirituality, engage in service projects, and become a better version of oneself.

person using a smartphone

The Vatican had been hearing reports from seminary rectors that their seminarians were good men with good intentions, but often struggled with the afflictions of our culture: anxiety, situational depression, technology addictions. The Propaedeutic Year is meant to help seminarians conquer these obstacles before beginning the regular seminary program. The latest edition of the Program of Priestly Formation made this a mandatory stage for all dioceses, as of this past fall.

Most dioceses do not have enough seminarians to run a propaedeutic house on their own, so regional centers have sprung up – often close to a seminary campus, but separate from it. New seminarians for the Diocese of Buffalo are currently attending the Propaedeutic House in Emmitsburg, Maryland. The residence is called “Rother House” after Blessed Stanley Rother, the first American-born martyr to be beatified. Rother House is actually one wing of the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. These men get to enjoy the graces which come from living two floors above a saints’ tomb.

The Rother House has a capacity of 36 men, who are lightheartedly referred to as “Propa-Dudes,” and come from dioceses all over the Northeast. This widens the seminarians’ view of the Church in America.  They learn new spiritual practices, carry out community service, cook and clean the house together, and work on the “human” factors of formation. This includes conquering anxieties, fears and hesitations, as well as strengthening their willpower. It also involves a “technology fast” where the men give up social media for long periods of time and have restricted use of their smartphones.

Candidates at the Rother House will come home next summer for some time of community service in their home diocese. Doing so, they will get acquainted with the local clergy with whom they hopefully one day will serve. They will then go on to St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore next fall, where restrictions will be lifted but lessons will have been learned about using tech productively without letting it control one’s life.

“Imagine not having your phone, or your computer, or a TV … for a week. Imagine how much actual time you’d have to do things,” said one propaedeutic candidate from Minnesota, in a video for St. Paul’s Seminary.

Perhaps it’s something we should all try.