While John Paul II is perhaps best known for his role in the collapse of the Communist bloc in Eastern Europe or for what is popularly referred to as the “Theology of the Body,” the case can be made that his Apostolic Exhortation of 1992, Pastores Dabo Vobis, has in fact affected the lives of most Catholics throughout the world in even more significant ways. For in that document, the now sainted Holy Father laid out a vision for the formation (note, not merely education) of priests, and this radically revamped the way seminaries prepare men for ordained service. He spoke of formation not merely in terms of theological education (what might be called intellectual formation) but also in terms of spiritual, pastoral, and human formation. This in turn reshaped the way seminaries function and work to prepare men for ordained ministry. This past December, the Congregation for the Clergy issued a new Ratio Fundamentalis, or basic schema, for the formation of priests. It too speaks very much of the training of priests in terms of formation, and makes it eminently clear that a priest’s formation does not cease when he leaves the seminary or is ordained; formation is on-going.
July of 2016 witnessed the inaugural Bishop John M D’Arcy Program in Priestly Renewal at the University of Notre Dame under the sponsorship of the McGrath Institute for Church Life. The program is named for the late Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend (+ 2013), who was deeply devoted to priestly formation and who had a special relationship with the University of Notre Dame and the McGrath Institute for Church life. A dozen bishops from around the nation were invited to nominate a priest from their diocese to participate in the program. A dozen men arrived and spent a week together in prayer and fraternity.
Each day there were conferences offered on different aspects of priestly life and ministry, leisurely conversation over meals during which experiences of pastoral life were shared, all on the beautiful campus of Notre Dame. Those priests who wished were able to take part as confessors in the ND Vision Penance Service on Tuesday evening of the week, and they were able in their ample free time to explore campus, visit the various chapels, make use of the pools and golf courses, and finish the week having slept well, prayed well, and having been edified by the shared stories, camaraderie, and insights of their peers from around the nation.
This year another group of diocesan priests arrive on campus in mid-July and will again have the opportunity to reflect on their own call, their own life, their own ministry as priests, and do so in the company of brother priests who share much in common.
Thanks to the vision of John Cavadini, and the generous support of the Lilly Endowment, Inc., the Bishop John M D’Arcy Program is one more way that the McGrath Institute for Church Life supports the mission of the Church and partners with dioceses throughout the country.
Featured Photo: Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.