The State of the Seminary and Reasons for Hope

The seminarians whom I serve, as a professor of philosophy, wish eagerly to share the Gospel and the freedom they themselves have found in Christ.

A statue of Jesus greets visitors at St. Patrick's Seminary & University in Menlo Park, California. (CNS photo/Chaz Muth)

Our Lord told his disciples, “the harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest” (Mt. 9:37-38). There has never been a time in the history of the Church when she has not needed good and holy priests, but it would seem that, at present, there has never been a time when she has needed them more. Sadly, recent memory is full of examples of wicked and unholy priests. The last several years have been one gut-wrenching and heart-breaking story after another of sexual abuse, cover-up, and financial corruption.

Such priests come from seminaries, they do not simply appear out of nowhere. Thus, we see the need for a renewal of the seminary and seminary formation. There is ample opportunity for Catholics to feel desolation and give way to despair. There is also, however, reason for great hope.

First, let’s clarify the mission of the seminary. A seminary exists, ultimately, for one and only one purpose: to form men into good and holy priests. The men entering seminary have many great gifts and skills, but as priests they must direct everything towards winning souls for Christ. The Program for Priestly Formation (PPF), the guiding document for seminaries in the United State, states that, “formation, as the Church understands it, is not equivalent to a secular sense of schooling or, even less, job training. Formation is first and foremost cooperation with the grace of God” (§68). The purpose of seminary formation is not to lead men to be great civic leaders, social organizers, or prolific scholars. To be sure, the Church has had many holy men and women who possessed these gifts and put them at the Lord’s service. The purpose of a seminary, however, is to aid men in responding to the grace and call from God to become alteri Christi, “other Christs.”

The PPF continues by noting that, “the seminary and its programs foster the formation of future priests by attending specifically to their human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral formation” (§69). These “four pillars” form the heart of the formation by which a man takes on the heart and mind of Jesus Christ. We are not, in the seminary, attempting to create men capable of winning intellectual arguments, nor do we offer instruction in how to raise funds and organize social programs. At rock bottom, the seminary exists to form men into true Shepherds and spiritual fathers.

What is the state of seminaries in the United States? We are all too familiar with the reasons for despair, but I believe here is where we also find true cause for hope. I cannot speak for all teachers. I can only speak from my experience as both a university professor at a Catholic college and now at a seminary. There are striking similarities. The young men and women at authentically Catholic universities are deeply committed to the true Catholic faith, and they wish to share that faith with the world. They are not seeking to beat others over the head with their faith, nor are they “Pharisees” with no true concern for the poor and marginalized. These students wish to encounter Jesus Christ, learn the faith he handed to the Church, and discern how best to live and share that faith.

The seminarians whom I serve, as a professor of philosophy at St. Patrick’s Seminary and University in Menlo Park, California, are quite similar to Catholic undergraduates. They are men with a wide array of personalities and backgrounds. Seminarians are not produced from a mold, and they are each unique individuals. Like their fellow Catholics attending larger universities, these seminarians do not wield the faith like a baseball bat. They do not look to smash over the head anyone who dares to ask questions or even express doubts. Our seminarians wish eagerly to share the Gospel and the freedom they themselves have found in Christ with men and women in our current culture.

The only significant, but obvious, difference between our seminarians and the average Catholic undergraduate is that our seminarians have felt a stirring in their hearts from God the Father to follow him in a more radical way. These men simply wish to follow the Shepherd’s voice, and they have heard him asking them to consider giving their lives totally and completely. They are good men, committed to Christ and the truths of the faith, and eager to hand it on to others.

In recent months seminaries have come under significant scrutiny due to reports of heterodox or biased faculty, sexual abuse, and lack of transparency. For instance, there has been frustration over the failure of approximately half of US seminaries to participate the recent joint study, conducted by the University of Notre Dame and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), titled “Sexual Harassment and Catholic Seminary Culture”. Many worry that this lack of cooperation signals that seminaries have not truly committed to responding to the crisis of sexual abuse in the Church.

Once again, I cannot speak for other seminaries, but my own seminary of St. Patrick’s did in fact participate in this study and enthusiastically supports efforts to prevent abuse. The seminary is deeply committed to creating a culture that respects all members of the community. Readers can read the seminary’s Safe Environment statement. Furthermore, the faculty and staff here at St. Patrick’s are, like our seminarians, men and women of deep faith simply following God’s call. Following the leadership of Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, we view our work as a calling from God to help form good and holy priests for the Church.

Like our seminarians, we do not wish to push a particular agenda or to promote a false image of the Church. We simply wish to convey to these men the truth of the Catholic intellectual tradition and thereby form these men, not to be again scholars or great fundraisers, but shepherds capable of leading their flocks. I consider this vocation, and I am certain my colleagues would agree, to be the joy of a lifetime.

What then can you do? I do not wish to downplay the failings of Catholic leaders in the past nor hide the reality that much work still lies before us. I simply offer assurance that there is hope. But we need your help. First, please pray for our seminarians and priests. The one thing Satan hates most is a faithful priest filled with joy, and he does whatever he can to pull down our priests and seminarians.

We also need a renewal of the married life. The Church needs strong and faith-filled families willing to provide the fertile soil in which a vocation, whether to the priesthood or the religious life, can take root and grow. A survey by CARA of the most recently ordained priests reveals that a young man who spends time in deep prayer before Jesus in the Eucharist or as a server in the Mass, has a close affinity to Our Mother Mary, and finds encouragement at a young age, is far more likely to consider a vocation to the priesthood. Families must be true domestic churches of faith and prayer, where their children, both sons and daughters, find not only permission but rather encouragement to consider a vocation. If we build families that teach children to listen to the voice of Jesus, then those children will find greater support for accepting the call to follow.

The family and seminary are ready for a renewal, and both will support one another. There is, as I said, real reason for hope.

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About John Macias 3 Articles
Dr. John Macias serves as Assistant Professor of Philosophy at St. Patrick's Seminary & University in Menlo Park, CA. He received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the Center for Thomistic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, TX. His research interests include political philosophy, natural law, and the thought of Alasdair MacIntyre.


  1. (The purpose of a seminary, however, is to aid men in responding to the grace and call from God to become alteri Christi, “other Christs.”)

    Given that all Christians become other Christ’s by being baptized by water and Spirit this needs to be elaborated in a satisfactory manner or dropped from sacramental theology concerning Holy Orders.

      • St. Paul was a modernist? Gal. 3:27, Phil. 1:21.

        And a reminder: baptism by water and Spiirit = “Baptism” and Confirmation together

        Tradition is more than Latin scholastic theology and its derivatives, and the latter isn’t even at the same level as the former.

        • St. Paul is not a modernist and “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27) and “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21) has nothing to do with alter Christus.

          Moreover, you consider personal examples of (Gal. 3:27) and (Phil. 1:21) as examples of communism (!), as can be seen in

          • I linked to an article claiming Communists were involved with the promotion of the Civil Rights movement; you need to understand properly what I actually posted.

            As for St. Paul not teaching that we become other Christs, show me an authoritative Latin source that denies this, as opposed to your own private opinion. The Byzantine and Oriental Orthodox traditions are quite clear in interpreting St. Paul and the Gospel in this manner.

          • @SOL
            The Byzantine and Oriental Orthodox traditions… Well, these traditions has different terminology dating back to Septuagint. Don’t be childish. But even if man is created “kata” Christus he is not alter Christus but mere “secundum” Christus.

          • You’re wrong — it’s not just a question of terminology but also the metaphysics or ontology of salvation. If you are unable to discuss theology, then don’t say anything, instead of using verbal putdowns.

            We must, each of us, be alter Christus, ipse Christus: another Christ, Christ himself. Only in this way can we set about this great undertaking, this immense, unending task of sanctifying all temporal structures from within, bringing to them the leaven of redemption.

            –St. Josemaria Escriva Christ is Passing By, 183

            Is St. Josemaria Escriva a modernist, then?

          • @SOL
            I don’t bother with some paragraph from Escriva. He is just talking in a relaxed way on some concrete occasion. You are calling for theological clarity and then you cite some newspaper-like piece…

            Man cannot be alter Christus. Even the greatest human being – i.e. Virgin Mary – is not alter Christus. This hold even for our Lord abandoned by God. The rest is wording.

            Really nice is James’s comment noting “Mystici Corporis Christi” (1943) by Pius XII.

          • “Man cannot be alter Christus.”

            And yet Scripture, St. Irenaeus, St. Athanasius, and St. Thomas Aquinas say:

            The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature”: “For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.” “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.” (CCC, 460)

            In other words, by baptism we become by grace what the Son is by nature.

            As for priests, here is Benedict XVI back in 2010:

            “As an alter Christus, the priest is profoundly united to the Word of the Father who, in becoming incarnate took the form of a servant, he became a servant (Phil 2: 5-11). The priest is a servant of Christ, in the sense that his existence, configured to Christ ontologically, acquires an essentially relational character: he is in Christ, for Christ and with Christ, at the service of humankind. Because he belongs to Christ, the priest is radically at the service of all people: he is the minister of their salvation, their happiness and their authentic liberation, developing, in this gradual assumption of Christ’s will, in prayer, in “being heart to heart” with him. Therefore this is the indispensable condition for every proclamation, which entails participation in the sacramental offering of the Eucharist and docile obedience to the Church.”

          • @Carl E. Olson
            You have answered whole thing in your comment: the first part ends with “by baptism we become by grace what the Son is by nature”, the second part starts with “As an alter Christus, the priest is …”.

            Can you imagine to reverse it like “by ordination we become by grace what the Son is by nature” and “As an alter Christus, every baptized is …”? Or to negate it by some leveling out between baptism and ordination, or between man and God?

            By the way, “Mystici Corporis Christi” of Pius XII. was motivated by error of German, Third Reich’s theologians who dropped sense of exactly these differences. “Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer” serves here as an example of this confusion (false mysticism, according to Pius XII.). Führer is just one from the Volk, The Big Brother. Post-conciliar “people” of God with social justice ideology could be another example.

            There has been noted Eastern Christianity earlier in these thread. Some parts of Solovyov’s work can be seen as “Mystici Corporis Christi” of the East. We have to remember where and when it was written. Solovyov died in 1900 and he is completely rooted in eastern settings and yet his work could also be written against German theologian of 1940s or against post-conciliar theologians. It is possible due to presence of the same errors…

          • … I would like to mention prodigal son’s return to his father. “And he said unto him, Son, you are ever with me, and all that I have is yours.” are others are illustrating exactly this topic.

    • You would appreciate “Mediator Dei” by Pius XII (20 November 1947) because it goes a long way in answering your question as to why the ordained priest is “alter Christus,” as well as affirming your insight into the reality that the baptized participate to a degree in the priesthood.
      It is a terribly rich encyclical, it provides a context for what was to transpire at the council of 1962-65, a theological justification for liturgical alteration while delivering correction for the abuses which were there generated and a rationale for the restoration now required.
      While it is not short it is by no means an unreasonable read. All of it should be read. It is incredibly rich and each word hangs on the other. It is a prayerful reflection on the sacred mysteries. I found paragraphs 81-88 particularly pertinent to your concern, paragraph 84 stood out to me.
      “It is superfluous to explain how captious errors of this sort completely contradict the truths which we have just stated above, when treating of the place of the priest in the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ. But we deem it necessary to recall that the priest acts for the people only because he represents Jesus Christ, who is Head of all His members and offers Himself in their stead. Hence, he goes to the altar as the minister of Christ, inferior to Christ but superior to the people.[Saint Robert Bellarmine, “De Missa”, 2, c.4.] The people, on the other hand, since they in no sense represent the divine Redeemer and are not mediator between themselves and God, can in no way possess the sacerdotal power.”
      Don’t forget to peruse the footnotes. The perennial Magisterium does not emerge from nowhere. Pertinent to your concern as well is “Mystici Corporis Christi” (1943) by Pius XII. He was an extraordinary teacher.

      • It is necessary to point out that the encyclical is a product of Latin developments in soteriology and sacramental theology regarding the Eucharist and Holy Orders. Whether it represents the core of Tradition or the preferred theologoumena of one particular bishop of Rome is a question that needs to be asked and answered.

      • Those theologoumena are explicating the dominant Latin understanding of “sacrifice” and the roles of presbyteros and episkopos at the Eucharistic assembly are understood accordingly. We must return to the fundamental question of how our Lord’s life, death, resurrection, and glorification is to be understood as “sacrifice” as ir was addressed by the Apostles.

      • One can find a survey (not exhaustive) of Latin opinion on the meaning of sacrifice in Michael McGuckin’s The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: A Search for an Acceptable Notion of Sacrifice.

  2. The new young priests, at our teaching parish, are absolutely fantastic! I am so happy and adore the orthodoxy and faithfulness of these new young leaders to God for us. The only problem for those of us who begin to get close to them is that they are transferred to a permanent parish because they are only with us for two years. But, we are so fortunate to see that God has fantastic plans for these amazing men. Gives me great happiness to know they are our future faith leaders of the One True Church of Jesus Christ. Thank you and God bless each and every one of them!

  3. Those seminarians who were devoted to Our Lady or who spent time in deep devotion to Our Lord, according to Michael Rose in ‘Goodbye Good Men’ were called ‘rigid’ , or ‘too orthodox ‘ and were hastened out of the seminaries to make room for the predatory priests that so defiled their victims and the office they held. Someone from that generation (and attitude), might, even today, describe such faithful Catholics as ‘rigid’ and ‘Pharisees ’. They were weeded out so those who saw the Catholic Church as an opportunity to wear great outfits and renovate historic houses for massive amounts of money, became the ones rising through the ranks. Now the unorthodox, undivided, seem to have risen to high positions in the Vatican but the genuine Catholics, alas for them, are still there, still applying to be seminarians, to stand in the shoes of Christ and still praying the Rosary, devotions to Our Lady and dedicating themselves to Christ. They are definitely too ‘rigid’, these ‘Pharisees’ – isn’t it wonderful?!

  4. While I appreciate the desire to transmit the Teachings of the Church by Dr Macias the messenger in seminaries is less and less priests and more laity and other non-priests. Again I do not discount their efforts or zeal they are not the “models of priest” priests-to-be can aspire to without abandoning their vocation. More good, holy, teaching priests need to be in seminaries as models. The others can bring unique insights academically and from their charism of their state in life but it’s as if vegetarians were teaching omnivores the blessings of meat.

  5. Unsure if the readers of this site also come across this relevant article as well –

    True , the issues in seminaries can be similar to what can afflict families in our ‘death spirit ‘ afflicted culture and thank God that exorcists ( Fr.Ripperger ) warn us of the ‘kingdom ‘ of same , related to every antilife mentality , that can become like the poison mustard seeds to propagate over whole landscapes , to invite in the ‘ birds ‘ of the air that come to steal away much .

    The ‘human ‘ formation mentioned , hope it would include ongoing focus on the ministry of deliverance , for the whole family of the seminarian even , esp. if there have been sins against marital purity , in the family lines as well .
    The Church seeming to have good many of such ministries under good priests with charismatic gifts of visions and such – hope it would not be too far in the future where in there could be easy access for both priests and seminarians as well as Bishops to such networks , to help deal with many problem areas including false accusations and abusive use of power .
    The laity getting to be more informed of all these areas to be thus moved to do their share ,esp. in discerning the good of reparations , for the rebellious ‘flesh ‘ and carnal spirits , to thus be graced to have more of the oneness in Spirit and the related obediance that pervaded the Holy Family , to be in own lives and relationships .
    May the prayers and blessings of all the good saints , including that of St.John Bosco and St. De Sales be there for all in our lives , that every prayer recited on the Rosary bead too be the powerful mustard seed of good .

  6. When screening applicants they should take a written psychological test that includes same sex attraction questions. Too many of our priests obviously did not take such a test and the results are evident when guys like McCarick becomes a cardinal and preys on seminarians. Time to clean house so it never happens again. I was born Catholic and will die Catholic in spite of the dumb leadership in the church today.

    • You are absolutely correct Mr. Gianattasio and I pray this is being done. I used to donate quite often to a variety of seminaries but no longer do as I need to be assured that the types of questions to which you are referring are, in fact, being asked and attended to. But how will I know? The USCCB must launch a nationwide campaign to assure donors, but I see nothing in the works whatsoever to do so. No assurance, no donations.

    • Psychological screening has been if full operation for over fifty years. The issue of sexual attraction is able to be determined. The issue of sexual compulsiveness is more pertinent. Even more pertinent perhaps at this moment is how will the individual function productively in an institution in an advanced state of dysfunction. Can they maintain themselves in relation to superiors who are frequently AWOL emotionally, spiritually and practically — often stuck in protracted adolescence. Unfortunately professional therapeutics have proved as useful as the expert legal counsel provided the Church. Abysmal.
      You got to go to the bottom line: Christ calls.
      All the human resource crafting and psycho screening has proved woefully inadequate. The question is always “Is Christ calling this man to the priesthood?” The second question is “Can we adequately support him in his response to Christ?”
      Spend sufficient time with a man and it will become clear.
      If Christ is calling the obstacles can be overcome if there is authentic engagement with the discernment on the level of prayerful spiritual discernment — that can only be accomplish where there is faith in the truths of the Church. Absent that real assent to the truths of the faith it is all reduced to theater, a job application.

  7. One more such sign of hope , in this article at Spirit Daily site , on what sounds like a good anointed ministry , by a convert lay person –

    and a sample of same , focusing on the topic of forgiveness , in a manner to esp. also help those who might have become jaded about having heard ‘enough’ on the
    topic , how critical it is to ‘will’ to forgive others and oneself as well , to be set
    free from the spirits that can torture , to thus become useful for The Kingdom –

    One just have to imagine how much the priestly anointing can add to the above ,
    esp. with the blessing of the Holy Father too, who wants lay ministry to be encouraged as well , without any ‘rigidity ‘ of ‘control spirits’. 🙂

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