The Gift of a Priestly Vocation, the 2016 document of the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy that specifies the general norms for all seminaries throughout the world, describes four stages of priestly formation: propaedeutic, discipleship, configuration, and pastoral synthesis.
Presently, St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary offers formation and degree programs that cover the discipleship, configuration, and pastoral synthesis stages:
The Discipleship Stage
lasts two years and comprises the seminary’s pre-theology program. During this time, seminarians usually earn the Master of Arts (Philosophical Studies for Missionary Discipleship) degree. Pre-Theologians develop a deepening spirituality so that they may respond more fully to the budding vocation that led them to the seminary. They also learn to live as members of a community, begin sharing in the Church’s liturgical and outreach ministries, and study philosophy and introductory theology, along with classical and modern languages as appropriate.
The Configuration Stage
usually lasts at least four years and lasts from the beginning of the seminarian’s study of theology until he is ordained a transitional deacon, which usually occurs at the end of the fourth year (after three years of full-time formation at the seminary plus a pastoral year, a yearlong internship at a parish in the seminarian’s home diocese). Seminarians in this stage gradually develop a specifically priestly spirituality, broaden and deepen their ministerial experience, receive the ministries of Lector and Acolyte as well as Admission to Candidacy, and complete most of the requirements for the Master of Divinity degree, which focuses heavily on the study of theology and pastoral skills.
The Pastoral Synthesis Stage
begins with the seminarian’s ordination to the transitional diaconate and continues until his priestly ordination. During this time, the newly ordained deacon spends less time at the seminary as he is assigned to a parish, both during the summer and on weekends during the academic year. He continues to receive spiritual direction and advising on how to integrate his new identity as a cleric with the greater responsibilities entrusted to him. He also completes the requirements for the Master of Divinity degree during this time.