Future of Seminary Education

I mentioned yesterday that Patheos was hosting a symposium on the Future of Seminary Education, and that it was primarily focused on Protestant seminaries, but today we’re going live with a page devoted to Catholic Seminary issues, which we’re kicking off with a very informative piece by Father Shawn McKnight.

Father Shawn is currently serving as Executive Director of the Secretariat for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations at the USCCB, and he writes, here:

There’s good and bad news in the world of Catholic seminaries.

The good news is that the number of seminarians is on the increase. The bad news is that the number of priest/faculty for them is in decline.

And further news, both good and bad, lies in the fact that priests for the future need not only to be good spiritual leaders with solid theological grounding, they also have to be competent administrators and communicators, like Dale Carnegie with an MBA. These men also have to be the leaven in a world growing more secular, to be evangelizers par excellence.

. . . the U.S. seminary system faces several challenges. One is to maintain a basic emphasis on formation of good, solid, healthy, prayerful priests. The horrible reality of the clergy sex abuse scandal taught the church that failure to screen and properly form candidates for the priesthood can lead to disastrous results (see the Causes and Context study conducted by John Jay).

Amazingly, the clergy sex abuse scandal did not deter men from answering God’s call to the priesthood. Though the scandal broke in the media in 2002, the combined number of ordinations to the priesthood for dioceses and religious orders has steadily increased over the past 10 years since then.

We’ve coupled Father McKnight’s piece with a brief perspective by a laywoman pursuing an advanced degree in theology by attending seminary online. Stacy Trasancos, who already holds a Ph.D. in chemistry, expresses her satisfaction in obtaining, “A Classic Liberal-Arts Education, at last!”

I’m half-finished with the program now, and it has continued to be a powerful experience—one accomplished while I remained home to care for our large family. The online assignments are organized by professors who instruct by email; and lay, religious, and ordained faithful students are integrated in the courses, exchanging ideas through unique software.

As I am considering taking up an online program in theology, myself, I was very interested in Stacy’s remarks, and pleased to find her so positive about her experience. Check it out. And if you’ve got someone considering attending seminary for any reason, be sure to pass the page along!

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Alicia

    Distance learning may be the answer. I think many commentators in the blogosphere could benefit from courses in theology AND philosophy (in antiquity, they were not easily separable). I think it would add to the discussions and increase appreciation for the heritage of the Church to say nothing of the way it increases one’s ability to reason.

  • Doc

    It would be interesting to know if the instructors leaving the seminaries tend to favor Liberation Theology. If so, their departure should be considered a net positive for the Church and for future priests.


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