Program of Priestly Formation

  Program of Priestly Formation Cover

Program of Priestly Formation, 6th edition (PPF), was developed by the USCCB Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations. It was promulgated on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on June 24, 2022. It is particular law in the Church in the United States and serves as a guide for seminaries and priestly vocation programs that form men for the ministerial priesthood. This document was released in accordance with the Holy See's 2016 document, Ratio Fundamentalis Institutiones Sacerdotalis.

The PPF sets forth the nature and mission of the ministerial priesthood, norms for the admission and formation of candidates, and norms for the governance and administration of seminaries.

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PPF6 Frequently Asked Questions

What happened to "Pre-Theology?"

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Men enter the discipleship stage at varying levels of life, work, and educational experience. In the past, intensive philosophy programs for more mature men have been referred to as “pre-theology programs.” The term pre-theology, with its inference of academic status, is discouraged because it can obscure the integral nature of formation in the discipleship stage. Nevertheless, these men are a distinctive set of seminarians who come to initial formation with more extensive experiences on many levels; a formation program should take these unique circumstances into account (no. 133).

Will the Propaedeutic Stage accommodate seminarians on an F-1 Visa?

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A student visa is required to enter a seminary in the United States. After the student is accepted, they must be enrolled full-time in the seminary and be proficient in English or enrolled in courses leading to English proficiency. The maximum credit allowance for the Propaedeutic Stage allows a seminarian to be considered a full-time student (i.e., nine general education credits plus three or more credits offered for courses such as an introduction to scripture, spirituality, and the Catechism). (nos. 298-299)

Does the PPF change the length of formation?

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A man entering formation following high school could be ordained after eight years, and a man entering formation with an undergraduate degree could be ordained after seven years. For example, he could spend twelve-months in the Propaedeutic Stage, two years in the Discipleship Stage, and three-and-a-half years in the Configuration Stage. After diaconate ordination, he would enter a parish to serve for six-months and be ordained to the priesthood at the satisfactory conclusion of the Vocational Synthesis Stage (no. 147, Model C).

Time may reveal that a shift to another model would be more beneficial for the individual deacon or a particular diocese (no. 148).

What does it mean to have "dedicated formators?"

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The Propaedeutic Stage must be truly clear and distinct, with its own formators dedicated to this distinct stage. The horarium, scope, and sequence of this stage should be different from the other stages requiring formators who have the time and flexibility to accompany men throughout the full twelve-month period (minimum). Careful consideration of the availability of priest formators should be a priority when deciding the model and location of the Propaedeutic Stage program. (nos. 127-128).

Should older and younger candidates share the Discipleship Stage?

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The Discipleship Stage benefits from having a diversity of ages and backgrounds represented in the formational community. Some programs are designed to meet the needs of young men who have recently completed high school. Older men approach the seminary with considerable life experience; variants of this stage may be developed to take these circumstances into account (nos. 133, 266) Reducing the Discipleship Stage expectations for older seminarians should be resisted (no. 266b). Seminarians can benefit from the blessings that a variety of men in formation together can bring.

How often should the seminary community be together?

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It is important for formators to help seminarians find a balance between the seminary community and the essential learning which occurs in apostolic and pastoral assignments. Time in an intentional seminary community can reveal affective maturity and the ability to exercise leadership among peers (nos. 153, 198). Seminary community also offers older seminarians the opportunity to be positive examples for younger seminarians through their willingness to volunteer for additional responsibilities and their avoidance of gossip and cynicism (no. 198).

How does discernment change during the Vocational Synthesis Stage?

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Discernment is twofold, both personal and pastoral. Having first experienced how God led him interiorly to the diaconate, a man now learns to discern the many obligations of his office by growing in union with Christ's pastoral charity (no. 381). The pastoral discernment which occurs during the Vocational Synthesis Stage produces a unity of interior life and external activity that can only be achieved by following the example of Jesus, whose will was always to do the work of the Father (John 14:31). 

During this stage, the primary formator of the newly ordained cleric is the pastor of the parish where the deacon is assigned, or the bishop or major superior may delegate another priest of the diocese, institute, or society to fulfill this task. The pastor, aware of his formative task and of his duty to accompany the transitional deacon, should ensure that there are opportunities for discussion of pastoral situations and opportunities for priestly fraternity that will help the deacon transition well to active ministry and ongoing formation (no. 140). 

How often should a seminary review their mission statement?

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The most important administrative policy for a seminary is its mission statement. Each mission statement must incorporate a clear understanding of and commitment to the formation of men for the ministerial priesthood. It is also important for the seminary to regularly review its mission so as to best respond to the changing priorities of local Churches and the communities it serves through the establishment of appropriate policies (no. 421). Each mission statement should reflect the human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral dimensions of seminary formation.

How are vocation directors supported in their ministry?

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Peer organizations such as the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors (NCDVD) and the National Religious Vocation Conference (NRVC) seek to promote vocations to priesthood in various ecclesiastical entities, as well as the other expressions of consecrated life. The exchange of ideas, sharing of resources, and development of best practices in promotion, discernment, and formation help those involved in vocational accompaniment, and provide a forum for best-practice resources, fraternity, and support (no. 50g).


What is expected of professors who teach during the Discipleship Stage?

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The nature of undergraduate study during the Discipleship Stage, and the breadth of expertise required for a liberal arts education, means that the dedicated presence of many laymen and laywomen will play an especially important role. By modeling a love for the Church as she is, a wholehearted fidelity to her teaching, a loyalty to the pope and bishops, an appreciation of the priesthood, and a collaborative spirit in ministry, men and women in consecrated life and laymen and laywomen who teach subjects in the sacred sciences make an important contribution to priestly formation in all stages (no. 470).

What should the study of Theology look like during the Discipleship Stage?

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Theology courses in the Discipleship Stage should study the themes contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, including courses on Catholic doctrine, liturgy and the sacraments, Catholic morality, Christian prayer, and Sacred Scripture. All seminarians should be thoroughly acquainted with the Catechism and all its contents as a source for a full, complete exposition of Catholic doctrine (no. 285).

How can seminary professors assist with cultural preparation?

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It is important to recruit well-trained and experienced professors from diverse ethnic, racial, and cultural backgrounds. This is especially important in those sections of the United States in which the Church and seminary community reflect such diversity (no. 475). If the seminary has a multicultural community, the professors should be encouraged to participate in programs and workshops that acquaint them with the specific situation and formational needs of their seminarians (no. 476). To inculcate in seminarians a sensitivity for issues of social justice, the seminary professors first must possess an awareness of the significance of questions of peace, justice, and respect for life (no. 477).

What if I have additional questions?

The Principles of the New PPF Bulletin Series is available online. This series elaborates on the main concepts and terminology included in the sixth edition and provides reflection questions for seminaries as they adjust their programs.

For further consultation, you may contact the CCLV Secretariat at