The Discipleship Stage

An Integrated Journey of Discipleship

In priestly formation in the seminary setting, the four dimensions of human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral formation – while identified as distinct dimensions – are woven together in such a way that they can be seen as an integrated journey of the disciple called to the priesthood. This integrated journey of discipleship is aimed at conforming the heart to the heart of Christ. 

In the Discipleship Stage, the seminarian intensely discerns his call to celibate chastity for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven and a vocation to the priesthood. This is a continuation of what began in the Propaedeutic Stage. Men in the Discipleship stage are witnesses to the assistance of the Holy Spirit and guidance from the Community of Formators. They take greater responsibility for their formation, with the help and guidance of formation advisors, spiritual directors, Directors of Vocations, bishop or religious superior, and others, all of whom seek to provide an integrated formation. These aspects converge on a common goal: enabling candidates to reach an appropriate level of readiness to participate fruitfully and successfully in future stages of formation.

Personal Development

Seminarians in the Discipleship Stage grow in self-knowledge and attend to their affective growth and maturity. They nurture affability, generosity, adaptability, kindness, hospitality, courtesy, civility, and magnanimity. Through the moral virtues, they govern their passions, grow in self-possession, and demonstrate resiliency in the face of difficulties.

Seminarians should always seek to radically conform their minds and hearts to Jesus Christ and develop the ability to listen to the Holy Spirit. Key to this transformative process is an internal desire to continually develop and adopt qualities essential to a life of integral human growth: integrity, prudence in judgment and behavior, self-reflection, and a proper sense of priorities.

The Discipleship stage is a time for seminarians to “know themselves” thoroughly to build on their strengths and talents and overcome limitations that impede priestly ministry. This self-knowledge is acquired partly through self-reflection but also in dialogue with those involved in each seminarian’s formation. 

Social Development

Seminarians in the Discipleship Stage should develop a willingness to sacrifice, which flows from the virtues of charity and justice. The capacity for self-sacrifice is a sign of an ability to live a life of service. They should also attend to their affective growth and maturity. To do so, they must nurture qualities of affability, generosity, kindness, hospitality, courtesy, civility, and magnanimity. Through the moral virtues, they can govern their passions and relate appropriately and naturally with everyone, i.e., peers, priests, professors, staff, and people outside the seminary. The capacity to develop mature friendships with peers and relate emotionally with everyone is an essential indication of one’s ability to embrace the celibate life in a healthy, happy way.

Obedience & Simplicity of Life

Seminarians should form themselves by actively cooperating with the formation that the Church and superiors offer and that communal life requires. A sign of obedience at this stage of development is docility toward those responsible for one’s formation and, above all, a recognition that one needs formation and structure. Observance of community directives and faithfulness to the daily schedule are also signs of humility and an obedient and willing spirit.

While all Christians should cultivate simplicity of life, those preparing to commit themselves to positions of pastoral leadership have special reasons to live with simplicity. The ability and desire to live a life of simplicity begin in seminary. They should not allow themselves to be distracted from their pastoral responsibilities by the burdens that excessive possessions inevitably impose. They also should give credible witness to the kingdom of God by manifesting a detachment from earthly goods.


Seminarians in the Discipleship stage practice and further develop habits of prayer nurtured in the Propaedeutic stage with the further understanding that a well-ordered spiritual life is an integrative force within the entire formation experience.

Seminarians in the Discipleship Stage begin to devote themselves more fully to the sacred liturgical life of the seminary, other forms of communal prayer, and personal prayer. They see the sacred liturgy as the source and summit of Christian life and let it be the wellspring of their formation.

Seminarians should demonstrate continuous and progressive growth in their personal relationship with Christ, commitment to the Church, and vocation. With the guidance of their spiritual director, they come to a deeper understanding of prayer and the different types of prayer and then begin to develop a daily program of prayer and a personal spirituality suited to their temperament.

Intellectual Formation

The serious and sustained study of philosophy, a comprehensive and adequate catechesis in the doctrine of the Catholic Church, and the study of classical languages lays the foundation for theological studies. Seminarians, at this level, should possess or acquire foundational skills in reading appropriate to their age and stage of formation, writing, note-taking, and time management. Seminarians should understand their strengths and weaknesses as an adult learner and cultivate the disciplines and attitudes necessary to sustain them in rigorous study. They should not judge themselves compared to their peers but instead, set and achieve personal goals in light of priestly ministry. 

Pastoral Formation

Pastoral formation is designed to prepare seminarians to be shepherds imbued with the charity of Christ and filled with his missionary spirit. It also enables seminarians to attain the pastoral competence and skills to serve God’s people. This aspect of formation begins by introducing seminarians to the practical pastoral life of the Church through formative, supervised experiences in ministry. This formation stage focuses on outreach to young adults, the homebound, youth ministry, and service to those in need. There is a greater focus on the corporal works of mercy. Seminarians should develop a real love for the “least of the brothers and sisters,” youth and young adults.

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