Priestly Formation

Holy Orders is the sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time: thus it is the sacrament of apostolic ministry.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1536

Sacred Heart Major Seminary embraces its mission to form heralds of the new evangelization who will bring the Good News to a world thirsting for the truth found in the heart of Jesus Christ and his Catholic Church. Forming holy priests to serve the people of God is a sacred duty, one which the administrators, priest-formators and faculty take seriously as mission-critical work for the universal church.

This page outlines our rigorous and extensive admittance, discernment and formation process, one which is done prayerfully, collaboratively and continually.

Discernment and Admissions Process

For a man discerning a vocation to the priesthood, the process for admittance to a Roman Catholic Seminary is extensive and rigorous. It differs significantly from that of an ordinary student’s application to a university – secular or religious. A man considering the priesthood is pursuing a vocation versus gaining knowledge to pursue a career. A vocation is a calling from God to serve His Church in a particular state of life. To learn more about vocations, click here.

There are two distinct aspects of the admissions process. First, the man prayerfully discerns the call he believes he has received from God to become a priest. This process can take many months or years as he works with his pastor and vocations director. Prior to applying to the seminary, the candidate must receive support from his local bishop or sponsoring religious community.

The second aspect of the admissions process is the discernment by the Admissions Committee of Sacred Heart Major Seminary. This committee includes the Rector, Vice Rector, Director of Formation, and Spiritual Director, each of whom is a priest. Sacred Heart’s pre-admission checklist includes the documents that must be submitted and the steps that must be taken prior to being considered for admittance, including (but not limited to): a criminal background check, medical records, driving record, psychological evaluation, letters of recommendation (including the man’s pastor), and applicant essays on the priesthood and celibacy. Each candidate’s application and document submission are carefully and prayerfully reviewed by the individual members of the Admissions Committee and by the Committee as a whole.

Importantly, the seminary adheres to the norms outlined in 2005 by the Congregation of Catholic Education: Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders.

Continual Formation and Evaluation

Sacred Heart works to form the entire man on his journey to becoming a priest, if it is God’s will. The seminary has a clear framework for formation, which includes the four dimensions of formation: human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral.

Once a man is admitted, he and his priest formators work together within the context of the policies and criteria outlined in the Seminarian Handbook. All seminarians undergo an annual evaluation process. If the seminarian is engaged in field education, there is an additional parish evaluation. Seminarians are not advanced unless positive indicators are identified during the evaluation interview. The evaluation also is shared with the candidate’s bishop.

Each year, the men are comprehensively evaluated according to the objective criteria and thresholds appropriate to each year of formation. Depending upon when a man enters the seminary, either as an undergraduate student or in the theology program, this rigorous and ongoing evaluation process occurs from between six to eight years. View the detailed criteria for annual evaluations here.

Additionally, all seminarians are required to do the following:

  • Complete Virtus training either before they enter or in the first months after arriving on campus.
  • Participate in monthly Saturday morning formation sessions that deal with virtue, boundaries, healthy relationships and other relevant topics.
  • In addition to a formal curriculum on chaste celibacy, the seminarians study the role of the priest and healthy boundaries, and are taught material from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Young People and Children

Celibacy and Chastity

Sacred Heart Major Seminary is deeply committed to forming men to live chastity well and accept fully the Church's teaching for chaste celibacy. Further, the seminary only recommends for Holy Orders men who have demonstrated the freedom, conviction and capacity to live chaste celibate lives.

The Church’s teaching on celibacy and chastity for priests is clear, but often misunderstood, especially in this sexually saturated culture. Paragraph 50 of St. John Paul II’s 1992 Apostolic Exhortation on the Formation of Priests in the Circumstances of the Present Day – Pastores Dabo Vobis – provides a beautiful summary. An excerpt follows:

"And so priestly celibacy should not be considered just as a legal norm or as a totally external condition for admission to ordination, but rather as a value that is profoundly connected with ordination, whereby a man takes on the likeness of Jesus Christ, the good shepherd and spouse of the Church, and therefore as a choice of a greater and undivided love for Christ and his Church, as a full and joyful availability in his heart for the pastoral ministry. Celibacy is to be considered as a special grace, as a gift, for 'not all men can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given' (Mt. 19:11)."

Definitions of celibacy and chastity follow:

Celibacy: The state of being unmarried, specifically for the sake of giving oneself full-time to build the Kingdom of God. This is a gift from God, to which a person must be called. To be called specifically to the priesthood in the Latin Roman Catholic Church is also a call to celibacy. 

Chastity: “The successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual person and thus inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being” (CCC #2337). Chastity is the virtue that moderates the desire for sexual pleasure according to the principles of faith and right reason. Priests, sisters, married and single persons are called by God to chastity, and to use their sexuality according to God’s plan in their specific state in life.

Teaching and formation on celibacy and chastity are core tenets of forming holy and healthy priests. Sacred Heart’s program deepens at each level of a man’s education, from undergraduate College students, to Philosophy students (those who already have a degree and are obtaining the prerequisite spiritual and theological education to become a seminarian), to graduate Theology seminarians. Depending upon when a man enters the seminary, his formation can last from between six to eight years. The seminary has a well-developed and comprehensive curriculum for chaste celibacy. This curriculum outlines and examines key formation components: study of the Church’s documents; Sacred Scripture foundation; the history of celibate priesthood; psychosexual development; counseling others; prayer and a personal relationship with the Lord; celibacy and the evangelical counsels; intimacy in human friendships; discerning a call to celibacy; moral theology; and strategies for living celibacy and purity.

Policies and Abuse Prevention:

Sacred Heart Seminary does not tolerate abuse of any kind. The seminary administration and faculty work diligently to foster a healthy environment where Church teachings, including those on sexuality, are carefully understood and maintained. Each student, seminarian, resident priest and faculty member is expected to live and work in the context of his or her vocation. The Faculty Handbook outlines the expectations for a resident priest, and resident priest formators are evaluated by the rector. Seminarians also have a handbook that outlines expectations for community and chaste living. 

Each year, the seminary rector supplies necessary documents to the USCCB Audit Committee for the Protection of Minors. Sacred Heart Major Seminary has always received approval for its policies and procedures. 

There are numerous ways abuse, harassment and discrimination can be reported. Anyone with concerns should approach the person with whom he or she is most comfortable. Abuse by members of the clergy also may be reported to the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Victim Assistance Coordinator at (866) 343-8055 or [email protected]. Additional policies and processes are outlined in the Seminary’s Academic Catalog on pages 25-30.


The seminary is required to submit documentation annually as articulated in Article 17 in the USCCB’s Charter for the Protection of Young People and Children, often referred to as the Dallas Charter. Additionally, every three years each seminary rector is required to sit for an interview with an independent USCCB auditor to review the seminary’s respective audit and related documents.

“ARTICLE 17. We commit ourselves to work individually in our dioceses/eparchies and together as a Conference, through the appropriate committees, to strengthen our programs both for initial priestly and diaconal formation and their ongoing formation. With renewed urgency, we will promote programs of human formation for chastity and celibacy for both seminarians and priests based upon the criteria found in Pastores dabo vobis, no. 50, the Program of Priestly Formation, and the Basic Plan for the Ongoing Formation of Priests, as well as similar, appropriate programs for deacons based upon the criteria found in the National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States. We will continue to assist priests, deacons, and seminarians in living out their vocation in faithful and integral ways.”

Sacred Heart’s formational and education programs – from pre-admission through recommendation for Holy Orders – exceed the norms outlined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Program of Priestly Formation. For example, Sacred Heart has explicit requirements for the healthy understanding of and adherence to celibacy and chastity teaching. The index of audit documents provided annually to the USCCB can be found here.

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