PRIESTLY FORMATION IN VINCENTIAN CONGREGATION
Pope St. John Paul II describes seminary formation as “a continuation in the Church of the apostolic community gathered about Jesus, listening to his word, proceeding towards the Easter experience, awaiting the gift of the Spirit for the mission” (Pastores dabo Vobis, n. 60). Priestly formation today continues the call of Jesus, the response of his first disciples, and their communion of life. What was vital and essential for that first community of disciples remains so today for those engaged in priestly formation: As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” At once, they left their nets and followed him (cf. Mt.4:18-20). The Church continues to place the highest value on the work of priestly formation, because it is linked to the very mission of the Church, especially the evangelization of humanity. “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19).
The moving force of Vincent de Paul in undertaking diverse ministries for the poor was his realization of the greatness of priesthood. For him a Priest is the means to save the souls and an instrument of Christ to continue the mission of evangelizing the poor. St. Vincent says: “To make good priests is the greatest achievement in the world. It is impossible to conceive anything greater or more important. To devote oneself to make good priests and to cooperate to this end is to fulfill the very task of Jesus Christ” (Common Rules, nn.10-11).
The Vincentian Congregation has its specific formation program for the candidates and ongoing program of formation for its Priests. Formation is the process by which the one called by God prepares to lead a life as a priest in the Vincentian Congregation. Continued discernment is an essential part of formation, since the process gives him the tools and experience he will need in order to discern well. Our formation programs incorporate the pillars set forth by Saint John Paul II in Pastores dabo vobis: human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation. Since we are preparing men for religious life, our programs also emphasize formation for community life and for the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience.
1. Vocation Promotion
The formation program begins with the selection of the candidates. The call of a Christian to embrace the Consecrated Priestly life comes from God and is the manifestation of God’s love for that person. This love is absolutely gratuitous, personal and unique. “He now went up to the hills and summoned those he wanted. So they came to him and he appointed twelve; they were to be his companions and to be sent out to preach” (Mk.3:13-14). Vocation to the Vincentian Congregation is a call to proclaim the Good news to the poor (Lk.4:18) and lead them to their total liberation.
The mission of promoting vocations “aims at presenting the attraction of the person of the Lord Jesus and the beauty of the total gift of self for the sake of the Gospel (Vita Consecrata, n.64). In each Province, Region and Mission there is a Vocation Promoter whose special task is to seek and find out suitable candidates for the Province. He will be assisted by Minor Seminary rectors and a team appointed by the respective Major Superiors. This team meet occasionally to plan and to organize the various programs in this regard. However, all the members of the Congregation have responsibility to foster and seek good vocations. We must pray unceasingly to the Lord of the harvest, that he will send laborers to his vineyard, in order to meet the various needs of the Church (cf. Mt.9:37-38).
The Provincial Superior with the recommendation of the Vocation Promoter and the Minor Seminary Rector admits a candidate to the Minor Seminary. In this selection, the religious, familial, educational and personal aspects of the candidate are to be carefully assessed. The minimum qualification for a candidate to be admitted is of SSLC or its equivalent with good marks.
2. Minor Seminary
It provides the first step of formation to the candidates who have shown signs of vocation to the Vincentian Congregation. The purpose of Minor Seminary formation is to foster the vocation providing preliminary discernment concerning one’s vocation. Seminarians live together, study together, work together and pray together. A regular schedule of common prayer, common meals, academic courses, ministry and formation helps them to grow and discern God’s will for their lives. This period of formation (normally three years) concentrates on the spiritual, intellectual and human formation, based on the example and teachings of St. Vincent De Paul. Together with the seminary curriculum special coaching will be given to the Plus Two courses so that by completing the Minor Seminary the Candidates will also complete their Plus Two. If circumstances permit they may be sent to regular colleges to pursue studies in science and mathematics. In the Minor Seminary special care will be given to the mastery of English language and other regional languages. The candidates who successfully completed the minor seminary will be promoted to the Novitiate. In the case of those students who come after Higher Secondary studies or any other higher qualification, they should undergo a minimum of two years of formation before the Novitiate. At present, there are the following 12 centers of minor seminary formation in the Congregation.
1. Ahamednagar - Vincentian Mission House, De Paul Nagar, Link Road, Kedgaon, Ahmednagar, 414 005, Maharashtra, India.
2. Aonla - Vincentian Ashram, Bareilly Road, Sangrampur, Aonla, 243301, Uttar Pradesh, India.
3. Chinna Avutapalli - Vincentian Ashram, Good Shepherd Regional House, Chinna Avutapalli, 521286, Krishna Dt., Andhra Pradesh, India.
4. Elavur - Vincentian Minor Seminary, Elavur P.O., Gummidipoondi, 601201, Thiruvallur Dt., Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India.
5. Kalichanadukkam - Vincentian House, Jyothi Nagar, Kalichanadukkam, 671 314, Via Nileshwar, Kasaragod Dt., Kerala, India.
6. Madhavgarh - Christu Vidya Niketan, Nero Hill Road, Madhavgarh, Satna, Madhya Pradesh, 485113, India.
7. Mitemula - St. Vincent’s Seminary, Mitemula, P.B No. 606, Masaka, Uganda, East Africa.
8. Munnoorpilly - Vincentian Ashram, Munnoorpilly, Ezhattumugham P.O., Ernakulam Dt., 683577, Kerala, India.
9. Nedumkunnam - Vincentian House, Myladi, Nedumkunnam, 686 542, Kottayam, Kerala, India.
10. Pala - Vincentian House, P.B. No. 29, Chethimattom, 686575, Pala, Kottayam Dt., Kerala, India.
11. Pinakadimi - Vincentian House, Duggirala, S.V. Peta P.O., 534 003, W.G. Dt., Andhra Pradesh, India.
12. Trikkakara - Christu Nivas, Vincentian Minor Seminary, Thrikkakara, Kochi, 682021, Kerala, India.
Novitiate is a major and essential stage in the formation of a Vincentian. It shall be for one full year of duration. The purpose of the novitiate is to help the candidates to achieve an intimate and experiential knowledge of Jesus Christ, who is the foundation and source of consecrated priestly life. It is a time of initiation into the paschal mystery of Christ through detachment form self, especially in the practice of evangelical counsels (Chastity, Poverty and Obedience) and the five virtues proposed by St. Vincent De Paul. Novices come to understand the Vincentian identity of their vocation by making the Vincentian Statutes and Practical Norms their own and by living fraternal life in community. It is indeed a time for prolonged prayer, of solitude and of silence. The Novice Master together with the formation personnel in the Novitiate make from time to time an assessment of the progress made by the candidate and at the end of the canonical year a comprehensive evaluation of the candidate’s aptitude for the Vincentian way of life is made. The worthy candidates are permitted to make their first profession, by which they are temporarily incorporated to Vincentian Congregation and enrolled into a particular Province. The following are the 4 Novitiates in Vincentian Congregation.
1. Meenangady - Vincentian Novitiate, P.B. No. 1, Meenangadi, 673 591, Wayanad Dt., Kerala, India.
2. Meerganj - Vincentian Novitiate, Churai Road, Meerganj P.O., Bareilly Dt., 243504, Uttar Pradesh, India.
3. Padamugham - Vincentian Novitiate, Padamugham P.O., 685604, Murickassery (via), Idukki Dt., Kerala, India.
4. Vikindu - Vincentian Novitiate, Jesus Town, Vikindu, P.O. Box 14918, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, East Africa.
4. Degree Studies
The candidates those who have completed the Novitiate and took their first Profession will be allowed to continue their secular studies in graduation according to their aptitude and talent. The completion of graduation in any discipline is the minimum requirement for admission in the Philosophy. The following are the two formation centers for the Degree Students.
1. Edathotty - Vincentian House, Edathotty, Kakkayangadu P.O., 670 673, Kannur Dt., Kerala, India.
2. Kuravilangad - Vincentian House, Nazareth Hill, Kuravilangad, 686633, Kottayam, Kerala, India.
Philosophy studies are integral part of priestly formation. Until 1993 the Vincentian Congregation had no Philosophate of its own and the major seminarians were sent for their philosophical studies in different major seminaries in India. Now we have our own Philosophate in Kengery, near to the City of Bangalore, Karnataka called De Paul Institute of Religion and Philosophy. All the Seminarians from India are doing their Philosophy studies here, while those from Africa do it in Lumen Christi Institute Arusha, Tanzania. For this training a seminarian spends three years and acquires his degree in philosophy. The human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation of the future priests is to be done in this period. The courses of philosophy imparted in the institute will permit the candidates to acquire knowledge of God and a Christian vision of man and of the world. This intellectual training should allow them to achieve a sense of purpose in life, personal convictions and certain maturity to face the problems of the modern word in a realistic manner. The specific content of the Vincentian vocation unfolded in the Novitiate is to be put to test and be strengthened during this time. Those who have completed Degree studies may get a chance to do the post graduation privately. In the final year the seminarians are to appear for a comprehensive examination and have to prepare and present a scientific paper in accordance with the norms of the university and as specified in the handbook of the Philosophate. An evaluation of all the students is to be done twice a year and the annual report is to be sent to the Major Superiors concerned. The staff of the institute make a detailed evaluation of candidates who have completed three years course of philosophy and those who are found suitable for the Vincentian way of life are recommended for promotion to regency and further studies. The two places where the Vincentian Seminarians are doing their Philosophy studies are the following:
1. Bangalore - De Paul Institute of Religion & Philosophy, Kumbalagode P.O., 560074, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India.
2. Arusha - Lumen Christi Institute, MSFS Fathers, Maji Ya Chai, P.O. Box.1187, Arusha, Tanzania.
The candidates who have completed their philosophy shall undergo a period of regency. It is a period of at least one year in duration devoted for practical training in the Vincentian way of life. In every Province, there shall be a director of regency who shall be responsible for the regency program of the Province. Before starting the regency the students will have an orientation program to understand the requirements of regency. Once the regent was appointed to a Vincentian house or an institution he will be under the care of a local superior or director. The provincial superior shall appoint the regent to that house or institution through an appointment order. It will help him to be conscious of his dignity as a member of the house and the other members to treat him as their own confrere. As a period of practical training, regency should help our confreres to deepen their understanding of future ministries. At the end of Regency a one month program, including the annual retreat, training for popular mission and social exposures will be arranged. When the required conditions are fulfilled, worthy candidates shall be given Cassocks (Religious Habit) as a symbol of their religious commitment and be promoted for the study of theology by the provincial.
The last four years of priestly formation is dedicated for theology studies. The Vincentian formation program aims that the seminarians are given the theology training in the context of the realities of the society in which they live and work. The seminarians are sent to different theological institutions or universities. The majority of them go to the St. Joseph’s Pontifical Seminary, Mangalapuzha as day-scholars staying at the Vincentian Vidyabhavan, Aluva and a few in St. Ephrem’s Theological College, Satna staying at the Vincentian Study House, Kothi; in Vijnananilayam Janampet staying at St. Vincent’s College Janampet and in Catholic University of Eastern Africa Nairobi staying at Vincentian Study House Nairobi. In places where we do not have study houses the Seminarians stay together with other Seminarians as inmates. At present our Seminarians are studying as inmates in Seminaries such as St. Thomas Apostolic Seminary, Vadavathoor, Kottayam; Kristu Jyoti College, Bangalore; Papal Seminary Pune; St. Charls Seminary Nagpur and Sacred Heart Theological College Shillong. Regularly a few of the Seminarians are sent to other Seminaries so that after the ordination they would be able to continue their work in a particular State since they have already mastered the language of the place.
This training in theology enables the Seminarians to become true shepherds of the souls after the mode of our Lord Jesus Christ who is the teacher, priest and shepherd. Here the students will be exposed to the study of Sacred Scriptures, all the theological disciplines of the church, canon law, moral theology, liturgy and other studies for pastoral formation. During these years the seminarians may receive the minor orders of Lector and Acolyte. Normally at the end of first year Theology course, the student makes his Perpetual Profession in the Congregation. Prior to priestly ordination seminarians receive diaconate ordination and enter in to a period of intensive preparation for the holy Order of Priesthood. At the end of Theological formation the Provincial Council with the consent of the Superior General allows the worthy candidates to receive the sacred Order of Priesthood and they are sent out to various missions: to be with Him and to preach the Good News to the poor.
8. Ongoing Formation
Religious and priestly formation is to be pursued and perfected even after ordination. It is an occasion especially for young priests to evaluate theological principles and pastoral practices. There should be a link between formation before ordination and formation after. The ongoing formation is not a repetition of the formation acquired in the seminary. It should have new content and especially new methods concerning the human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral problems. The first phase of this ongoing formation is the Quinquenial course arranged for the young priests of the Congregation for the first five years. In this, new teachings and development in the moral, pastoral theological and social disciplines will be discussed and evaluated. It is also a time to share the experiences and support each other. Outside this the Congregation arranges programs such as seminars, conferences, special meetings, recollections renewal programs etc.