What constitutes 'readiness' for theological studies?

Project Number: 
Start Date: 
Fri, 06/01/1990
End Date: 
Tue, 06/01/1993

Beginning in 1987 the Lilly Endowment embarked upon a multi-level, ecumenical initiative on "improving the recruitment and selection of candidates for the ministry," to support seminary and church agency recruitment programs. In 1990 the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) began a program within this larger initiative, "achieving readiness for theological studies." Since the 1970s Catholic seminaries have observed a progressive decline in the theological and religious literacy of incoming students, with a comparable deterioration in basic liberal arts and language skills. Seminaries have also observed the erosion of what might be called "Catholic culture": knowledge and understanding of distinctive Catholic doctrines, devotions, and other forms of spirituality. This project seeks, first, to analyze what in light of the recent academic and cultural changes in the Catholic community in the U.S. constitutes readiness for theological studies in the Catholic tradition. Second, this understanding of what it means to be ready for theological studies needs to be translated into a realistic approach that meets the needs of the student, the seminary, and the Church. The project conducted surveys of the academic, cultural, and personal issues important for understanding the current seminary population. Study groups of scholars and church leaders developed a realistic model of requirements for seminary admission after establishing a baseline reflecting the abilities of the current student population. The NCEA also proposed to form a committee of seminary and church leaders to make recommendations for raising levels of competence among seminarians. One part of this project involved a study of successful and respected priests who have been ordained between 10 and 30 years. These priests would provide the project with an awareness of the kinds of qualities requisite to effective priesthood; they would be asked to share their perspectives on new recruits, and for advice they might have for seminary personnel regarding the education of new recruits to the priesthood. In addition, the project sought to learn the determining factors contributing to these men's success in a demanding vocation: from where they draw their inspiration and strength, where they find their greatest challenges, what they find fulfilling about the priesthood, how they view their roles as men in today's society, and how contemporary controversies in the Church impact their ministries and self-perceptions. Answers to these and other questions will inform seminary and Church personnel as they assess the critical qualities necessary to a successful priesthood.