I’m from the era where one could enter minor seminary right out of what would be termed elementary school and many of my confreres did. I didn’t. As others have said, there were those for whom it was an unhappy experience and others for whom it was a happy experience. It can’t be universalised either way.
Similarly, I have known confreres who entered college seminary out of what would be termed high school and completed their philosophy degree and pre-theology requirements there, before passing into theology. Others entered seminary formation after college or even after college & time working. Each young man (or not so young man) has different aptitudes and different paths. There is no one-size-fits-all.
I entered seminary after college studies; I don’t regret that decision but it was dictated by other circumstances. It was in an era and a place where I did not amass the enormous debt that seems the lot of Americans, if you’re American. That can create problems, I gather, and if he defers entrance to seminary, he will need to plan to address debt he acquires or the timeline to enter can be further delayed.
Also, with the nature of seminary today (it’s not a prison), I personally would not counsel to not enter college seminary, if one truly feels called to do college seminary, simply on the grounds that one should not enter that early in life but rather should have other experiences. The college seminaries exist precisely for those for whom that is part of their path. Of course, that discernment rests with the young man AND the vocation director AND the seminary rector and his formation team. No decision is unilateral.
There are, however, many things you have not delineated. You say that he has picked out a couple of seminaries…but the decision of where to send a student doesn’t rest with the student. It’s his first obedience. One must be prepared to be sent to a place one would not choose.
A dialogue with the seminaries he is interested in would tell him who sends their seminarians to that seminary…but what are the criteria he is using to discern those particular seminaries to the exclusion of others? It’s a valid question. It’s one which would interest both a vocation director and a spiritual director
On the one hand, it can be an opportunity to overpass one’s own choices and preferences. On the other hand, it can be an indicator that perhaps the evaluation of where one was called to apply needs to be re-evaluated should the seminary selected be totally incompatible with the young man.
And that is a type of discernment that requires a spiritual director…which hasn’t been mentioned in the post. He is young but he should be reaching out not only to vocation directors but to priests in his life who can help him as a mentor. A spiritual director is crucial; his role in part is to assure that what is in the directee’s best interest, as an individual, is not lost in the equation – since a vocation director also has a focus on vocations for his diocese or institute of consecrated life as well as discerning with the individual his path.
These relationships with various priests will be important later, as he will rely on older seminarians as well as those charged with formation, as he proceeds through the years of formation. Those relationships were all of the utmost importance to me when I was young. Some can be very supportive…others very discouraging. Coping with that is also an important acquired skill.
Another issue is for whom he will study. If he wishes to be a diocesan priest, for which diocese? A default is where you live…but that doesn’t preclude considering other dioceses.
But he could be called to be a religious priest. He also should consider – and be exposed to – the religious orders and congregations. This is a place where adults can help: Providing him the opportunity to actually go and visit an abbey and be present at the Divine Office. To be in contact with friars, such as the Dominicans, who are primarily teachers, or the Carmelites who are more eremetical, or the Franciscans or the Oratorians or the Redemptorists or a vast number of other Institutes of Consecrated Life.
He may discover that an inchoate sense of attraction to priesthood solidifies with a specific charism that he has not even seen yet.
It can happen that one may truly be called to the priesthood but not by the initial path one undertakes or contemplated. One may go in one direction only to find that it’s by another path one is to proceed. That’s also an openness that an adult can help provide insight about. The same is true with rejection.
I wanted to be a monk. I was attracted to a specific abbey (since monastic vocations of this type are tied to autonomous monasteries) and had a number of visits across years but there was a discernment that such was not my vocation, confirmed by more than one authority, and my spiritual director. That was a difficult moment in my relative youth and inexperience. I still felt called to monastic life but accepted that it was not my path. It was a great and keenly felt personal sacrifice. I recovered and was providentially led to another path and so my priesthood was realized by a non-monastic path.
It is never simply what the person thinks – the Church, in the person of the authority who calls, is the one who decides if one has a vocation to the life over which they have authority. That is its own challenge and occasion for growth.
There are many ways for you to be involved and engaged as he will explore and encounter the various persons and situations that will shape the path that he will have to decide if he is called to and wants to pursue or if he needs to discern and seek another way…by taking one or more of many forks in the road of life. Openness is a crucial quality for a seminarian since it’s essential for a priest and/or religious.
I will pray for both you and your son. God bless you.