‘A new Pentecost’: Saint Paul Seminary introduces inaugural propaedeutic year for men discerning priesthood

jeff cavins instructs aspirants at the saint paul seminary propaedeutic year
Catechist Jeff Cavins instructs aspirants as part of the Saint Paul Seminary’s first-ever propaedeutic year. Courtesy of the Catholic Spirit

When 16 men registered for the inaugural propaedeutic year at The Saint Paul Seminary, both rector Fr. Joseph Taphorn and director of human formation Fr. John Floeder were a bit surprised.

“We thought 10 guys would be a success, so we were thrilled when 16 men were accepted into the year,” Taphorn said.

It wasn’t long ago that Pope Francis asked seminaries to provide a brand-new, extra year of “pre-seminary” formation for men discerning the priesthood. For the past couple years, The Saint Paul Seminary has worked behind the scenes to make that program a reality.

In short, the propaedeutic year is a year of discernment for men who feel called to the priesthood before they enter the rigorous studies of major seminary formation. The 16 “propa-dudes,” as some call them around campus, come everywhere from Hartford, Connecticut to Helena, Montana.

Housed at the Church of St. Mark just one mile away from the seminary, the men enter dedicated community life meant to foster prayer, discernment, and
personal growth.

While it’s a new, evolving endeavor, Floeder says the program is off to a great start.

“After a couple of months living with these men it is obvious to me that something special is happening,” Floeder said. “The combination of all the work we are doing along with the silence, space, and focused community life is allowing for a new Pentecost. The Lord wants to bless these men. And they are responding. They are doing deep human and spiritual work that the Lord is anointing with tangible peace and joy.

“This time allows the men to put first things first: Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and life as a beloved son of the Father.”

Some of the aspects of the propaedeutic year include:

  • A dedicated priest formator: Floeder brings eight years of seminary formation to the group, living with them at St. Mark’s and accompanying them in prayer, communal life and formation.
  • Media fast: Aspirants, as they’re formally known, take part in a media fast to help each seminarian to re-order their relationship with technology and engage in deeper reflection on themselves and the world around them. Aspirants do not have access to phones, tablets or computers from Sunday through Friday. An appropriate amount of technology use is accepted on Saturday to communicate with friends and family.
  • “In these first couple months, the propaedeutic year has blown all my expectations of a discernment year out of the water,” said Andrew Renier from the Archdiocese
    of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. “What I have enjoyed most about the program is the detachment from all my media devices. It has taught me how busy and noisy the world is, and what a gift it has been to turn off the world’s noise from entering my heart and fill it with holy silence.”
  • Communal life: All aspirants live at the St. Mark’s residence and share in a life of prayer, study, recreation and fraternity. Multiple meals are cooked by the men each week to grow
    in service, ownership, and brotherhood in the Lord.
  • Human growth: Aspirants meet twice a week as a group with the seminary’s staff psychologist to become aware of areas where they require greater healing or freedom. Areas of focus include personal growth, maturity, family background, anxiety and depression, and the integration of chastity.

The Saint Paul Seminary also brought on renowned theological scholar Jeff Cavins, the founder of the Catechetical Institute and the co-host of the popular “Bible in a
Year” podcast to help instruct the men about discipleship.

“A true vocation to priesthood is based on a true calling to discipleship,” Cavins said. “And every priest that is ordained should be able to look back and say, ‘I was first a disciple, and out of that discipleship relationship, I said yes to the calling of God to become a priest in the Catholic Church.’”

The program launched in fall 2021 and will become part of the framework of formation at The Saint Paul Seminary moving forward.

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