Fr. Mark Knestout (center), the 2019-2020 Recipient of the Rev. Gerald L. Brown, P.S.S., Award for Excellence in Pastoral Ministry Supervision. Left: Fr. Chris Arockiaraj, PSS, Vice-Rector. Right: Fr. Dominic Ciriaco, PSS, Rector.
Chris Arockiaraj, PSS, PhD
Vice-Rector and Coordinator of Pastoral Formation Program
Following the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, Sulpician seminaries throughout the world were the first to integrate pastoral formation into their formation programs. For the past 50 years, Theological College has seriously invested in pastoral formation as an integral part of preparing future diocesan priests. Successful theological and pastoral integration takes place both in classroom learning and in pastoral settings.
The roots of the pastoral program at Theological College go back to 1971 when Rev. Gerald Brown, PSS, a Sulpician and formation faculty member at TC, was asked by the provost of The Catholic University of America to implement the new directives of Vatican II. In collaboration with the Catholic University School of Theology, Fr. Brown introduced the “intentional learning model,” which was one of the first in the country. TC created the pastoral formation program and the University developed a six-credit course, “Basic Supervised Ministry,” and later a three-credit course, “Advanced Supervised Ministry” with “Clinical Pastoral Education” for students in second theology. In the 1980s, many bishops started considering a pastoral year for their seminarians in the middle of their theology program. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops already insisted on the importance of pastoral formation in the program for priestly formation in the first edition of Program for Priestly Formation (PPF). The current fifth edition of the PPF highlights that the training of seminarians should focus on forming them to be true shepherds of souls: “The aim of pastoral formation—the formation of a ‘true shepherd’ who teaches, sanctifies, and governs or leads … after the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, teacher, priest and shepherd” (238-239).
Over the past half-century, Theological College has trained hundreds of priests for ministry in the American Church across the nation. Its excellent pastoral formation program evolved under the auspices of the creativity and dedication of the program’s many talented directors. Today, Theological College has developed a cordial pastoral collaboration with about 30 parishes, eight hospitals, four university campus ministry centers, one correctional center, and sixteen diverse placements for the direct service with the poor, spread all over the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Maryland, and the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia.
According to the different stages of formation, seminarians participate in ministry opportunities at diverse pastoral settings such as parishes, schools, hospitals, correctional centers, campus ministries, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, retirement communities, homes for the mentally and physically challenged, Catholic Charities, hospices, special needs outreach, mental health centers, and more. Besides the pastoral placements themselves, reflection on pastoral formation takes place in small group formation, rector’s conferences, homilies, classroom learning, individual supervision, formal theological reflections (in small groups), pastoral evaluations, advising sessions, spiritual direction, Jesu Caritas support groups, pastoral year experiences, and summer pastoral ministry.
The fiftieth anniversary of pastoral formation at TC was officially inaugurated on October 19, 2020, with the feast of Blessed Agnes of Langeac who inspired and mentored Fr. Jean-Jacques Olier to establish the first seminaries in France and to found the Society of Saint Sulpice. Rev. Mark Knestout, the pastor of St. Bartholomew parish in Bethesda, Maryland, celebrated the inaugural Mass. Following on this theme, Fr. Knestout gave the rector’s conference on the importance of pastoral formation and readiness to serve as priests in a post-COVID era. Fr. Knestout is and has been the pastoral supervisor of many TC seminarians and was the recipient of the Rev. Gerald L. Brown, P.S.S., Award for Excellence in Pastoral Ministry Supervision for the 2019-2020 academic year.