As part of our ongoing contribution to the ministerial needs of our Church, St. Bernard’s developed a Pre-Theology Program to address a need that many dioceses throughout the country face, namely, to prepare young men who, although possessing a bachelor’s degree, have not received the necessary spiritual, human, pastoral, but especially the philosophical training required for entrance into the seminary.
This program addresses specifically the intellectual dimension of formation and is designed to work in harmony with the team of a diocese responsible for the initial formation of those discerning their vocation to the priesthood. A student’s intellectual formation can be completed in two years (six semesters), or at a more leisurely pace chosen by the student’s Director of Vocations, and can be taken from anywhere in the country. Offering a way by which this initial formation can be accomplished apart from sending candidates to seminary allows a diocese to keep their pre-theology men close to home, living and learning together in a House of Formation in the diocese that they will one day serve, enjoying a fuller attention to their formation than a seminary would allow.
This Pre-Theology program was developed in accordance with the Program of Priestly Formation, a publication authored and published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and is itself based upon the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope St. John Paul II, Pastores dabo vobis. The Program of Priestly Formation establishes best practices for each of the four dimensions of formation and is determinative of the form that this program takes, especially in its curriculum.
The Pre-Theology program uses the Master of Arts in Catholic Philosophy curriculum as the foundation of the program combined with additional courses to meet the requirements outlined in the Program of Priestly Formation. It is comprised of 11 three-credit courses in philosophy (33 credits), 3 four-credit courses in theology (12 credits), and a two-credit Independent Seminar as a capstone to the program. In total, 15 courses (47 credits) are required for the completion of this program. Thus, by the time a candidate is ready for seminary, he will have received the Master of Arts in Catholic Philosophy degree from St. Bernard’s.
The MACP program is fashioned to include the broad foundations in philosophy that the Program of Priestly Formation requires and engages in the discipline of philosophy as practiced in the Catholic intellectual tradition. The Pre-Theology program can be customized with additional courses to meet the unique needs of a diocese. Dioceses interested in partnering with St. Bernard’s to provide the intellectual dimension of a Pre-Theology program are encouraged to contact the Academic Dean.
St. Bernard’s recognizes the important work with which diocesan formation teams are charged concerning the spiritual, pastoral, and human formation of their discerners. As these teams look toward building the format for their “propaedeutic stage”, as introduced in the 2016 edition of the Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis, St. Bernard’s is committed to assisting dioceses in this formation. This stage will allow for further discernment and proper formation before an aspirant begins his Pre-Theology program, and will pay particular attention to discernment and the human dimension of formation. Dioceses looking for a school that is experienced in intellectual formation and that is able to assist in properly introducing an aspirant to the formative process through Scripture, prayer, reading, catechesis, and other elements of the formative stage, are encouraged to contact the Academic Dean of St. Bernard’s to discuss potential partnership.
Those discerning a call to the priesthood are encouraged to contact their home diocese.
Pre-Theology Program in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany
In 2018, St. Bernard’s joined with the Diocese of Albany to assist in their desire to form the next generation of priests for their diocese. The result of this assistance was the establishment of Albany’s Pre-Theology Program together with the St. Isaac Jogues House of Formation. This collaborative effort allowed the team responsible for the all-important initial formation of its seminary candidates spiritually, pastorally, and humanly to be affected within its own diocese by a team of people charged with this responsibility as is the stated preference for such in the Program for Priestly Formation. It also allowed for the philosophical formation required for entrance into the seminary to be affected in union with the efforts of this team, particularly through the inclusion of St. Bernard’s Director of the MACP program on the Albany Diocese’s Vocation Board, which allows for regular reports on each student’s progress in his intellectual formation in light of the other formative activities for which the Vocation Board is responsible.
This collaborative effort combines coursework, field placements, spiritual direction, retreats, living in community, and other diocesan-led activities to address all dimensions of formation. St. Bernard’s addresses the intellectual dimension of formation through the Master of Arts in Catholic Philosophy program and accommodates students who have partially completed the philosophy and theology requirements of the Program of Priestly Formation as the Vicar for Vocations may alternatively choose to use the Master of Divinity program for certain men in formation.
It is through this assistive model that the candidate is addressed in a holistic and unitive fashion during his initial formation according to the needs of the Albany Diocese. As the needs and resources of a diocese differ, so too would the program developed on its behalf. To discuss the possibilities for your diocese, please contact the Academic Dean of St. Bernard’s.