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Q&A on the diocesan seminarian program Print
Guest column
Thursday, Sep. 10, 2009 -- 12:00 AM

During my years as the Vocations Director for the Diocese of Madison I've encountered a certain set of recurring questions from priests and laity regarding our seminarian program.

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They are excellent questions that show an interest in the seminarians' formation for priesthood. In this article, I answer six of these recurring questions. If anyone has other questions, feel free to e-mail me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . For more on diocesan seminarians, go online to and click on the "Vocations" tab.

What are the principal categories of seminaries?

In times past, the seminary system was designed as a "6-6" program consisting of six years of minor seminary and six years of major seminary. The six years of minor seminary consisted of the four years of high school and the first two years of college when a seminarian took "general credits" for well-rounded education prior to studying philosophy. The six years of major seminary consisted of two years of philosophy (i.e., finishing the last two years of "college") and four years of theology.

Today, we have the "4-4-4" program that more closely resembles the categories of secular education. High school seminary consists of the four years of high school. College seminary consists of the four years of college study leading to a bachelor degree in philosophy.  Major seminary consists of the four years of graduate study in theology that proximately prepares the seminarian for priesthood.

How long is seminary?

For a man entering college seminary, the total period of seminary formation is eight years (four years of college and four years of major seminary). For a man already with a bachelor degree at the time of applying for seminary, the total period of seminary formation is typically six years (two years of philosophy and four years of theology education).

Why do we use multiple seminaries?

The process of regionalization or consolidation of the seminary system in the United States took place after the Vatican II Council due to the smaller number of seminarians and due to cost considerations. Thus, there are fewer seminaries overall. The Diocese of Madison, like many other dioceses, does not have its own seminary at the high school, college, or major levels. Thus, we use other inter-diocesan or (arch)diocesan seminaries outside of our diocese.

The Diocese of Madison also uses more than one seminary at the same time in order to expose seminarians of the diocese to the highest quality seminaries while at the same time assimilating a variety of theological training in our seminarians that provides a rich and varied gift of ideas for our diocese. Different seminaries have different strengths and a broad use of seminaries makes strategic use of these strengths.

What is seminary formation?

Seminary formation consists of four "pillars." Firstly, human formation helps to form the man as a good, healthy, integrated person at the natural level. This includes a healthy perspective on sexuality and the gift of celibacy.

Secondly, academic formation trains the mind in philosophy, theology, and related disciplines for service in the Church.

Thirdly, spiritual formation develops a man of prayer and spiritual reflection through conferences, spiritual direction, and a daily regiment of the sacraments, liturgical prayer, private prayer, and devotional practices.

Lastly, pastoral formation forms a man of service and sacrifice for the varied aspects of priestly ministry. These four pillars must be integrated into a cohesive whole to form a healthy and effective priest of Jesus Christ.

What are the costs of seminary?

The costs of college seminary and major seminary are closely related to the tuition, room, and board associated with a private Catholic education at the undergraduate and graduate levels, respectively. At the college level, many universities reduce the tuition cost for college seminarians as part of their mission to train future priests.

The Diocese of Madison provides partial but substantial assistance to college seminarians for the cost of tuition, room, board, and some miscellaneous expenses. No man wishing to attend college seminary is turned away because of lack of personal or family financial resources, and the diocese finds ways to allow the man to meet his college seminary expenses.

For major seminarians, the Diocese of Madison provides complete coverage for tuition, room, board, and health insurance, along with a personal monthly stipend for miscellaneous expenses. This financial coverage at the major seminary level allows the seminarian to completely devote himself to the rigors of his seminary formation and to the needs of the diocese both during the academic year and during the summer recess.

Different seminaries have different cost levels, although most are within a fairly narrow range due to competitive pressures. Surprising to many is the fact that the total yearly cost for education at American major seminaries in Europe is often less expensive than the commensurate education at American seminaries located in the United States, even with consideration of travel expenses.

What do seminarians do during the summer?

College seminarians usually work in summer secular employment just like other college students. Occasionally, a college seminarian may work for the Church or get involved in a specific summer seminarian program offered by the diocese.

Major seminarians are completely committed to their formational program for the full year. In the summer their formation typically takes place outside the seminary structure. However, there are major seminaries that sponsor summer educational trips to the Holy Land or Rome or offer summer Ignatian-style retreats for their seminarians.

For most major seminarians, however, summer formation will consist of pastoral ministry in parishes in the Diocese of Madison under the helpful guidance and wisdom of our pastors. Periodically, the summer formation may also consist of foreign language study (especially Spanish), short-term seminars on specialized topics, or longer-term conferences on the spirituality of diocesan priesthood.

During this Year for Priests, may Our Lord grant us a rich harvest of men who will commit their lives in priestly service to Jesus Christ. St. John Vianney, patron saint of diocesan priests, pray for us!

Msgr. James Bartylla is the director of the Diocesan Office of Vocations.