"...so too for every priest his spiritual formation is the core which unifies and gives life to his being a priest and acting as a priest." (PDV §45)
"Any pastoral initiative, missionary programme, or effort at evangelisation that eschews the primacy of spirituality and divine worship is doomed to failure. "
(Priest, Leader Pastor and leader of the Community 2002 §11)
It should be recognised for the beginning that all the experiences of everyday life contribute to the spiritual formation of the future priest and that he enters seminary already with some spiritual formation, which is taken into account.
The spiritual formation programme operates at every level of formation so that spirituality is understood to be an essential element in the life of a priest, both public and personal. The programme is designed to help students establish a mature spiritual life for himself with a view to continuing the discernment of his vocation and acquiring foundations for the future. Another important point is that the purpose of this formation programme is to assist the student develop his own relationship with Christ and to establish his own spiritual life. There is no attempt to impose a particular spirituality or to produce spiritual clones. The student will also learn to appreciate a variety of spiritual styles in preparation for his work as a priest. The Spirituality Department works with the other seminary departments and complements the formation offered by them. In this way students are encouraged to see spirituality as an integral part of priestly formation and priestly life.
Spiritual Formation Team
The spiritual formation programme is led and co-ordinated by the Director of Spirituality Fr Gerard Bradley assisted by the spiritual formation team: Fr Michael Woodgate and Mrs Linda Tapson Other speakers and lecturers are invited as necessary for occasional conferences, days of recollection and retreats. This contributes to the flexibility and variety unique to the programme.
Formal courses are taught in the first and fifth years. Those in years two, three and four as well as those on Extended Pastoral Placement follow the spiritual reading programme requiring individual and group work in conjunction with the director of spirituality and the spirituality team.
The aim of this foundation course is to introduce students to the p rinciples of spirituality, helping them to establish and deepen their spiritual life. It is designed to help the students develop the necessary habits to help them maintain a rule of life and discern and deepen their discernment and commitment to Jesus Christ and His will in their lives.
The course is in two parts covering 50 hours teaching time.
• Living the Christian life, taught by Fr Michael Woodgate
• Theory and Practice of prayer, taught by Fr Michael Woodgate
The aim of the course is to introduce the students to reading the spiritual classics of the Catholic tradition, fostering a taste for reading which will nourish their spiritual lives. The students learn to engage with a text as way of feeding their spiritual lives. This is also remote preparation for taking up the celebration of the Office of Readings and making that part of their spiritual lives as priests.
The students are required to read prescribed texts and expected to keep a journal of their reflections on the texts as a basis for contributions in class.
The course is led by Fr Michael Woodgate.
Third & Fourth Years
During the Third and Fourth year students are required to continue a programme of spiritual reading along the lines established in the second year. This programme requires the students to allocate time daily to reading prescribed spiritual texts, making notes on their reflections with the aid of a journal. There is a group reflection on the texts three times a term led by Fr. Gerard Bradley and Fr Michael Woodgate.
Students on Shorter Courses
These students will be assessed individually according to their experience and needs. They will be provided with a spiritual formation programme accordingly.
Extended Pastoral Placement
Students on Extended Pastoral Placement meet in a group with the Director of Spirituality and the Director of Pastoral Theology once a month for seminars on a given topic. The goal is to help the student reflect on the spiritual challenges, needs and dynamics of the pastoral situation and for the mission of the local church. They will also be encouraged to reflect on their own spiritual lives in the apostolic ministry and observe the spiritual dimensions and needs of the diocesan priesthood. There will also be a common text for spiritual reading which will be reflected on during their monthly reflection sessions.
As part of the Foundations of Priestly ministry course the students follow three modules led by the Spirituality Department:
Module A) Spiritual Theology. This course is designed to examine the principles of spiritual theology with a particular emphasis on understanding the critical thresholds and stages of spiritual development. Taught by Fr Gerard Bradley
Module B) Theology and Spirituality of the Priesthood. This course examines the contemporary churches understanding of priesthood, celibacy and obedience and the challenges of living a spiritual life as a diocesan priest. Taught by Fr Gerard Bradley
Module C) An Introductory Course to Spiritual Direction, and the preparation and delivery of Days of Recollection and Retreat. This module is taught by Fr Gerard Bradley and Fr. Michael Woodgate
Spiritual Formation Goals
Every student is expected to set himself spiritual goals at the beginning of the year in consultation with his spiritual director or with help of the Director of Spirituality.
All spiritual goals should be tailored to the individual with due consideration given to the guidelines laid down in the 'Sine Qua Non' document and this Programme.
By the end of the first year every student is expected to have developed a regular pattern of prayer, both personal and public. The student should learn to set aside a half hour daily for personal prayer and join in the celebration of Holy Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours, saying Morning, Evening Prayer and Night Prayer communally when prescribed and in private at other times. This pattern is expected both within term time and outside it.
In addition it is expected that students who have been given Candidacy will be reciting Prayer during the Day from the Liturgy of the Hours.
By the end of the Fourth year all students are expected to be celebrating the Office of Readings daily.
Every student is expected to have a spiritual director and to meet him every three or four weeks. It is their responsibility to make regular appointments with their director. They are expected to see their director outside term time and during the Extended Pastoral Placement and Diaconate period.
Students have the freedom to choose their own spiritual directors who must be approved by the Rector. Spiritual directors may be external to the seminary or members of the part-time seminary staff. Guidance in finding a director may always be sought from the Rector or members of the spirituality team. Students are a liberty to choose their own confessors who may also be their spiritual director. Members of staff who are involved in voting on students' admission to ministries and Orders are not available as spiritual directors.
Retreats and Days of Recollection
There are four days of recollection every year. These take a variety of forms to give the students experience of different spiritual styles and methods of prayer and reflection.
There is a short retreat given at the end of the Michaelmas Term and another longer one given at the end of the Summer term for all students (including those on EPP) in preparation for receiving Ministries and Candidacy.
We hope that students will also take an active interest in pursuing, in their own free time, other opportunities, both formal and informal, for retreats and recollections as befitting of life in Christ and the life of a priest. The Seminary may each year make available a number of bursaries to assist students making individual retreats.
Students are required to make a retreat prior to the receipt of Holy Orders (Can 1039). These retreats
- Must be agreed with the Rector as suitable;
- Must be of at least 120 hours duration;
- Must be certified by the retreat centre or director as fulfilling the canonical requirements;
- Should not exceed the budget for residence, travel and direction; and
- Will be paid for by the Seminary on receipt of an invoice or suitable claim form.
A note to conclude
Although there is no academic requirement for these courses, an assessment of the individual student's participation may be available for the benefit of staff assessments and the students' future goal setting.