I've Completed One Year of Seminary and Need Some Advice

Hello. This is my first post in the Catholic Answers Forum, but I have visited the forums for years. I’ll give you a little background on who I am and then tell you about my current situation.

I just completed my first year of Pre-Theology studies at a seminary in a major Midwestern United States city with a prominent Catholic history. Prior to entering, I graduated from college in 2011 and worked professionally for five years. While volunteering in my parish, I started to feel an interior invitation to consider the priesthood. This feeling started to intensify once I began going to daily Mass, pray more frequently, spend time in our perpetual adoration chapel, etc. Getting to know some joyful priests and other Catholic young adults was also an inspiration. Even though I have a strong attraction to marriage and family life, I knew I needed to act on these inclinations. After a few years of experiencing this, I decided to become a diocesan seminarian.

In August of 2016, I entered seminary with zeal and on fire for the Lord. Unfortunately, seminary has been like the fire department, quickly extinguishing the fire that once burned inside of me. The best way to describe my formation is to call it a joyless pursuit of joy. I believe my seminary has a toxic culture that is not suited to forming well-rounded priests.

When I found out that I was assigned to this seminary, I was surprised at the reaction I received from some priests that I knew well. They were concerned about the choice. They said things like, “Don’t let them change the way you are." They said this because I have an outgoing personality and an ability to connect well with others. In a meeting with my vocation director before starting my first semester, he told us that no matter what goes on at this seminary, we would need to be “flexible” when we return to the diocese. I was learning through these conversations that this seminary has a reputation for having a rigid environment for formation and produces priests without compassion for their people. Despite this, my vocation director believed this would be a good fit because of their solid faculty. My experience at this place is that reputation is deserved. Liturgies are somber exercises lacking humanity instead of a gracious response for what God has given us. I wonder at times if they are trying to form normal parish priests or robots programmed for precise liturgical precision who only appreciate Latin. There is a faction of students who vocally hate the Novus Ordo and question the legitimacy of Pope Francis. This brings up a larger point about how a notable amount of men at this seminary don’t talk about their desire to serve God’s people, but instead plot ways to change practices that have been in place for around half a century. This mindset starts at the top with our rector-president. Several of his stories he has shared about his brief time as a parish pastor were about changes he made at his parish, like barring his parishioners from holding hands during the Our Father. These instances remind me of recent comments from Pope Francis. On May 5th, he commented that “many young people in the church today have fallen into the temptation of rigidity. Some are honest, they are good and we must pray that the Lord help them grow along the path of meekness.” He added that some “use rigidity in order to cover over weakness, sin, personality problems” and build themselves up at the expense of others. I do want to add that I consider myself to be theologically conservative.

One of the most difficult aspects of my time at seminary has been the loneliness I have felt. It has been arduous to make good friendships, which is something that has never been hard for me. Most of the men are congenial and pleasant in communal settings, but many seem guarded if I invite them to do something socially. I think I have a variety of interests: sports, history, traveling, movies, books, running, cycling, etc. Despite that, it is hard at times to connect with many of the men. They just aren’t interested in those things the same way that I am. If I were to put it in a less charitable way, there just doesn’t seem to be many normal people at this seminary. There is definitely a cliquey atmosphere and I haven’t found my way into a clique yet. Many of the men have the luxury of returning to their families and non-seminary friends during these times, but I can’t since I my home diocese is several hours away. In February, I confided my vocation director that my experience at seminary has been a lonely one. I expressed my desire to form stronger bonds with some of the men since I think these relationships will be important to have if I am ordained someday. He then shared this during his meeting with the formators in March. Soon after, my formation adviser wanted to meet with me. He said he had been getting the feeling that I was lonely and asked if his inclination was true. I said that it was and asked him why he thought that. He never mentioned that my vocation director told him this and acted like he came to the conclusion independently. He then said it was his experience that men at this seminary who feel lonely and desire deeper friendships in this setting “are not usually called to be priests.” He then said that I probably have “unrealistic expectations” about friendship.You would think that formators who claim to want to help seminarians and nurture vocations would be ready to assist a man who has admitted his seminary experience has been difficult, but that did not happen here. (CONTINUED ON NEXT POST)

(PART 2) One possible reason that it may be difficult for me to connect with others at this seminary is that I have encountered a notable amount of students who are sexually attracted to men and/or are noticeably effeminate. For example, in my seminarian support group (which we are required to participate in), two of the other five men have shared that they are attracted to men. Fortunately, they are seeking help from our school counselor, but it still makes our conversations somewhat uncomfortable. I’ve talked about this in spiritual direction and my director told me he knows of at least five men here who experience similar attractions. In my first semester, another Pre-Theologian asked me if I was gay or bisexual and then indicated that he would like to engage in some type of physical encounter. When I said I wouldn’t, he laughed it off like it was a joke. He also asked about the sexual orientation of other students who he thought were not heterosexual. I reported his behavior to the dean of seminarians and fortunately this individual left formation after the first semester. This individual has returned to this city at least four times in the second semester to spend weekends with another seminarian that he had a pretty public particular friendship with. The two typically stay together at an area hotel for these weekends. He also sent him a Valentine’s Day package in the mail. I cannot verify if there is anything sexual about their relationship, but it sure appears fishy. I have never known male friends to send each other gifts on Valentine’s Day, but maybe I should give them the benefit of the doubt. A different situation that I found odd occurred when our group of Pre-Theology men had a class outing. Two of the men were tickling each other during our car ride and asking each other if they were ticklish. I’ve never known men who like to tickle each other, but maybe I should give them the benefit of the doubt. In economics there is a term called opportunity cost. It is the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen. To me, the value of celibacy is dependent on the opportunity cost of what the individual is not choosing. What is the value of celibacy’s sacrifice if the celibate is not interested in relations with the opposite sex and having a family?

On the topic of celibacy, it is something that is never talked about by formators. I can’t recall one speech or homily where it was mentioned this year. I have expressed a desire to gain a greater understanding of what celibacy is and what it would look like in my possible priestly ministry, but that desire has been largely met with indifference from the formators. Fortunately, I have been able to talk about this in spiritual direction.

In an address to seminarians on May 12, 2014, Pope Francis said, “If you give into the danger of focusing just on academics, you go back home not as Father, but rather as Doctor. This is dangerous.” This seminary fosters an environment where the focus is primarily on academics. The philosophy program is rigorous and demanding to a point where things like prayer and fraternity need to take a back seat to academics in order to succeed. After one year at this seminary, I know a lot more about philosophy and Latin than I did before I entered. With that said, I ask myself, “Have I grown in relationship with the Lord?” The answer is no. “Do I experience more intimacy with the Lord in prayer?” No. Something seems wrong with this picture, but it should not be surprising considering the priorities this institution lays out for their seminarians.

Another thing that concerns me is that the seminary’s psychologist operates in the external forum. When men talk to her, their conversations are not private and summaries are sent to the formators.

While it is possible that I am not adjusted to seminary life yet, I think there are bigger issues than that. I am concerned about the culture at this place. I do not think this is a healthy environment for me to be in. I entered with a pretty strong sense that I was called to be a priest, but now I do not feel it anymore. I am not sure if it is because I am not genuinely called to priesthood or if it is because this seminary is not a good fit. My vocation director said that he wants me to return here next year despite my concerns. I feel like I have been open to formation and transparent in this process. What is your advice for me? I am happy to answer any additional questions that you may have.

I don’t know how one has to operate in a seminary in regards to what I’m about to say so stay with what is appropriate for a seminary. But, in an environment where things get around, NEVER tell someone your personal struggles, i.e. “feeling lonely”. It will ALWAYS come back to haunt you. Good Luck, it sounds like you would make a great priest!

I’m not sure if the opinion of a stay at home mom of five boys has any basis here :blush:, but honestly, it sounds like this particular seminary isn’t a right fit for you. Usually, my tendency is to advise people to stick it out, or believe that God is burning the dross off when trials and hardships happen, but in your case it just doesn’t feel right. You sound like the exact sort of man all the prayers for vocations hope for. An outgoing, healthy, sociable, heterosexual, flexible, balanced guy is what is looked for in the priesthood and you fit that criteria. So, I don’t think it is a crisis of vocation so much as a crisis of situation. I would try looking elsewhere. My :twocents:

Get out of there. Don’t go back. It will not go well for you.
You may be called to the priesthood but you are not called to this seminary. Look for another one.
I will pray for you.

Yes, I would leave. If you are having these kinds of concerns and you don’t feel comfortable enough to address these issues and get a fair hearing, it is not a healthy situation, precious little to do with service to God I might add in any capacity, as a priest or layman. Or that out of the ordinary would be my guess.

Praying for you. Transfer to another Seninary where it is more comfortable. You sound like a perfect candidate for the priesthood but I wouldn’t worry about that yet. The Lord will reveal His will for you in due time.

You need to be in a Seminary that offers great academics but also an environment where you can grow closer to God through prayer. There should be a sense of friendship and community amongst the seminarians. Recreation and hobbies provide for a well balanced person.

This is a conversation for you, your Rector, and the Vocations Director of your Diocese.
** Not internet strangers.** We can’t begin to know or understand the dynamics at play here.

It’s only the first year.
I think it’s a time of adjustment, and the basics.

But really, speak to someone who can actuality advise you in a knowledgeable way.

First of all congratulations on finishing your first year and your brave decision to become a priest.

I don’t think you should have any doubts about your call to the priesthood, you sound like you’d make a great priest.

But if this certain seminary frustrates you so much that you can rant for two long posts about it, I would defenitely switch to another seminary if I were you. Good luck and don’t worry, Jesus will help you :thumbsup:

Welcome to CAF! Thank you for responding to God’s invitation to consider the priesthood, even if it doesn’t pan out.

With the regard to the “you’re lonely so many you’re not called to be a priest” comment, it could be that your formation adviser is used to hearing men complain of loneliness when they are interested in pursuing a romantic relationship (with a woman or otherwise). He may have misinterpreted your desire for true friendship as a desire for a wife and family. I’m sure it’s happened before, though I agree with you that seminarians, like priests, need healthy friendships with other men.

Tickling, sending Valentine’s Day gifts, being propositioned to, these things are not normal things that men do to other men. This would sound an interior alarm within me, as well.

I don’t know enough about how seminary works or who the players are to really advise you. If it’s possible to transfer seminaries, that might be worth considering. Your struggle doesn’t strike me as a dark night of the soul or a temptation to leave the priesthood so much as just a reasonable conclusion that this is not the place for you. Would it be possible to meet with your Bishop at your home diocese? Could you meet with your pastor at your home parish? Get advice from someone on the outside who knows you and loves the Church but isn’t related to this seminary.

On behalf of me, a regular parishioner, I would also encourage you to please mention the tickling and homosexual vibe you got while in this seminary to whomever you end up speaking. That’s not healthy, for you or anyone else.

God bless you.

you know, there are several saints who either left religious life or transferred to a different order for similar reasons such as this. or even founded their own.

st. Teresa of avila, st. Catherine of siena, just to name a couple.

just by what you posted, it does not sound like a healthy environment to me either, but if you were to become a priest, would would have to face all sort of situations.

maybe there is another seminary you could go to?

and most of the priests I know don’t sound like your peers at this particular seminary. but youa re right, don’t speculate on others motives or behaviours, unless they are targeting you specifically, such as that guy who was "joking’ about a physical encounter.

it’s not true that priests have to be perpetually lonely, also. however, try not to discredit a choice of celibacy if a person doesn’t particularly feel a desire to marriage. that’s now really how it works either

To all of those saying that the original poster should “switch to a different seminary”: You do realize that it is the bishop (or religious superior) who assigns a candidate to a seminary, and that it is not up to the would-be priest? This is a first instance of the obedience that a priest promises to that superior (who, for a diocesan priest, is his bishop–the one now and all in the future)? Yes, a seminarian can discuss his concerns with the vocation director, or whoever is his primary contact, but he CANNOT make such decisions for himself.

If one cannot accept the judgment of one’s legitimate superior in such a matter, perhaps it is time to reconsider whether one will be able to do so as a lifetime commitment.

Which is hwy his post here is not going to resolve anything.
He has to speak to his rector,his Vocations Director, and ultimately, his Bishop.

I think many of the recommendations to find a new seminary have been tempered with comments like “if it’s possible” or “if they’ll allow you.” OP is contemplating leaving the seminary/priesthood altogether because of his experiences with this one seminary. His bishop ought to know this.

Yes, but this may also be indicative of an unwillingness to trust in the judgment of others more experienced and perhaps wiser. A vocation to priesthood is not a one-way street. It is not real until it is validated by the candidate’s acceptance at ordination. And part of one’s fitness is a willingness to put aside one’s own preferences for those of others. This is also true of religious life (for women as well as men).

Of course, the OP may simply taking a long and convoluted way of being critical of American seminaries.
You know, first post and all…:whistle:

That was my first thought. I can’t imagine a real seminarian who wouldn’t be aware that he’d need to discuss this with the formation director --not the Internet. As has been mentioned, the choice of seminaries is not up to the students. Also, a first-year theologian should perhaps be less concerned with critique and more concerned with learning.

He has discussed with the formation director. He described several interactions in his original posts. I’ve been around CAf long enough to spot trolls; this guy sounded genuine to me.

You may be right. I am sorry for his situation–it does not sound good. However, the only real advice we can give him is to continue working with his diocesan formation director. Another possibility, if he is convinced this seminary is really bad for his faith and formation, is to consider moving dioceses. If this seminary is what his diocese desires for formation, then perhaps he is not going to be the kind of priest they are looking for.

Dear brother in Christ,

I read your recent thread regards your experience of seminary life and I thought I’d give you some advice.

Firstly, well done on finishing your first year of priestly training! Following a vocation is no easy task these days so you should be very proud of your achievements thus far.

I’m a seminarian myself and have just finished my first year of theology studies. Thank God it’s going well and I have felt my vocation to Christ deepen as the years go by; however like yourself too have found some aspects difficult.

Your reference to the lack of ‘normal’ people made me chuckle. Seminary life is a complex reality, filled with all types of characters, personalities and (dare I say) theological views! Finding your own space within that type of environment is not easy or comfortable at times. Many students can have far right leanings and seem more concerned with cinctures and incense than the Gospel of Christ! In my own seminary I too have listened to guys attack pope Francis or blast liturgical practices of the past 60, feeling that since VII the whole Church has been on a downward spiral. Speaking from experience, this can be off putting and disheartening especially if you love the Church and feel a deep desire to bring the saving message of Christ to a people who are hungry for His Word. Negativity and pessimism in a seminary is detrimental to community life and kills fraternity. It can result too in the creation of cliques which completely undermine what a seminary is about. Right winged rigidity is usually an expression of a particular psychological makeup, which with good formation, should be diffused during seminary training. However don’t be too hard on your brothers whom you might disagree with, they too might offer you something valuable and also your friendship with them is in itself an opportunity for their continued formation. I’m sorry that you feel lonely but I’m sure there are plenty of excellent guys in your house that would provide good company for you. Perhaps join a sports club or college society? It might be a good way to meet new people.

I implore you to not allow the pessimism or negativity you have experienced in seminary to affect your vocation or undermine your convictions. God called you by name for to be a priest for His people. He offered you an invitation to follow Him and you have generously responded with an open heart. He who called you will sustain you, just like he sustained the people of Israel in the desert or the apostles in the sinking boat. Don’t despair, but rejoice! Rejoice that God has found you worthy to be his priest and stay close to him in prayer. I’m sure the problems you outlined will seem a lot more unimportant if you meditate on the sheer awesomeness of you vocation and the actions of God in your life.

There is no such thing as the perfect seminary. No such thing as the perfect rector or no such thing as the perfect community. We aim for perfection but fall often, however we still aim for it. You are in this particular seminary because it’s God’s will for you and even though you might not see it, in time you will realise how these experiences have helped form you into a finer seminarian. Stay close to Christ and pour out your heart to him. If your vocation is really to be a priest then He will let you know this, in the stillness of your heart.

With regards to the liturgies, every liturgical celebration is worship to God so there is always some value in it. Become aware of the beauties of the liturgy, either obvious or hidden, and treat them as opportunities to meet Christ. Orthodoxy is important as is good solid liturgy; however the main reason why we train for priesthood is to further the Kingdom of God on earth and to bring souls to heaven. That is our goal and therefore that is our ultimate motivational factor. When we lose sight of this, we lose our vocation.

With regards to your experiences of homosexual seminarians, all I can say is that the seminary is no place for sexual relations, either gay or straight. If you feel that some students are engaging inappropriately then bring this to your Spiritual Father in the internal forum and heed his advice. A lot of seminarians in every seminary all over the world are gay. I don’t know why this is but it seems to be the case. Respect them with regards their orientation but they too are held to the same high standards as any seminarian. Any overly physical contact between guys is not appropriate either. I’d wonder about the credibility of their vocation if they are engaging like that. Don’t despair though, any issues you have bring them to your Spiritual Father or confessor.

Overall, don’t be too hard on yourself. Seminary formation is a wonderful journey but can also leave you disillusioned at times, as your thread outlines. The scriptures are full of examples of people who have felt isolated or confused, as are the psalms we pray every day. God understands your heart and will guide you through it. Place your trust in Him.

Be sure too to enjoy your summer and get a good rest and pray for your brothers, formaters and the Church. Please too pray for me and all seminarians discerning the will of God. I’ll remember you in my prayers.

In Christ

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