Seminarian life makes the priest, but also the man

by Riley Durkin


“A priest is a man of prayer and sacrifice, all for the love of the people of his parish.” – Riley Durkin, Fargo Diocese seminarian

If I have learned one thing in all my years of seminary, it is that God sometimes calls men to seminary, but not to the priesthood. When I was in high school, I often said that all Catholic men should spend some time in a seminary because if nothing else, it teaches you how to be a good Christian man. The term seminaries use to define the process of turning a man into a good priest is called “formation.”

Seminary formation stresses four “pillars” that will help a man grow. These pillars are human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral. The most important pillar (and the first one a seminary will work on with a man) is human. This is the base-pillar on which the other three are built. Human formation helps the seminarian to form basic habits to make a man healthy and presentable. If a man doesn’t shower daily, goes to bed late, and is dressed unprofessionally, this will negatively affect how well he studies, prays and ministers. The first role of seminary formation is to help a man who does not already have these habits to form them.

The second and third “pillars” are spiritual and intellectual formation. If we imagine these pillars like a house, human formation is the base, with intellectual and spiritual formation being the supports. While every Catholic seminary uses different strategies of strengthening each of these pillars, St. Paul mandates a daily Holy Hour and Mass to help a man grow in love of the Eucharist. These help the seminarian form habits that he can take into the priesthood. A good priest is a man of prayer.

Intellectual formation is the most externally obvious piece of formation. Every undergraduate seminarian majors in Philosophy. This discipline is aimed at changing the way a man thinks and will help him better understand his graduate studies in Theology. We attend class everyday just like any other college, but the classes are often geared toward Catholicism and helping men in their ministries as future priests.

The final pillar, pastoral formation, is held up by the two supports of spiritual and intellectual formation. If any of the other pillars in a man are particularly weak, he will not minister effectively. In St. Paul, every seminarian has a “teaching parish”. This is a parish in the Archdiocese that a man goes to every week to build relationships with the parishioners and help out with any ministries that are going on. The two-fold reason for this is primarily to make sure that the seminarian can see himself in parish ministry for the rest of his life, and to give the man a “taste” of pastoral work in an academic environment. It also helps a seminarian see areas where he may be lacking, thus helping him grow in self- knowledge.

While I was discerning entering seminary, I thought I would make a pretty good priest. I went to confession, Mass (sometimes even daily!), and tried my best to live a life of virtue. But as I look back, I now see that I was a totally different man. I didn’t know how to pray, and I hadn’t yet obtained the basic habits of being a good Christian man. I had thought that all a priest needed to be was a nice guy that helped out in the community. But formation and personal growth has taught me that a priest is so much more than that.

A priest is a man of prayer and sacrifice, all for the love of the people of his parish. My growth in authentic self-knowledge allowed me to see that I still have a lot of work to do in the next several years. And if God ever calls me to be married, I will be a better husband and father because of my time here. To any man who is considering the priesthood, I would tell him to try seminary. If a man abandons himself – even if he’s not called to be a priest – the sacrifices he makes while he is in seminary will be worth it.

Durkin is a Theology I student studying at St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minn.

Editor’s Note: Seminarian Life is a monthly column written by current Diocese of Fargo seminarians. It gives New Earth readers a glimpse of what these discerning young men are experiencing. Please continue to pray for them.