That a comprehensive pastoral character should mark every aspect of seminary formation is clearly stated in the Second Vatican Council Decree on the Training of Priests (Optatam Totius) [Vatican Council II: The Counciliar and Post Counciliar Documents. Austin Flannery, editor. Decree of Priestly Training, 1975.] and again emphasized in the Program of Priestly Formation [Program of Priestly Formation, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Fifth Edition, 2006. (Hereafter referred to as PPF).]. The Pastoral Formation Program at St. John’s Seminary is rooted in these documents and is designed with attention to the needs and future ministry of the students. These documents make clear that pastoral field education is to be studied as the true and genuine theological discipline that it is: pastoral or practical theology.
The Program of Priestly Formation states: “All four pillars of formation are interwoven and go forward concurrently. Still, in a certain sense, pastoral formation is the culmination of the entire formation process.” (PPF #236) Through prayer and theological reflection, pastoral experience is integrated with elements of the human, spiritual and intellectual formation in such a way that they can be put to practical use for others.
It is the role of Pastoral Formation to encourage the students to take personal responsibility in conforming themselves after the heart of the Good Shepherd. As a laboratory for learning through practice, pastoral experiences provide opportunities for seminarians to exercise leadership in the Church and to learn the priestly dimension of pastoral ministry. An attitude of pastoral zeal, humble learning, positive effort and openness to receive feedback and learn from the experiences, should characterize each student’s approach to Pastoral Formation.
Essential to Pastoral Formation is learning and practicing the art of theological reflection, with an aim of forming a life-long habit of prayerful reflection and shared wisdom on ministry experiences. On all levels, through intentional journaling and group Theological Reflection, students experience the value of this discipline.