The whole formation imparted to candidates for the priesthood aims at preparing them to enter into communion with the charity of Christ the Good Shepherd. Hence, their formation in its different aspects must have a fundamentally pastoral character.
Since the seminary is intended to prepare seminarians to be shepherds in the image of Christ, priestly formation must be permeated by the same spirit. “Pastoral theology is not just an art. Nor is it a set of exhortations, experiences and methods. It is theological in its own right, because it receives from the faith the principles and criteria for the pastoral action of the Church in history” (Pastores dabo vobis). In other words, pastoral formation must be rooted in pastoral theology. This pastoral spirit which permeates pastoral formation will enable seminarians to demonstrate that same compassion, generosity, love for all, especially for the poor, and zeal for the Kingdom that characterised the public ministry of Jesus. This can be summed up as pastoral charity (see The Gift of the Priestly Vocation).
The pastoral formation programme aims to prepare students for pastoral ministry. Throughout his time in the seminary the student will be an active participant in a co-ordinated pastoral programme that provides practical experience, reflection and participative learning.
Elements of Pastoral Formation
A series of pastoral placements introduce the student to diverse and increasingly demanding pastoral situations. This is preceded by appropriate preparation and supported throughout by regular supervision. The development of each one’s skills is enhanced through participation in group-work, making possible mature theological reflection on his experience. The ultimate aim of the programme is the fostering of the gifts necessary for a ministry of service.
The seminary which educates must seek really and truly to initiate the candidate into the sensitivity of being a shepherd, in the conscious and mature assumption of his responsibilities, in the interior habit of evaluating problems and establishing priorities, and looking for solutions on the basis of honest motivations of faith and according to the theological demands inherent in pastoral work.[PDV #58]
The structure of the pastoral programme is cumulative, both in terms of the degree of difficulty of the placement and the depth of subsequent analysis of the pastoral experience itself. The student is offered a gradual introduction (Module 1), culminating in a full year of pastoral experience and learning (Module 4).
The programme aims to be existential, integrating, proportionate and supported.
Placements and the reflection on pastoral experience occur between October and Easter each year. Prior preparation takes place as required by the nature of the placement. Placements are supported by the help of a contact person in situ. Analysis and reflection occur in a group format with peers, facilitated by a trained member of the Irish Association of Pastoral Formation. This format aims at enabling each participant to reflect constructively on his field placement, to recognise and affirm his unique gifts and to identify and articulate areas of personal and professional growth. It also encourages a student to integrate his theological education with his pastoral practice and to become aware of the ways in which his ministry affects others.
The pastoral programme offered by the College does not confine itself to the academic year. Students are encouraged to use some of their time away from the seminary, particularly during their summer holiday, to broaden their pastoral experience. Placements within a student’s own diocese can be of particular value and recognition of this work is given in the overall assessment of the student. The particular placements are chosen through consultation between the student, his Director of Formation and a contact person in the diocese with the specific needs of the particular student in mind.
The programme throughout the College year is divided into four modules:
Module I The student is gradually introduced to pastoral work through a pastoral placement, which he attends on a regular basis and in which he is supported by an on-site contact person.
Module II The student attends his placement weekly and presents a pastoral event report to his pastoral group meeting: each student presents one report to the group for reflective analysis.
Module III The placement visit occurs weekly and there is a weekly pastoral reflection meeting: on two occasions throughout the year, each student presents a verbatim to the group for theological reflection and analysis.
Module IV Usually undertaken in the Second Theology or final year, the student completes a Diploma in Pastoral Studies.
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