Formation activities and Catholic seminarians: A practical theological study of their impact on subsequent perseverance in ministry
This thesis looks for evidence of a relationship between participation in several formation activities by Catholic diocesan seminarians in the United States and their perseverance in ministry after ordination. A review of theologies of priesthood, especially regarding the expected lifetime commitment, as well as expectations for seminary formation of the US Bishops, is included. This work concludes that perseverance in priestly ministry is a value that has been held throughout Catholic history. While different theological explanations have been offered for it, a consistent thread is the notion that priests remaining in ministry for life is something that is good for the People of God, the Christian faithful. Theological and pastoral rationales for the programmes being studied are also considered: pastoral year internships, Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), Jesus Caritas (and similar fraternal support programmes), Institute for Priestly Formation (IPF), spirituality or propaedeutic year, and pastoral language preparation programmes. This study includes a review of available documentation and questionnaires completed by professionals involved with some of the formation activities. Empirical research involved effort to contact diocesan priests ordained in 2005 remaining in active ministry in 2016, and those ordained in 2003-2005 who have left active ministry, comparing the cohorts with regards to participation in these programmes. While there was too low a response rate to make comparisons between groups, responses to Likert scale questions provide information about the varying impact of the formation activity examined on different aspects of seminary formation, which appear to be connected to perseverance in ministry and to the purpose of each formation activity. Results lead to a discussion about the impact of these programmes on perseverance and recommendations for future action. The application of the Net Promoter Score, from the marketing arena, results in the development of a Net Impact Score for each formation activity. IPF has the most positive Net Impact Score, on almost all measures, followed by pastoral year internships and the spirituality or propaedeutic year experience. CPE has the most negative Net Impact Score on almost all questions. Theological reflection on the results suggests that programmes that are closely aligned to the broader purposes of seminary formation and to the mission of the particular seminary are likely to be the most effective in promoting persevering and fruitful ministry after ordination. The more control an individual seminary or a body linked to Catholic seminaries has of a particular programme, the more likely it is to be effective, according to what is termed the “franchise effect". Recommendations are made for greater use of some of these formation activities, caution in the use of others, and for ways in which any of them could be used in the most effective way possible. All of these suggestions are made in view of the ongoing work to prepare for the sixth edition of the Program of Priestly Formation for the US.
- Theology