Seminary formation is chiefly divided into three main phases. Each stage has its own focus in view of preparing seminarians for the priesthood. The three phases are as follows;
First three years
The first three years of formation following the propaedeutic year aim at helping the seminarian strengthen the virtues of faith, hope and charity.
One of the documents of Vatican Council II, the Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests states that,
The students should learn to live according to the Gospel ideal, to be strengthened in faith, hope and charity, so that, in the exercise of these practices, they may acquire the spirit of prayer, learn to defend and strengthen their vocation, obtain an increase of other virtues and grow in the zeal to gain all men for Christ. (P.O. 8b)
This is brought about mainly by living a life of prayer and the sacraments. Importance is given to living in a community, holding regular meetings with the spiritual direction, Rector and Vice-Rector.
During the first three years, one reads for a bachelor’s degree in humanities and the social sciences and is also introduced to the foundations of theology.
In the summer vacations, each seminarian is assigned a parish or an NGO in order to widen his experience of mission and to help him develop his aptitudes related to pastoral work.
The Intermediate year has the aim of helping the person reflect better on his vocation in order to continue to mature in all four aspects of formation: human, pastoral, intellectual and spiritual. Each seminarian is given the opportunity to experience a year outside the Seminary and embark on other projects, which can help him widen his view of the Church in today’s world.
During this period it is expected that seminarians carry out some type of work experience. This can be of great benefit to gain a wider perspecive of life. It also gives them the opportunity to get first hand experience of what it means to be charged with work responsibility, while earning a salary.
Here, the seminarian seeks to engage in voluntary work in some local institution or other. One here discovers other initiatives taken by lay people who dedicate their time and energy for some good cause.
This is perhaps the most awaited experience of all, where the seminarian embarks on missionary work abroad. While some opt to do missionary work in developing countries, such as Latin America, India, The Philippines or Africa, others opt to carry out missionary work in Europe, North America or Australia. This experience usually constitutes the bulk of the intermediate year and the seminarian usually inserts himself in a parish or community under the care of a trusted person.
At some point or other of the intermediate year, the seminarian stops to reflect on how God has been speaking to him through all these experiences. This usually takes the form of a retreat done locally or abroad. Some opt for the one-month Ignatian retreat, many a time a milestone in one’s faith journey.
Last three years
Following the intermediate year, the seminarian is already looking outwards of the Seminary community towards a larger community which he will eventually serve: the Church.
Academic formation now uses the concepts learnt during the foundational courses of philosophy and the human sciences, theology is now studied at a deeper level, eventually moving on to a postgraduate course in pastoral theology.
At this stage, formation shifts from a programme focusing on virtues of faith, hope and charity to one which places emphasis on the evangelical counsels, that is, obedience, poverty and chastity, one for each year respectively.
It is during these three years of formation that the first ministries which eventually lead to priesthood are instituted.
During the Admission to Holy Orders, the Seminarian officially presents his request to follow formation towards priesthood and he is officially accepted as a candidate to the Holy Orders. It is usually by the end of the fifth year of formation that the candidate prepares himself to receive the Ministry of Lector. In the sixth year of formation the seminarian finally prepares himself to receive the Ministry of Acolyte.
During the first few months of the seventh year of formation the seminarian is ordained Deacon, which would eventually lead him to be ordained priest a couple of months later.