self-Evaluation for Seminarians

Rev. Peter Schineller, S.J.
The Context of Seminary Formation and Priestly Ministry
The Qualities, Virtues, and Vision of the Seminarian
Taking Steps Towards Growth and Improvement
Self-evaluation: A Series of Questions and Areas to Examine
1. Introduction
The future leadership of the Catholic Church is present in and passes through the
seminaries. There can be no doubt that the competent, holy, dedicated priests are needed,
and that the Church must seriously plan and carry out its various programmes of
formation. This is done for the most part in major seminaries, and in spiritual and
apostolic years. For members of religious congregations, this includes a novitiate
While Church leaders, bishops, seminary officials and teachers can put forth the
best of programmes, ultimately formation must look to the heart, mind, and initiative of
the individual being formed.
The Apostolic Exhortation of Pope John Paul II, Pastores Dabo Vobis, makes
this very clear. In speaking about candidates for the priesthood, it affirms:
We must not forget that the candidate himself is a necessary and irreplaceable
agent in his own formation: all formation, priestly formation included, is
ultimately a self-formation. No one can replace us in the responsible freedom that
we have as individual persons (No. 69).
In light of this, to encourage seminarians to be active and pro-active in their years of
formation, we offer these reflections, based upon the experience of guiding, teaching, and
working with seminarians. This is a call to seminarians to take the full and final
responsibility for their own growth - intellectual, spiritual, human, and pastoral growth
during their years of training.
In outline, we will first set the context and point to some of the concerns and
problems that impact upon priestly formation (and priesthood) in today’s world. Then,
relying upon the writing of Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Exhortation on the
Formation of Priests, we will present the ideal qualities or virtues, the vision needed by
the seminarian and priest today. In the fourth section we present specific questions and
areas where the seminarian should examine himself and his performance. In the fifth part
we indicate some of the ways in which the seminarian can help himself, and ways in
which he might seek the advice and input of others in assuring his own growth. In the
conclusion, we echo again the call to each and every seminarian to cooperate with the
grace and power of God, and to actively cooperate with the authorities of the Church in
making the years of training most satisfying and successful, leading to a blessed and
fruitful priestly life.
2. The Context of Seminary Formation and Priestly Ministry
Seminarians are being prepared to minister as priests in the world of today. This
presents a series of challenges to those responsible for formation, and for those in
formation. We list here some features, aspects and problems of the world today which
must be taken into account in the preparation of priests who are to be effective, faithful
ministers of the Gospel.
the image of the priest today. While most priests are good, holy, and faithful,
scandals regarding the sexual misconduct of priests have shocked the world.
Many are asking questions about the quality of the priests, and hence also about
the quality of priestly formation. What has gone wrong in the seminaries? Indeed
while it has always been a challenge to form quality priests, never is that more
true than today.
The media bombard us with sex and violence. Promiscuous sex, divorce, the
breakdown of the family, infidelity would almost seem to be normal and the
rule, if one goes by the television screen. Celibacy is not given high regard.
Surely these views impact upon the youth of today, include seminarians.
There may be many vocations to the priesthood in many parts of Africa, but
quantity is no substitute for quality. Pope Benedict advises that “bishops must
be very careful in their discernment. They must not be merely content with
having many future priests, but must see which are the true vocations, discerning
between weeds and good wheat” (Aosta, Italy, July 2005).
The rate of change in the world continues to increase, so that seminarians must be
able to cope with change and development, with fast moving, shifting, highly
technological cultures.
The Catholic laity are more highly educated that ever, and this education now
begins to include religious or theological education in Christian faith. The priest
is no longer the only expert on religious matters, and the laity rightfully express
their views on topics of religion and mission.
Pope John Paul II spoke frequently of the culture of death, that is in battle with a
culture of life. Seminarians must be strongly pro-life.
Pope John Paul II also spoke of a culture of violence that wins out over a culture
of dialogue. Seminarians and priests must be able to enter into constructive
dialogue with individuals and groups.
In many nations of Africa, corruption – at all levels – is more the rule than the
exception. This sometimes even finds its way into the church. Transparency,
honesty, and accountability, never easy to achieve, must become the hallmark of
the church and its priests.
Fundamentalist tendencies in religions seem to be growing rather than
diminishing. Religious conflict replaces understanding and dialogue. Yet the
Catholic Church stands and must stand on the principle of dialogue and the search
for common understanding.
Mass poverty characterizes many nations of Africa and many parts of Nigeria. In
the light of the parable of the last judgment, in the light of the Second Vatican
Council, the Church cannot stand by idly where many are hungry, unemployed,
homeless, refugees, suffering from AIDS, or lack of education and health care
Women suffer from discrimination. Their rights are denied, widow’s are illtreated, and young women may be subjected to brutal and unhealthy female
genital mutilation.
In a world of increased mobility, tribalism raises its ugly head and says “you are
not welcome.” Border wars, community conflicts, and ethnic rivalries threaten
to undermine the notion of one nation with unity in diversity.
The strong winds of change call for moves to true democracy to replace
authoritarian, military, self-imposed and self-perpetuating rulers. The desire for
democracy also affects how the diocese, the parish, and the parish priest operates.
The laity rightfully call for a stronger voice in how the Church is organized and
Indeed, original sin and its effects remains strong and always will. These also
affect the life and morale of the seminary and the seminarian. But the response to this
predicament is not withdrawal or despair. Rather it is a more graced and concerted effort
to make life in the seminary, the lives of seminarians ever more close to the life and way
of Jesus. The image of Jesus with his disciples might well be the image we need in our
effort to improve seminary formation. This image is put before us in the document of
Pope John Paul II, Pastores Dabo Vobis.
The seminary can be seen as a place and a period in life. But it is above all an
educational community in progress; it is a community established by the Bishop
to offer to those called by the Lord to serve as Apostles the possibility of re-living
the experience of formation which our Lord provided for the Twelve….
The various members of the seminary community, gathered by the Spirit into a
single brotherhood, cooperate, each according to his own gift, in the growth of all
in faith and charity, so that they may prepare suitably for the priesthood and so
prolong in the Church and in history the saving presence of Jesus Christ, the Good
Shepherd (60).
3. The Qualities, Virtues, and Vision of the Seminarian
The document referred to above, Pastores Dabo Vobis, outlines four key areas of
priestly formation. These four areas are human formation, spiritual formation,
intellectual formation, and pastoral formation. These four areas have been echoed in
many other documents on seminary formation, thus becoming classic or essential
features in the training of seminarians. One will note the strong emphasis upon human
We will explain more fully what is expected of, and involved in each of the four
areas. What are the virtues or qualities that are needed in the seminarian? These form
the horizon of seminary formation – the vision of what is expected in a seminarian who is
called to priesthood and judged ready to be ordained. They form the horizon against
which each seminarian will be examined and judged by those responsible for formation
and approval for ordination. For us here, in terms of this article, they provide the horizon
against which each seminarian may examine and evaluate himself and his progress
towards Catholic priesthood.
No one has all of these qualities and virtues. Each seminarian, however, should
strive to be more in the likeness of the ideal presented, and day by day grow in his
vocation towards priesthood. For this to happen, the grace of God is required, but at the
same time, as PDV indicates, on the part of the one being formed and trained, there must
be “convinced and heartfelt cooperation” (69).
Human Formation.
Based upon PDV 43-44
It is interesting to note that human formation is first on the list. More and more,
Church officials are seeing the all importance of human development, the need for basic
solid human qualities in candidates for priesthood. The classic Catholic principle states
that “grace builds on nature.” If there are stunted human qualities, if human qualities
are very weak, then one will most likely never be a good seminarian or priest.
The Canadian bishops wrote in this vein some years ago in a document entitled
“The Human Formation of Candidates for the Priesthood.” This document lists
seventeen criteria in choosing candidates for the priesthood. The first five criteria, the
five most important criteria, examine whether the candidate has strong human qualities.
Believing that these are the most essential qualities needed, the bishops place these even
before intellectual and spiritual virtues!
Here, according to PDV, are some of the qualities called for under the heading of
human formation.
A balanced person, with love for the truth, respect for persons, a sense of justice,
true to their word, genuinely compassionate, balanced in judgment and behaviour.
Able to relate to others, affable, hospitable, sincere in word and heart, prudent,
generous, ready to serve, capable of clear and brotherly relationships, quick to
understand, to forgive and to console.
Affective maturity.
Free response of one’s own will with the whole of one’s love and care to Jesus
Christ and to his Church
truly master of oneself, determined to fight and overcome the different forms of
selfishness and individualism
ready to open out to others, generous in service to the neighbour.
Spiritual Formation
Based on PDV 45-50
Under this heading we find what is traditionally called the spiritual life or life in
the Spirit.
- Living in intimate and unceasing union with God, friends of the Lord,
- living the Paschal mystery, so as to be able to initiate others into that mystery
- seeking Christ in faithful meditation on God’s Word, familiarity with Scripture,
active participation in the Eucharist and the Divine Office
- able to see and find God in the Bishop, and in the people, especially the poor,
children, sinners and unbelievers,
- experiences prayer as a living and personal encounter with the Father through the
Son, able to be a teacher of prayer,
- love and reverence to Mary
- a man of God who can help others to turn to God, understands the value of
silence, strong liturgical formation,
- understands the beauty and joy of the Sacrament of Penance,
- a spirit of sacrifice and self-denial, the acceptance of hard work and the Cross,
- a man of charity, allows himself to be trained by the Spirit in the charity of
Christ, a merciful love for sinners,
- educated in obedience, celibacy and poverty
- appreciates, loves and lives a life of celibacy;
- a sincere, human, fraternal and personal love that is capable of sacrifice;
- entrusting oneself to a spiritual director,
- able to accept solitude, a strong, deep personal love for Jesus Christ.
Intellectual Formation
Based on PDV 51-56
This aspect is somewhat easier to measure, and normally is evaluated through the
classroom courses and examinations. On the importance of a solid intellectual
foundation, we recall the words of St. Francis de Sales, that “ignorance in priests is more
to be feared than sin.”
Commitment to study, intelligence of the heart as well as the head.
able to communicate the mystery of God to the people,
understanding of the person, and of personal freedom,
loving veneration of the truth, seeing truth as a gift,
see that faith cannot do without reason, having a faith that seeks understanding,
and thus is open to the human sciences,
commitment to the Church and the faith of the Church,
a great and living love for Jesus Christ and his Church,
formation that leads to a complete and unified vision of the truths revealed in
Jesus Christ,
serious study of the Word of God, together with a serious study of man who is
called to believe
committed to the evangelization of culture and the inculturation of the message of
Pastoral Formation.
Based on PDV 57-59
While much of seminary life is in the library, the classroom and the study hall,
there should also be practical exposure and experiences where pastoral, skills are
practiced and fine-tuned.
- Trained for the ministry of worship and sanctification,
- able to work with a team, with other priests and seminarians.
- able to cooperate with the laity, to support the laity, and willing to listen to them,
to recognize their experience and competence,
- appreciation of the various charisms given to the Church, especially to the laity,
- trust, patience, gentleness in relating to others
- able to live a life of service to the community,
- able to read the signs of the times,
- able to live and love the missionary dimension of the Church
4. Taking Steps Towards Growth and Improvement
We have presented in section three the ideal, the virtues that should characterize
the seminarian. In the section after this, we will set forth a series of questions that the
seminarian might reflect upon. He should examine himself and see in what areas he is
growing towards the ideal, and in what areas or aspects he falls short and needs to grow
and develop.
But how can this best be done? Where and when can he carry out this selfevaluation? Who can he turn to for assistance in knowing himself and then in growing to
the ideal? Is it simply his own will power? Does he do this in his room by himself, or in
the chapel? Does the seminary community, his fellow seminarians, or the seminary
authorities assist in the process of growth?
A good seminary should have in place way of evaluating, critiquing and assisting
the seminarian in his process of growth. Formators, teaching and non-teaching staff
should be available to assist the seminarian in a positive and non-threatening way.
Granted that this vary from seminary to seminary, even in the best of seminaries there is
still much that can and must be done by the initiative, the pro-active attitude of the
seminarian himself. Here are a few ways he can proceed with this self-evaluation.
Once a year, he can prayerfully read the official church document on priestly
formation PDV, (which we have excerpted from).
He can use this as material for his prayer or for days of recollection.
He might join or organize a small group of seminarians who will assist, support
and criticize one another – all in the effort to be the best they can be. This would
involve periods of faith sharing.
A group of seminarians could also commit themselves to read a common text on
formation or on spirituality and discussing its implications for their lives as
seminarians and future priests.
In open, honest, and regular relation with a spiritual director, he will seek advice
and criticism not only on his life in the Spirit but in all aspects of his life as a
The self-evaluation might be part of the annual retreat, and a session with the
retreat master could reviews key areas or concerns that arise in the selfevaluation.
After one has done a self-evaluation, this could be shared with a close and trusted
friend to see how our self-evaluation agrees with their perception and evaluation
of you.
If one is engaged in pastoral ministry, feedback can be solicited from respected
priests, lay persons or religious sisters involved in that ministry. With this
constructive advice, one can gain insight into one’s strengths and weaknesses, on
areas where growth is needed.
The daily examination of conscience (or consciousness, as it is often now termed)
should provide the opportunity for not only examining our life in the Spirit, our
relationship with God, but enable us to reflect upon the four major areas of
priestly formation as outlined above.
One should undertake this self-evaluation with a spirit of hope and confidence. It is done
with a combination of prayer and study. God’s grace, God’s Spirit will never be lacking
for those who seek to find and carry out God’s will in their vocation. And nowhere is this
more true than in the vocation to ministerial priesthood.
5. Self-evaluation: A Series of Questions and Areas to Examine
Using the same four categories of PDV, we present a series of questions that can
be used in the self-evaluation of the seminarian. This evaluation can be done privately,
prayerfully as part of an examination of conscience. Some parts of it might be done with
a close and trusted friend.
Human Formation
- Do I have a sense of joy and deep peace in my life? Am I at home?
- Am I approachable, hospitable, welcoming?
- Do I relate well to my brother seminarians, and encourage but also challenge them
in their vocations?
- Do I have and cultivate warm, healthy friendships with priests, seminarians,
women religious, lay men and lay women? Are these relationships open rather
than secretive or exclusive?
- Do I cultivate healthy pastimes, hobbies that make me a well-rounded, growing,
and interesting person?
- Do I have sufficient self-knowledge, knowledge of my talents, and of my
strengths and weaknesses?
Am I aware of and sensitive to the different ways in which most men and women
react to situations, or the differences in which men and women experience
Do I have self-discipline, an ordered life that I am in control of, rather than
pushed or pulled in every direction, and wasting time?
Do I have a true and wholesome self-esteem rather than a very low self-esteem
which can lead to aggression, jealousy, defensiveness, arrogance and bullying?
Do I like myself, or at times dislike or even hate myself? Do I have a healthy –
and accurate self-image?
Am I able to persevere in pursuing legitimate goals, or do I lack focus, method,
order, and consistency in my life?
Can I, do I, have I taken initiative for my own formation, and have I exercised
leadership in seminary life, activities and projects?
Have I developed a sense of responsibility to take on seriously the work, study,
play, and social life in my everyday life?
Do I have a healthy, constructive attitude to authority, ready to be critical,
participative, and yet deeply responsive, responsible and obedient.
Am I aware and appreciative of my own sexual orientation? How do I relate to
one who may have a different or a bisexual orientation? Am I able to discuss this
with my spiritual director?
Do I regularly review my own character or run away from this review? Do I
allow, and at times ask others to criticize and evaluate me and my character and
growth as a seminarian?
Am I balanced - somewhere between extreme extrovert and extreme introvert,
thus with a balance between social skills, outreach, and appropriate selfreflection?
Am I basically stable in my emotions, or excessively prone to moodiness,
impulsive or erratic?
Am I open, able to disclose myself when helpful, or overly defensive, and thus
fearful, lacking in confidence and unable to be formed?
Do I carry unresolved anger? How do I deal with anger? Have I been able to heal
broken relationships?
Am I overly assertive so that I do not listen? Or am I underassertive so that I do
not use or contribute my talents and gifts sufficiently?
Spiritual Formation
 Am I in touch with God, and able to speak about and share my experience of
God? Do I have a devotion to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament?
 Do I regularly benefit from the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Is my daily
examination of conscience a key part of my spiritual armor?
 Am I faithful and regular in my prayer life?
 Do I have a regular, positive relationship with a spiritual director, confessor or
soul friend?
 Do I see and relate to Mary as a model of faith and Mother?
Do I cherish silence and recollection? Do I schedule regular periods of solitude –
able to be by myself and with my God?
Do I see celibacy not simply as part of the package for priesthood, but as a
personal call, gift, and grace of the Holy Spirit?
Am I at peace and comfortable with my celibacy?
Am I making my own, interiorizing the spiritual practices of the seminary, seeing
them as needs for my personal growth and holiness, and not simply as duties or
rules imposed?
Intellectual Formation
 Am I eager to learn, to grow in knowledge and understanding of the faith?
 Am I developing a habit of reading - reading both religious and high quality
secular literature?
 Do I have a growing familiarity and friendship with the Scriptures, as well as
growing in an up to date critical understanding and study of the Scriptures?
 Do I see my seminary education as only the beginning and thus see the need for
ongoing study and reading. Do I realize that I do not have all the answers and
never will?
 Am I interested in, knowledgeable of traditional African culture, so that I can
assist in inculturation of the faith? Do I see and appreciate values in traditional
culture that are in conformity with the gospel?
 Am I able to express the theology and teaching of the Church in ways that
ordinary folk can comprehend?
 Is my faith rooted in the Christian tradition, but also vibrant with contemporary
directions and developments in theology?
 In light of the reality of sin, and in light of the needs of Africa, do I see all
theology as leading to justice and involving a message of liberation?
 Is my vision of Church and priesthood shaped and formed by the documents of
Vatican II and subsequent church documents?
Pastoral Formation
 Not only do I pray, but can I lead and guide others in prayer?
 Do I take advantage of pastoral opportunities, and workshops, lectures on
pastoral issues?
 Do I see and find Jesus in the persons I live with, and the persons I serve?
 Am I able to relate to persons of varied ethnic and religious traditions, and not
show favoritism to a particular group.
 Do I take time and effort to improve my speech, my diction, my ability to project
my voice to a large group?
 Either through classes or on my own, have I learned a system or at least the
essentials of bookkeeping, of keeping financial records?
 Do I understand some of the strengths and weaknesses of independent churches?
 Do I appreciate the distinctive role and mission of the laity in the Church and in
the world?
Do I see priesthood too simply as cultic, or see it as a priest among people, a
servant priesthood, a priest who identifies with, preaches and prays with his
Do I listen to the people, feel with them, so as to empathize with their joys and
In accord with Catholic teaching, am I strongly pro-life, beginning with life in the
womb, with those on the fringes of society, and reaching out to the aged at the end
of their lives?
Do I see, exercise and grow in the practice or ministry of conversation, engaging
in constructive dialogue both within the seminary and beyond? Am I able to
enter into mature dialogue with staff as well as brother seminarians?
Do I have a critical (positive and negative) awareness, use of, and relationship
with the various media and communication technologies? Am I able to instill this
critical awareness in others?
Can I cooperate in common projects and collaborate as a member of a team or am
I overly individualistic or even hostile to some groups or individuals?
Do I see the need to collaborate with other priests, seminarians, and increasingly
with the laity in carrying out the mission of the Church?
“Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48). A very high ideal that
Jesus sets before his disciples. The Gospel of Luke modifies it. There Jesus says,
“Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate” (Lk. 6:36) In either gospel text,
the challenge is great. Like Peter and Paul, we remain weak, sinners. Yet the grace and
power of God is never lacking. It is there to assist and guide us throughout our years of
seminary formation.
Our personal goal as seminarians, and the hope of the Church is that we will be
solid, happy, joyful, fruitful priests. This becomes the work of a lifetime. But it must
begin in earnest in our days in the seminary. Being a diligent and faithful seminarian
will most likely lead one to a good and joyful priesthood. We should not and can not
expect miraculous changes to take place when the bishop imposes hands upon us at
priestly ordination. Now, the time of seminary formation, is the time of putting on Christ
and the virtues of Christ. Now is the time to do our best to conform our lives to his
image, to follow his way. Now is the time to be and become the best we can be. This is
what the Church leaders and the people of God expect of us. This is the purpose of the
focus on self-evaluation as presented in this article.
We conclude with this powerful plea to those in priestly formation. Coming from
PDV, it summarizes so much of what we have tried to say in these pages. It assures us
that God is with us, but it also challenges the seminarian to do his part. It concludes with
the challenging words that give rise to the title of this essay.
And so the future priest also, and in the first place, must grow in his awareness
that the Agent par excellence of his formation is the Holy Spirit, who by the gift
of a new heart, configures and conforms him to Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd.
In this way the candidate to the priesthood will affirm in the most radical way
possible his freedom to welcome the moulding action of the Spirit. But to
welcome this action implies also, on the part of the candidate, a welcome for the
human “mediating” forces which the Spirit employs. As a result, the actions of the
different teachers become truly and fully effective only if the future priest offers
his own convinced and heartfelt cooperation to this work of formation (PDV 69).