Preparing Priests to Work with Catholic Schools: A Content Analysis of Seminary curricula/Preparacion De Los Sacerdotes De Escuelas Catolicas: Un Analisis del Contenido del Curriculo del Seminario

By Boyle, Michael J.; Dosen, Anthony | Journal of Catholic Education, March 2017 | Go to article overview

Preparing Priests to Work with Catholic Schools: A Content Analysis of Seminary curricula/Preparacion De Los Sacerdotes De Escuelas Catolicas: Un Analisis del Contenido del Curriculo del Seminario


Boyle, Michael J., Dosen, Anthony, Journal of Catholic Education


Providing a Catholic education to the faithful is a critical responsibility placed on the parish priest (Canon 794 [section] 2). Past research suggests that the attitudes of bishops and priests are critical for the success of Catholic schools (Belmonte, 2007; Convey 1999; Frabutt 2010). On a national level in the United States, there is a perception of a lack of preparation of priests in the area of effective leadership and management of Catholic schools (Boyle, 2010). However, there is a paucity of systematic studies investigating the preparation of pastors to work effectively with Catholic schools. The purpose of the current investigation is to systematically analyze the program of studies of Catholic seminaries to identify specific course content that would prepare seminarians (future priests) to effectively work with Catholic schools.

Review of Literature

The parish school provides a unique opportunity for evangelization. The vocation of the parish priest is to lead, sanctify, and teach in the name of the diocesan bishop. Priestly ministry is traditionally described as the prophetic, priestly, and kingly roles. The prophetic role is connected with teaching, the priestly with worship, and the kingly with governance. Witherup (2012) notes the paucity of development in the roles of teaching and governance:

   One also notes that two of the three traditional "powers" of the
   priesthood (Latin, munera)--teaching (munus docendi), divine
   worship (munus liturgicum), governing (munus regendi)--are not
   developed to any great degree. The prominence of the high
   priesthood imagery overshadows the royal and teaching (prophetic)
   dimensions of the priesthood of Jesus Christ in favor of the
   cultic, sacrificial office. The seeds of these later two offices of
   the priesthood are present, but they remain in the background. (pp.
   58-59)

Historically, Catholic priests defined themselves in terms of sacramental ministry, oftentimes to the detriment of the preaching and teaching mission that is an inherent part of ordained ministry. The work of sacramental ministry trumps the work of proclamation of the Word and governance of the Church. The definition of priesthood in terms of sacramental ministry, which dates back to before the Council of Trent, has left the priest of the 21st Century with a one-sided vision of priesthood. Oelrich (2007) in discussing the role of the priest, especially in light of the diminishment of priestly vocations in the past 50 years, points out that the primary role is Sacramental Priest, along with the term "Canonical Pastor." Other than mentioning in passing the threefold munera of the priest, the focus of priesthood in our own era perseveres to be defined primarily as a sacramental ministry, with little notice given to the ministry of either Word or governance. Witherup (2012) opined, "It is likely that few priests reflect in depth on the teaching role of priestly ministry unless they are specifically engaged in higher education" (p. 114). Witherup's opinion is backed up by McNulty (1976), who spoke of the ministry of teaching in the priesthood in light of his work as a seminary professor. This should not totally disappoint, for the documents of the Second Vatican Council provide ample sources of reflection on the topic.

In the next section of this review, we examine the pertinent documents from Vatican sources followed by a review of the work that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have published since the Second Vatican Council. This review will bring the particulars of the formation of Catholic priests in the United States into a sharper focus.

Vatican Documents

Presbyterorum Ordinis (Paul VI, 1965b), The Decree of the Second Vatican Council on the ministry and life of priests, reflects on the ministry of the Word that is at the heart of ordained ministry:

The People of God are joined together primarily by the word of the living God. …

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