Previously (May 30), we explained how the two guiding documents of the Catholic Church on the Formation of Candidates for the Priesthood — Pastoris Dabo Vobis (I Will Give You Shepherds) by Pope John Paul II in 1992 and The Program for Priestly Formation, 5th Edition from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2006 (hereafter referred to as PDV and PPF) — present four Pillars (or Dimensions) that are essential for the training or preparation of seminarians, and indeed for priests throughout their lives.

Proper formation in and integration of these four Pillars — Human Formation, Intellectual Formation, Spiritual Formation and Pastoral Formation — throughout the seven to nine years in the seminary will, with God’s graces, help to ensure that we have holy, humble, prayerful and zealous priests for generations to come.

The Four Pillars of Priestly Formation in the Seminary are interrelated and interdependent. Growth in one area ought to lead to growth in the other areas, and vice versa.

In PDV, John Paul II explains the fundamental dimension of the human person: “The human personality of the priest is to be a bridge and not an obstacle for others in their meeting with Jesus Christ the Redeemer of the human race.” Thus, each seminarian should be growing in virtues, integrity and all aspects of human conduct that will facilitate his future ministry as a priest.

This includes his personal affect, dealing with and processing in a healthy way past traumas and sins, and growing in his ability to live a chaste and celibate life as a priest. Without appropriate and continual growth in the Human Formation Pillar, the seminarian will not be a truly effective priest that will draw people to Christ and His Church.

As the seminarian matures as a man of virtue and character, so too must he grow as a man who knows the Sacred Scriptures and the magisterial teachings of the Catholic Church — the Intellectual Formation Pillar.

Well versed in the Philosophical tradition of the Church and modern Philosophy as a preparation for four years of graduate-level studies in Theology, the seminarian will in time become an effective preacher and teacher of the Gospel, at ease sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ both with the third grade students in the parish school or catechism program and teaching adult education classes to well-educated and often times well-catechized adults in the parish. 

However, the study of Theology is not a merely academic pursuit. The seminarian as theologian is always a man of faith. Like the example of the giants of Theology, such as St. Thomas Aquinas and St. John Paul II, one must “do theology on your knees.” That is, the Spiritual Formation Pillar emphasizes growth as a man of prayer.

The seminarian is one who spends long hours in deep prayer, meditating on the Scriptures and the life of Christ, pondering the saving mysteries of our faith. The seminarian is also preparing to be a leader of prayer, especially liturgical prayer in the celebration of the sacraments, most especially the Eucharist.

Through his own participation in Holy Mass, spiritual direction and regular confession, and other devotional prayers, the seminarian will be the future priest who can celebrate the sacraments and preach the Gospel with reverence, conviction and joy, stirring the hearts of the faithful to deeper faith and works of charity, so as to light the world on fire with the love of the Holy Trinity.

If the Human Formation Pillar forms the foundation of one’s priestly formation, continually built up through prayer (Spiritual) and study (Intellectual), then the Pastoral Formation Pillar puts the other three together into a well-integrated whole. For the entire goal of priestly formation in the seminary is to form and prepare men for the work of ministry, especially parish ministry.

As men of character, men of prayer and men of learning, they must also possess the capacity to serve God’s people well. They must have a pastoral zeal to love and serve all of the faithful — poor and rich, young and elderly, educated and unsophisticated, all in a multicultural and multi-lingual archdiocese, in a culture that is often indifferent, if not outright hostile, to the Gospel and the Catholic Church.

Thus, the Church seeks to form diocesan priests, those whose primary ministry is to serve as parish priests, who embody the following characteristics:

—A priest is not a theologian with his head in the clouds, but rather is a man of faith and learning who can teach the faith to all by touching their hearts.

—The parish priest is not a monk in the monastery; he must be a man of prayer who prays with and for his people, in their times of immense joy and profound sorrow and loss.

—He is a man of virtue and character who inspires in others the desire to live the virtuous life in Christ.

—He is a man who, as Pope Francis says so poignantly, “smells like his sheep”; that is, one who knows the needs, hopes, and dreams of his people and walks with them in faith, hope, and love.

—Without necessarily being an “expert” in any one field, he is a “jack of all trades” able to fulfill the multitude of parish demands and responsibilities with a quiet determinism and patience that always presses forward to build God’s Kingdom among us.

—In other words, he is a priest who is well-formed in the Human, Intellectual, Spiritual and Pastoral Pillars of Formation for the work of the New Evangelization. 

This is the challenge and the excitement, the great opportunity for priestly formation in the third millennium in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the Church in the United States. Please pray fervently through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all of the celestial court for our priests and seminarians, for our Seminary faculties and staffs, our generous Seminary benefactors, and for all who work for the promotion and support of vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

This is the second in an occasional series on the formation of seminarians and the promotion of priestly and religious vocations in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.


Father Steve Davoren is the director and Father Sam Ward the associate director for the archdiocesan Office of Vocations. They can be contacted at (213) 637-7248 or Follow the Office on Twitter (LAVocations), Facebook (LAVocations) and YouTube Channel (LA Vocations).