Propaedeutic: A complex word with a simple meaning

This article was posted on: February 14, 2024

The Catholic Church loves using complex words, such as “transubstantiation” and “consubstantial,” to confuse us common lay folk, so why should it not have one for young men discerning the call to the priesthood? This is where the propaedeutic year comes in. Eight years ago, Bishop Callahan was inspired by the Holy Spirit to develop a plan that would allow young men who were considering the priesthood to have a dedicated year to discern it. This year would be similar to the novitiate year, which is a year-long period for those who are discerning religious life.

He implemented this idea in the Diocese of La Crosse, using the Mater Redemptoris house as a place for young men to seriously consider their vocation. The house has everything a young man needs, including a chapel, kitchen, classroom, music room, rec room and weight room. After implementing the plan successfully in the Diocese of La Crosse, Bishop Callahan proposed the idea to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), who then adopted the plan nationwide.

The Four Pillars

The genius idea behind the propaedeutic year is its goal of helping form these men into holy men of God. Yes, we would love for every one of them to continue on the journey to becoming ordained priests, but that is not the goal. Every young man should at least seriously consider if they are being called to the priesthood, and the program encourages and allows that. The propaedeutic year is based on the four pillars of formation: spiritual, intellectual, human and pastoral. As someone who has gone through the discernment process, I wish this program had existed when I considered my vocation.

In the spiritual pillar, young men are assigned a spiritual director to provide guidance to deepen their spiritual life and better discern God’s call. Additionally, they attend daily Mass and participate in a daily holy hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

The intellectual pillar focuses on learning more about the Faith. Young men take college-accredited courses in Scripture, catechism, apologetics/spiritual reading and liturgy. 

The human pillar aims to assist men in becoming self-aware of their identity as a son of God. The program involves weekly formation sessions that focus on teaching the men about what it means to be a man of God. Additionally, the men receive bi-monthly visits from a Catholic counselor to provide them with guidance and support. The program also includes weekly community nights that enable the men to come together, unwind and have fun as a community.

The pastoral pillar assigns men to serve in our local Catholic schools for apostolic work. They work in various schools, including Cathedral School, Aquinas Middle/High School, Viterbo University in La Crosse and St. Patrick School in Onalaska. This assignment not only helps the men grow in their faith but also allows them to pass it on to others. Additionally, they serve at their home parishes and a local parish on weekends to learn the ins and outs of parish life.

Prayers and the Call

The propaedeutic year is a great opportunity for men in our diocese to become holy men of God. If you or someone you know is interested in joining or needs more information, please contact Father Nate Kuhn, the vocation director. Additionally, don’t underestimate the power of your prayers. Please continue to pray for vocations and for the men in our program, and don’t hesitate to let someone know if you think they might be called to the priesthood. A personal invitation can be very powerful, even if it feels awkward.

Story by Andrew Brueggen
Associate Director of Vocation Formation
Published in the March/April 2024 issue of Catholic Life Magazine

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