Formation in the Society (PE nr. 1087 – 2018/01)


In the Society, formation has always been made up of different phases which take place in different houses and usually in different countries. In this paper we will look at these different phases of formation in the different periods of our history. First of all, we will look at the “old system” of formation as it existed up to the mid-1960 and then on to formation as it exists today. In between the two systems there was the period of transition.

Formation before 1968

Up to 1968, with a few rare exceptions, all the candidates were from Europe and North America. Their formation took place in Europe, North America and North Africa. It usually lasted seven years: two years of philosophy, one year novitiate and four years of theology.

Junior Seminary

Before 1965 many confreres started their formation in junior seminaries. These were secondary boarding schools, run by the Society, for the formation of boys who had expressed a desire to become missionaries. By the early 1960’s there were nine junior seminaries run by the White Fathers such as the Priory in England, Santpoort in the Netherlands, and Bonnelles in France.

In 1965, Fr. Leo Volker, Superior General from 1957 to 1967, decided to close them down. They required too many confreres as teachers. These had to do extra studies in subjects such as literature, history and geography, etc. after their ordination. The quality of the teaching was, at times, poor and the minor seminaries provided far too few Missionaries of Africa to warrant their continued existence. However, even after closing the minor seminaries, the Society maintained, for some years, a number of houses for young men who wished to be missionaries. They lived in houses run by the Society but they attended classes in other Catholic schools in the area.


In the very first years of the Society the candidates came from diocesan seminaries (mainly in France) where they completed their philosophy and part of the theology studies. At that time the Society had no philosophy seminaries. However during the years 1880/90, because of the increasing numbers of candidates, philosophy seminaries were opened in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Luxembourg and later in Italy and in England. Up to the early nineteen sixties each Province had its own philosophy seminary (with the exception of Canada where candidates studied philosophy as part of their secondary school education). This philosophy formation usually lasted two years. All the lectures were given by confreres.

The seminary style of formation

Up to 1968, all formation of Missionary of Africa priests took place in seminaries. (Theology seminaries were known as “Scholasticates”). A seminary is a formation house for those who want to become priests. The regime tended to be strict and the atmosphere rather monastic. There was a clear, detailed, common programme of formation. Life was structured down to the smallest details, such as the timetable for feast-days, times for outings, walks, silence, etc. Formation was directive in style. Formators and candidates alike were expected to enter into the system, to accept the programme of formation as it was and to follow it faithfully. (This was a time when society in general was authoritarian – so the strict discipline of the seminary was not considered to be unusual.)

In some of our philosophy seminaries (e.g. Ireland, Italy and Belgium) the seminarians wore a black cassock. In France the students wore a ghandoura (but no rosary). In the novitiate and in the Scholasticate they all wore the ghandoura (they had a khaki ghandoura for manual work).

The superior could read all in-coming and out-going letters. The seminarians had to call one another: “Brother” and when speaking French they used “vous” when speaking to one another. There was silence at meals. The style of life was Spartan: there were no luxuries. The bell governed the day (the author of this article remembers that, during his stay in the philosophy seminary, the bell was rung on 31 (sic) occasions every day!).

The philosophy seminaries were frequently situated in fairly isolated places: e.g. Kerlois in France, Blacklion in Ireland.


All the philosophy manuals were in Latin up to 1963. At that time knowledge of Latin was necessary in order to become a priest. (The entire liturgy was in Latin. In 1962 Pope John XXIII published the encyclical “Veterum sapientia” in which he insisted on the necessity of Latin in the training of priests.) However, almost all the lectures in our houses were given in the vernacular.
Those candidates who had not done Latin in secondary school had to spend one or two years learning it before joining the seminary. In England there was a special college (Campion House) at Osterley outside London run by the Jesuits for those men who wished the join a seminary but who had not done Latin in secondary school.



In the 1920’s and 1930’s the numbers of novices were high and growing all the time. In 1923 there were 53 novices at the beginning of the year. Numbers reached their peak in 1935 when there were 148 novices (the 1936 chapter decided to open a novitiate in each of the Provinces). The dominant nationalities of the novices were French, Belgian, Dutch and Canadian; however there were also Swiss, Italian, Irish and British novices.

The formation was very strict. The novice master did not hesitate to send students away. Usually about 20% did not complete the novitiate. One unpleasant memory of a confrere who did his novitiate in Maison Carrée was “le bateau du mardi”: the boat which left for Marseilles on Tuesdays and on which there were from time to time one or two novices who had been told to leave. The Novice Master would tell the novices the following day during spiritual reading: “Brother X has left us!” After the novitiate the novices left directly for their theology studies in the Scholasticate.


In 1936, there was basically one novitiate for the entire Society located in Ste Marie, at Maison Carrée just outside Algiers. There was also a novitiate at Marienthal in Luxemburg for the Germans. In 1937, other novitiates were opened in ’s-Heerenberg (NL), Varsenare (B), St-Martin, Laval (Can).

The Brothers

The Brothers did their novitiate separately – and it lasted two years. They also did their novitiate at Algiers and Marienthal. It was only in 1960 that the decision was taken to combine the clerics’ and brothers’ novitiates. However up till the 1967 Chapter, the Brothers did a two-year novitiate. From 1950 to 1968, they continued their technical training mainly in Marienthal (Luxembourg), Thibar (Tunisia) and at Mours (France).

The formation style

The style of the novitiate was monastic. Great stress was put on obedience to the rule of the novitiate. Observance of the Rule was seen to be important throughout the Society – in the missions as well. Apart from the times of recreation, there was silence. Meals were taken in silence: there was reading of an interesting but edifying book. It was only on rare occasions that the superior would say “Deo Gratias” after the initial short gospel reading; this meant that the novices were then allowed to speak. The material life was austere and the furnishing was simple.

Up to 1968 the “2nd phase” of formation was the “novitiate” (not a “spiritual year”). A noviciate was defined by Canon Law and it was necessary to follow all the canonical requirements: it had to last a full year, etc.

Novice masters

In the early days of the Society, the novice masters changed frequently but in the 1920s and 1930s there were only two: Henri Le Veux (+1965) and Paul Betz (+1955). They must have had a prodigious capacity for work. They gave two talks a day and undertook the spiritual direction of nearly all the novices. The novice master had an assistant, a bursar and a scripture teacher. Similarly in ’s-Heerenberg and Dorking: Fr. Kees van den Bosch was novice master for about 14 years.

Provincial Novitiates

From 1937 to 1968 all the novitiates were organised on a provincial basis: Dorking (England) (having replaced the novitiate in ’s-Heerenberg) for the British, Irish and Dutch novices; Gap (France) (which had replaced the novitiate in Maison Carrée in the early 1960’s) for the French, Swiss, Spanish and Italians. The German novitiate was in Hörstel, and the Belgian in Varsenare. In North America there were noviciates in Saint-Martin, Québec (Canada) and also in Franklin (USA) which later moved to Alexandria Bay.


Up to the 1960’s every theology seminary was called a “Scholasticate”. From 1882 up to 1934 the principal Scholasticate of the Society was in Carthage. The German scholastics did their theology in Trier. As numbers increased other Scholasticates were built.

New Scholasticates

Thibar (Tunisia)

The first new Scholasticate was built in Thibar in northern Tunisia. The first students moved there in 1934. The scholastics did part of their theology in Thibar and the rest in Carthage.

The system whereby all the candidates did their theology in North Africa changed in the late 1930’s with the creation of Provinces in the Society. In order for a Province to be canonically erected it had to have a complete set of formation houses: novitiate, philosophy and theology seminaries.

Vals-près-Le Puy (France)

In the early sixties, because of Tunisian independence, it was necessary to leave Carthage and Thibar. The Society bought a Jesuit seminary near Le Puy (in central France); the Jesuits had moved their seminarians to Chantilly, near Paris.

’s-Heerenberg (The Netherlands)

’s-Heerenberg became an international Scholasticate in 1947. (The novitiate was in the same building but was kept totally separate.) The building was bought from the Jesuits who had built it as their seminary. Even though the house was in the Netherlands, all of the formation was given in English. The deacons did their final year of studies at Monteviot (Scotland). One of the reasons for the move to Scotland was to give the deacons a better exposure to the British way of life and so prepare them for mission in the British colonies. The house in ’s-Heerenberg closed in 1958 and the scholastics were moved to England (Totteridge).

Totteridge (England)

Totteridge was a theology house situated in the north of London from 1958 to 2005. Before the Missionaries of Africa arrived it had been children’s home. Before the scholastics could move in, a team of brothers had divided the large dormitories into small individual rooms. The old building was later knocked down and a completely new purpose-built building was erected.

Heverlee (Belgium)

In 1937 the Belgian Province built a seminary at Heverlee near Leuven (Louvain). It became an international formation centre in 1947. It was a bi-lingual community: French and Flemish.

Eastview (Canada)

A Scholasticate was opened in Canada in 1938; it was built in a suburb of Ottawa. While the lectures were in French, the community life was bilingual: French one week and English the next.

The style of formation

The community of the Scholasticate

In each house there was a large student community of between 80 and 100 students, (at that time there were no teams). The community was “white”: the scholastics were European or North American and they all wore the white ghandoura. The lectures were all given by White Father members of staff. There was a high ratio of candidates per Formator.


The programme of theological studies was set down in Canon Law. The aim was to produce good priests not theologians. The teaching was based on giving explanations of the theological textbooks (manuals) without the professor making much personal contribution. The candidate was supposed to understand, memorize and repeat, in frequent exams and tests, the material contained in the manuals and/or given by the teachers. The students had four or five lectures per day.

Library facilities were limited and wide reading was not encouraged. Orthodoxy was stressed. Formation was standardized and very uniform in the different centres and for all the candidates within the same centre.

Certain human and Christian values were particularly stressed and demanded, such as obedience, order, discipline and self-control, self-sacrifice, austerity, actual poverty, prudence, generosity, will power, devotion, deep spiritual convictions supported by a well-structured spiritual life with frequent spiritual exercises. One of the weak points of this type of formation was the levelling of personalities and the development of the “yes type” of personality. There was also lack of creativity, of initiative and a good deal of formalism. There was a strong bent towards intellectualism. Philosophy as well as theology tended to lack any practical, pastoral and social orientation.


For the most part the professors in our seminaries (up to the end of the 1960’s) were young missionaries who had had little or no missionary experience. They had been sent for further studies straight after the completion of their own theological studies. In Totteridge in the early 1960’s only two of the eight lecturers had taught in African seminaries; none of the others had been in Africa. Therefore the adaptation of their theological reflection to pastoral situations in Africa had to wait until the young confreres arrived in their mission territories.

Pastoral work

Up to the end of the 1950’s the possibilities for pastoral work were very limited. In North Africa on one afternoon every week and a full day every month, the scholastics would go for long treks in the country side, despite the hot sun. “Au milieu de la journée, sur les routes du bled, il n’y a que les P.B et … les bourricots!” (In the middle of the day on the roads of the countryside one only finds W.F.s and donkeys!) Some students used this free time to go out and visit Arab families and teach catechism in the parish in Tunis. Up to 1930 the (medically untrained) scholastics gave medical care in the villages, but this was stopped by the government. In ‘s-Heerenberg, the seminary was English speaking, but all the people in the area spoke Dutch – so there was not much possibility for any meaningful contact.


During the holidays, the scholastics (at Thibar) either went to Gamarth (on the coast) or volunteers could remain for a month in Thibar to look after the property and the garden. The scholastics in Eastview would spend much of the holiday time in the summer house in Lac Vert.

Relaxation of the system

This was the formation system that existed up to the 1967 chapter. However by the mid-1960’s many changes had taken place. The strictness had eased considerably and most of the more monastic elements had disappeared. Latin was rarely used. Teams were introduced, relationships between Formators and candidates were becoming more relaxed and teaching methods were much less didactic.

From the late 1960’s till today


Between the formation system as it existed before 1968 and as it exists today there was a period of transition, a time of going from the “old” to the “new”. And as frequently happens in such situations, it was a difficult time.

The reasons for the change

The 1967 Chapter wanted to improve the intellectual standard of the formation by associating our seminaries with centres of higher learning. Consequently the old philosophy seminaries were closed down and the students were moved to places where they could attend courses either at university or in inter-congregational institutes. The French candidates went from Kerlois to Strasbourg, the Belgians from Varsenare to Leuven, the Americans from Onchiota to Dayton, Ohio and the Irish and British from Blacklion (Ireland) to Milltown Park, Dublin and to the MIL, London. There were similar changes in the theology formation. In 1968, a first group of theology students was sent for studies in Strasbourg either directly from the novitiate or from other theology houses. In 1969, the Scholasticates of Vals and Heverlee were closed and the remaining students moved to Strasburg. They lived in a “foyer” (a student hostel run by the Society) and attended lectures at the university. The Missionary Institute of London was affiliated to the universities of Leuven and Middlesex. In 1968, the students in Eastview began to attend lectures at St Paul’s University (Ottawa).

The change of place was accompanied by a radical change in the approach to formation. The old “seminary” style formation gave way to a new formation model in which the stress was on personal responsibility, dialogue and community. These were some of the key values, which had been emphasised by the 1967 chapter.

Because the candidates were now studying outside the house the style of formation necessarily became much more open (in comparison with the old seminary system where the candidates remained in the seminary the whole time). The community timetable became much more flexible.

Another major factor was the serious drop in the number of candidates joining the Society. Student communities became much smaller and some houses had to close because of the lack of students: Heverlee in 1970 and Eastview in 1974. The numbers of novices began to fall drastically and it was no longer possible to keep all six novitiates open. In 1970 there were only two: Fribourg and Dorking and by 1974 there was only one noviciate in Mours (outside Paris).
Another factor is that the mentality of the candidates themselves was changing. Because of the social changes that had been taking place in Europe and North America many young people had developed a negative attitude towards authority. Traditions and structures were now being openly questioned and challenged. After the strictness of the old system the new system became rather lax, with a stress on personal freedom and responsibility. Democracy was “in”; speaking from authority was “out”. Many candidates resented being spoken to in an authoritative way. During my time in Strasbourg in the mid-70’s the superior never spoke to us as a community of students. Everything was done in individual conversations.

The 1974 Chapter insisted that the candidates in the Spiritual Year be adequately prepared and ready to enter into the experience of the spiritual year. This possibly refers to a situation in which many of the candidates in the Spiritual Year were not really prepared for such a spiritual experience. Julien Papillon refers to a certain initial reluctance on the part of the candidates to enter into the experience of the Spiritual Year in 1969. This was a difficult experience for the Formators who had to adapt to a different mentality.
Many old traditions were thrown out without necessarily being replaced by new ones, for example; in the 1970’s the novices no longer received the habit of the Society. Some students were allowed to follow “lay” studies (engineering, medicine, literature…) instead of philosophy. This was a period during which many of the students (and Formators) left the Society. (It should be added that the confusion in the area of formation reflected the confusion that existed in many areas of the life of the Society in the period which followed the 1967 Chapter.)

Period of confusion

This confusion was especially clear in the Spiritual Year. At this time there was a lack of clarity about the way the Spiritual Year was to be run. Between 1969 and 1979 it moved from place to place (Washington, Birkdale, Mours, Ottawa, and Fribourg) and there were many changes in its staffing. The programme was ill-defined and in some cases the Formators had to make things up as the year went on. Many Formators had not been adequately prepared for formation and felt confused in this new situation which was so different from what they had known.

In France, the move from Vals to a “foyer” (student house) in Strasbourg in 1968 and 1969 necessitated a radical change of mentalities and structures on the part of both students and Formators; and no one was fully prepared for it.

The situation began to stabilise in the late seventies under the guidance of Fr. J-M Vasseur and the Secretary of Formation, Fr. Piet Horsten. The Society organised sessions on Ignatian Spirituality for all the confreres involved in formation (in Dublin and Thy-le-Chateau).

First Cycles

Europe and N. America

After 1967 the philosophy students moved from “seminaries” to centres where they could attend courses in universities and consortia. But as numbers continued to fall, some of these formation centres began to be phased out or continued with very small communities of students.


The early eighties saw the opening of many First Cycle formation houses in Africa. In the 1970’s the Missionaries of Africa sent their candidates to local major seminaries (Mpima, Zambia; Katigondo, Uganda; Tamale, Ghana), and then, after some years, they opened their own African First Cycles. The first formation house in Africa was opened in 1979 in Bambumines, Congo (later transferred to Bukavu). This was followed by other First Cycles in Africa: e.g. Kahangala, Tanzania (1980 – 1996); Kisubi, Uganda (1981 – 83). Initially the confreres organised the formation themselves, giving all the courses but slowly inter-congregational consortia were founded. In some places the Missionaries of Africa were among the founder members: e.g. PCJ in Jinja (Uganda). In other places they sent their students to institutes run by other congregations e.g. Spiritan College in Arusha.

“Seminary” vs. “Formation House”

The 1992 Chapter stressed the common mission of the priests and the brothers in the Society. This led to a change in vocabulary. Because our formation houses are now places where both clerics and brothers are formed the Society now uses the word “formation house” instead of “seminary” as the latter name is used only in relation to the training of clerics.

Pre-First Phase centres

In order to bring the candidates up to the standard necessary for the First Cycle (because of low standards in secondary schools), to complement the candidates’ religious background and to make a better selection, a number of pre-First Cycle houses were established: Serenje (Zambia), Lilongwe (Malawi), Ibadan (Nigeria), Goma (DRC). Candidates attended a preparatory course ranging from 3 to 9 months before moving on to the First Cycle.

The chapter of 2016 decided that each Province should pay particular attention to the human and Christian formation of aspirants before they go to the First Cycle. In most Provinces this means that each Province will have its own pre-First phase centre (except PAO which has its own pre-First cycle programme of formation).

Spiritual Year

Novitiate – Spiritual Year

In 1968, the Noviciate became the “Spiritual Year”. This allowed for greater freedom in the organisation of the formation and the ability to develop a more missionary style. There was much less stress on the observance of rules and on silence. The duration of the “spiritual year” was reduced from a full year to ten months.

International Spiritual Year

In 1968, the spiritual years became international, no longer provincial. Because of the drop in the number of candidates, the spiritual year centres were reduced to two. This caused problems at the beginning because in some cases the novices did not know the language of the spiritual year to which they were sent.

Spiritual Exercises

In the 1960’s the Spiritual Exercises (the “30 day retreat”) was an integral part of the programme of the novitiate. The 1967 Chapter decided that our candidates do the long retreat during their theology studies; this is the case today.

In the late 1970’s when the Spiritual Year was in Ottawa, Fathers Julien Papillon (+2002) and Alexandre You (+1991) got to know the work of Fr. Gilles Cusson, S.J., a Canadian Jesuit based in Quebec, who had worked on the Spiritual Exercises in daily life (19th Annotation). They introduced this form of the Exercises into the Spiritual Year and organised the whole programme around them. The “Exercises in Daily Living” have formed the basis of the pedagogy of the Spiritual Year ever since.

Immersion Period

Usually during the month of May the novices are sent out on their “Immersion Period”; it is a 5 or 6 week period which they spend with people who are, in one way or another, handicapped: orphans, lepers, street-children, etc. The novices are “immersed” in their milieu. They either stay in families near the centre where they are working or they stay in the centre itself, depending on the local circumstances.

The immersion period is now an established part of the programme; however it has been the topic of discussion. Some Formators considered that it duplicated the work of the stage which follows directly after the Spiritual Year and that it reduced the time for an adequate covering of other important topics. Consequently the immersion period was dropped in the Spiritual Year in Kasama in the years 1989 – 1993.

Spiritual Years in Africa

The Spiritual Year was always in Europe or North America until 1983. The first Spiritual Year in Africa was opened in Kasama in 1983. Fribourg was maintained as the French-speaking centre until it moved to Bobo Dioulasso in 1997. Kahangala (Tanzania) was opened as a third Spiritual Year – English speaking – in 1996. The system of having three Spiritual Years lasted only a couple of years because the number of novices could easily fit into two centres and there was a lack of Formators. From 1999 to 2003 Kahangala was the only English-speaking Spiritual Year because of the temporary closure of Kasama from 1999 to 2002. In 2002, Kahangala was closed definitively and Kasama re-opened. The Spiritual Year in Arusha was opened in 2012 (in the buildings of the first phase centre which had been made redundant by the opening of the new First Phase centre in Balaka, Malawi).

The Stage – the period of apostolic training

Cooperation – time out

Up to 1974 the “stage” (the period of apostolic training) was not part of the formation programme. The idea of taking “time off” in Africa began to become popular in the 1960’s when the French students who had to do military service were able to replace it by two years of “coopération” in one of the ex-French territories. Consequently some French (and Belgian) candidates taught for two years in schools run by White Fathers. This idea appealed to other non-French students and many of them took “time off” to work in Africa before resuming their formation. The 1967 Chapter allowed for the principle of interrupting one’s theological studies: it was no longer considered as an exception. This was to help the candidates attain greater maturity. The chapter proposed various different forms of “time out”: university studies, work experience, military service, national service (inc. la coopération) and time in Africa. By 1970 taking “time out” in Africa had become quite a common occurrence to the extent that the General Council began to reflect on the matter, but a time in Africa was not yet an element of the formation programme. This “time out” was envisaged in different ways. For some it was a time of reflection chosen by those who felt the need to reflect more about their own vocation or learn something about Africa before continuing their formation. For others it was a time of reflection proposed by the staff for those candidates about whom they were not sure.

Stage – part of formation programme

The “stage” was introduced by the 1974 Chapter as an integral element of formation. The aim was to enhance the preparation of the candidates to be missionaries and help them better integrate their studies and the realities of missionary life. The stage lasts two years and is situated between the end of the Spiritual Year and the beginning of the 4th phase. Theoretically at least, the stagiaire is appointed to a suitable community which already has three confreres. During his time in the community the stagiaire participates fully in the life and activities of the community. During their stage the candidates are under the responsibility of the Provincial who appoints a confrere to be “stage coordinator”. He visits the stagiaires and organises meetings of stagiaires from time to time.


Since its inception in 1975 the stage has been a very positive element of our formation. However, as in every other phase of formation, there have been issues and challenges.

One of the challenges has always been finding suitable communities for the stagiaires and finding suitable work for them. In the period 2014–16 there was a combined total of about 100 stagiaires (for the two years). In this situation some stagiaires were appointed to a community in which there already was a stagiaire who had been appointed the previous year.

Another challenge has been that of preparing the evaluations of the stagiaires. Given the fact that our candidates do their formation in different centres, evaluations and presentations play a crucial role in the discernment of a candidate’s vocation.

Developments in the period of apostolic formation

There have been some positive developments. The booklet on the period of apostolic formation made it clear what was required to make a community suitable to receive a stagiaire: community prayer, regular recollections, community meetings…

Another development has been the practice of the stagiaires’ meetings every year, with several days of sharing about the experience and a retreat at the end. This has been made possible partly by the development of better travel facilities and also a determination on the part of the provincial teams.

In recent years the General Council widened the range of places and communities to which stagiaires are sent. They now include youth centres (Bruh Tesfah in Ethiopia, Sharing in Uganda, and le Pélican in Burkina…) and they have also started appointing stagiaires to communities outside of Africa: Brazil, Germany, Spain, and Marseilles.

Scholasticates – Fourth Phase communities

Organisation of the Scholasticates

At the beginning of the 1960’s there were four scholasticates: Heverlee (Belgium); Totteridge (London); Eastview (Ottawa, Canada) and Vals-près-Le Puy (France). From 1962 to 1994 all the theology houses of the Society were in Europe and North America. After 1974 only two remained: London and Strasbourg. In 1981 the French theology centre moved to Toulouse because it was considered that the course of studies at the University of Strasbourg was too academic and not sufficiently pastoral.

Academic formation

Up until the mid-1960s all theological formation was given by members of the Society. However, after 1968 there was a move to greater collaboration with other congregations. In 1967 the Missionary Institute of London (MIL) was established. It was a consortium based on the co-operation of the Missionaries of Africa and the Mill Hill Fathers. Two years later other congregations joined them: Consolata, Comboni, SVD, SMA and Spiritans. The primary aim was to give a greater missionary orientation to the theological formation. After that there was a move towards the formation of consortia in other places such as Tangaza College, Nairobi and Abidjan. In some places we joined consortia which were already established.

Move from Europe to Africa

Because of the changing composition of the student body (almost no European candidates) the Society decided to move the theology centres to Africa. The Society also wanted to support the theological centres that had already been created in Africa.

Our first theology centre in Africa was opened in Nairobi in 1994 and the students went to Tangaza College for their lectures. A theology house was opened in Abidjan in 2004. Consequently the centres in Toulouse and London were phased out and eventually closed in June 2006.

Small Formation Centres

In 2005 a new formation formula was introduced: the small formation community. The first one was opened in Nairobi, and the following year small formation communities were opened in Kinshasa and Jerusalem. The aim was to have a small community of candidates living in and associated with an existing community of confreres. However in the case of Kinshasa and Nairobi the community of confreres tended to be associated to the formation community. Both centres were eventually closed, Nairobi, because of lack of candidates and Formators, and the small formation community of Kinshasa was transformed into a fully-fledged theology centre in Limete, near Kinshasa, in 2016.

Missionary formation

Pastoral year

Initially, theological training was academic with little missionary orientation. In order to deal with the lack of a missionary dimension to formation, a “pastoral year” was added after ordination in the 1960’s. It consisted of a short (3 month) pastoral course which took place at Oak Lodge in London and at Mours outside Paris. This “pastoral year” lasted from 1961 to 1968. Anecdotal evidence would indicate that, in general, the pastoral courses in Mours and Oak Lodge were not much appreciated. The time spent at the pastoral course was followed by six months learning the language and the culture of the people in a language centre. These centres were located at Bukavu (Congo), Kigali (Rwanda), Ilondola and Lusaka (Zambia), Kisubi and Ibanda (Uganda), IBLA (Tunis), PISAI (Rome), Faladye (Mali), Guilongou (Burkina Faso), Kipalapala (Tanzania), Muyange (Burundi), Lilongwe (Malawi).

Formation Style

Relationships between Staff and Students

Because of the changes taking place in society at large, relationships between “superiors” and “students” were changing. Up to the mid-1960’s the staff tended to be quite distant from the students. They formed a separate community and ate at separate tables. The way of speaking to one another expressed this distance: the staff spoke to the individual students as “brother” or “frère” and with the polite form of “vous”. The students spoke to the Fathers as Père or Father X.

In the 1960’s and early 1970’s much of this changed. The staff ceased to form a community completely separate from the students and began to be an integral part of the same community – while at the same time maintaining a certain distinction. They began to eat at the same table as the students. In the mid 1960’s the Fathers began to address the students by their first names.


In 1964 or 1965 “teams” were introduced into the Scholasticates to make life more personal and to facilitate sharing.

Pastoral Work

In the old seminary system the students did little pastoral work. However in the early and mid-‘60’s the amount of pastoral work in all the phases of formation increased.

The Brothers

After 1967, the number of candidates wishing to become brothers decreased very rapidly. It became very difficult to have, as had been the case before 1967, a separate formation community for brothers. Also, because of the great variety of tasks carried out by the Brothers, it was difficult to propose a detailed programme of studies and formation for them.

At both the 1967 and 1974 chapters, concerns were raised about increasing the admission standards for brothers. There was an insistence that candidates have a serious professional qualification before joining the Society.

The formation programme is now basically the same for brothers as for clerics. During the first cycle the brother candidates usually complete the same (or similar) programme as the clerics. It is during the 4th Phase that the Brother candidates complete their professional training as well as getting some theological training.

Coordination of formation

The 1967 chapter decided to establish a Secretariat for Formation. The function was to see to the implementation of the Chapter decisions in the areas of formation houses, their staffing and On-Going Formation of the confreres. The following Chapter further developed the role of the Secretary for Formation. After the 1967 chapter, he began to reorganise the programmes for the Spiritual Year and Theology houses.


From the eighties onwards the staffing of formation houses has been a problem. With the falling numbers of confreres, the number of suitable staff for formation has diminished. Other reasons for the shortage of Formators were a lack of confreres of the appropriate age-group and the lack of confreres with the necessary qualifications – especially in philosophy. This lack of Formators was one of the factors which led to the establishment of consortia and of regional First Phase houses. In this way the load was shared. In order to staff all its formation houses, the Society needs over 60 full-time Formators. Since 1992, there has been a policy that a Formator’s term of office should last six years.


This has been an overview of some of the developments which have taken place in our formation system over the past 50 or so years. There is much more to be said. Some aspects in this paper may be incomplete; other important topics have not been mentioned.

When we look at formation as it was up to the mid-‘60’s and as it is now we see that there have been many changes both in the methods and forms of formation and also in the attitudes and guiding principles. The present methods of formation are the fruit of much experience and reflection.

P.S. Much of this paper is based on personal memories: those of the author and of other confreres who have shared with him their reflections, experiences and memories. In order to further develop and complete this reflection on the history of formation in the Society, the author would be very grateful to anyone who would be willing to share comments and personal memories and experiences of formation (and even photos).

Dave Sullivan, M.Afr.

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