Catholic Library World magazine

January 14, 2022

How does one build a better seminarian, and in turn, a better priest, especially over the issue of celibacy? This book, among a recent crop of studies focused on seminary training, attempts to collect interview data from a group of men who are being schooled in the “Diocese of Middlefield.” The candor with which the group speaks about celibacy and their aspirations to becoming priests is coupled with the comments of their formators, such as the seminary rector, spiritual director, and the archbishop of the diocese.

Admittedly, Stanosz’s sample is small (less than a dozen men) and may reflect a regional bias in that he does not compare the data he assembles in “Middlefield” with any other group. Nor does he let on—at least not immediately—that he himself has been in ordained ministry for 18 years (we find this out on p. 95!). In the interests of “objectivity” the author divulges that his “insider” status may have influenced his respondents’ replies, but dismisses this because he simply tried to avoid giving the appearance of his priesthood. For instance, he never wore clerical garb in his interviews. Whether or not the collar is on or off ignores the fact that, if the interview subjects were cognizant of his priesthood or background in seminary, they would be somehow influenced. Stanosz goes on for pages detailing his methodology. Giving it the continued appearance of a dissertation, which amounts to the least welcome aspect of the book.

His findings, however, are rather perplexing. On the one hand, the verbal responses to some of the author’s long lists of questions (supplied as an appendix) is forthright, but often mixed. Yes, many students are having difficulty absorbing the role of celibacy for their future priestly lives. Yes, others are embracing it as a necessary art of ministry or as part of a discipline sanctioned by their superiors. The seminary administrators, by contrast, believe they have supplied their charges with the necessary tools and contexts for living a celibate life (much of which relies on peer support and isolation from forming relationships with those outside of the dominant seminary culture). They wish to inculcate celibacy’s connection to service in Christ for the community and inoculate these seminarians from a culture that bemoans such a vocation. Stanosz rightly wonders about the ability of the program to assist a man in determining his (in) abilities for celibate life. If he does not fit the model candidate, he may be asked to leave. Thus, for the Diocese of Middlefield, seminarians go through their training highly conscious that at any moment their desires for priesthood may be dashed. The incentive to conform is high.

On the other hand, the author’s analysis seems overly judgmental, particularly to a group of men with whom he has had limited contact. Sometimes he will assert that “Bob” is a “loner” or that “jack” left seminary, so it was rumored, to marry. Basing research on innuendo and rumor is hardly the stuff of good scholarship.

Be that as it may, the author does suggest some thought-provoking material, particularly in an eara that he calls “commitment production.” This is the joint effort on the part of seminarians and their formators to instill a desire to believe that celibacy is a good and one that should be followed for effective ministries. As professional socialization, it ranks with the military or some corporations. Although Stanosz has given only a small taste of what a select group perceives as the benefits and drawbacks to their socialization, these insights are nevertheless very important in fine tuning seminary training and should be of interest to anyone involved in such work.

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