History of the Seminary Formation Council (S.F.C.)
In the Spring of 2015 the late Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop Samuel Aquila, Bishop Michael Byrnes and Bishop Andrew Cozzens, and other seminary formators spoke at a conference entitled “Christ the Foundation and Center: The Integration of Human and Spiritual Formation” at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver, Colorado. This conference, sponsored by the Institute for Priestly Formation (IPF), was attended by almost 100 seminary formation personnel from almost every major seminary in the U.S. and several in Canada. It was the culmination of a consultation began by IPF 3 years earlier which brought together many experts in seminary formation around the relationship between and integration of human and spiritual formation for diocesan seminaries.
In particular, Bishop Cozzens gave a talk on the role of the Formation Advisor/Mentor whose role in seminary formation is described in the Program for Priestly Formation #80 and came about from the vision of St. John Paul II in Pastores Dabo Vobis. This formator, who is normally a priest, is the main person responsible for overseeing the whole formation of the seminarian and evaluating his readiness for holy orders. It is his job to help the man grow into priesthood in every area. In the talk, Bishop Cozzens acknowledged that given the importance and the relative newness of this role of the external forum formation advisor, our greatest struggle in today’s seminaries is that there is no comprehensive program of formation for these formators. For years IPF and others have provided solid formation for seminary spiritual directors, but most of the priest formators in the external forum are thrown into this role with little or no preparation. Seminary faculty includes spiritual directors, administrative faculty, classroom teaching faculty, and human formation advisors. Often several hats are worn by those doing formation in the external forum.
After the Denver conference a group of individuals who have extended experience in seminary formation began to talk about what could be done to try to solve this problem. The group is formed of: Bishop Andrew Cozzens, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, who served as a formator in the external forum at St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota for 7 years; Msgr. David Toups, President-Rector of St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Florida; Msgr. Robert Panke, President-Rector of St. John Paul II College Seminary in Washington D.C.; Fr. John Kartje, President-Rector of Mundelein Seminary in Chicago; Msgr. Joseph Betschart, President-Rector of Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon; Fr. John Horn, S.J., former President-Rector of Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis, co-founder of IPF and current faculty member at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Florida; and Fr. Nicholas Cachia, 21 years Director of Spiritual Formation at the Archdiocesan Seminary in Malta and current faculty at St. Vincent de Paul Seminary in Florida. They recognized the great strengthening impact that a comprehensive formation program for seminary formators could have on seminaries. For the past months this group has been in consultation with Bishop Michael Burbidge, Chair of the Committee for Clergy and Consecrated Life (CCLV) for the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, and with Archbishop Jorge Patrón Wong, Secretary for Seminaries at the Congregation for Clergy in Rome.
Because of the current connections with St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Florida, the group believes that the program should, at least in the beginning, be hosted there, but it also believes that it should not be a program sponsored by a particular seminary because of the need to serve the whole seminary system. Thus, to create and facilitate this program a new organization was formed which was called the Seminary Formation Council (S.F.C.) which will sponsor a two-year “Certificate in Formation”. The Council has received tax exempt status and is listed in the latest edition of the Kennedy Directory.
Having shown the initial project proposal to Bishop Burbidge and the Bishops who serve on the CCLV, the group was encouraged to do a broad consultation (including bishops, rectors, vocation directors, and other seminary leaders) to get helpful feedback around developing this program for seminary formators. The results strongly confirmed broad interest and the great need for this program. It is also noteworthy that Archbishop Jorge Patrón Wong assisted the Holy Father in the creation of the new Ratio Fundamentalis which will guide and direct seminary formation into the future. This document was promulgated in Rome on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 2016. In the creation of the S.F.C. program, special attention was given to the themes on which Archbishop Jorge Patrón Wong has been speaking about in his travels.