Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Psychologist helps seminarians discern, follow balanced life

Story and photo by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the Sept. 11, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

Dr. Andrew HaffeyDr. Andrew Haffey works with the Spokane Diocese’s seminarians to help the men live balanced, healthy lives. (IR photo)

Nineteen men currently make up the roster of those studying for priesthood for the Spokane Diocese this year. Priestly life and seminary formation have come under much closer scrutiny in the last couple of years. Exactly what happens when a man asks to study for the priesthood?

To be accepted at Bishop White means that each candidate must pass an extensive entrance evaluation. Father Darrin Connall, vocations director for the diocese and Bishop White’s rector, explained that the evaluation has a two-fold purpose: screening and formation. What is the candidate like? Will he fit into priesthood? “To learn the man’s make-up,” Father Connall said, is a first step in the candidate’s formation process.

The entrance evaluation includes three psychological tests, given by Dr. Andrew Haffey of Spokane, the seminary’s staff psychologist. The prospective seminarian must also undergo a personal interview with Dr. Haffey. Father Connall said the diocese has done such testing for over 20 years.

The psychological tests are extensive. One test is a broad personality inventory that measures basic personality function. “It’s the industry standard” for personality inventories, Dr. Haffey said, and has been used in the field of psychology for over 50 years. “We have norms of healthy seminary applicants” to use for comparison, he said, in evaluating prospective candidates.

The second tests for personality pathology; the third measures general aptitude and verbal skills. The personal interview is also rigorous; Dr. Haffey said it takes six hours.

“What the evaluation is geared toward,” said Dr. Haffey, “is to make sure the seminarian has reached some level of adult development and is capable of healthy adult relationships.”

Dr. Haffey said there are two areas of particular focus within that development which are “examined very carefully.” One is the semi-narian’s level of sexual maturity and the other looks at the issue of power and authority. “How does he deal with sexuality? How does he relate to power and authority in his own life? Is he equipped to become an authority figure?”

The psychological evaluations are not the only measurements, however. They are “just one door” that allow a look at a seminarian’s make-up. “We’re looking at the individual’s development over four years,” Dr. Haffey said.

Father Connall said there are four pillars on which a semi-narian’s formation is based. Very briefly stated they are: spiritual, which concerns itself with the candidate’s prayer and spiritual development; pastoral, which are his gifts in service to others; academic, which is the seminarian’s college work; and personal, which is concerned with his physical and social well-being. All four areas are evaluated each year the seminarian is at Bishop White.

“It’s an amazing experience of self-exploration,” Dr. Haffey said. “They’re constantly challenged as to how they live in community, how they relate to each other and to themselves.”

As the staff psychologist, Dr. Haffey is available to assist with “issues regarding the seminarian’s development and other psychological issues in-house.” Also, he does a seminar “about once a year” on issues of spirituality and formation.

Seminary formation has changed greatly over the past 25 years. “It’s very different now,” said Father Connall. Seminaries used to be “very controlling places,” and these days, “it’s much more open than it used to be.” One example is the issue of collaboration with lay people and another is that of sexuality, topics that “were never talked about 25 years ago,” he said.

Another change is that most priest candidates are older. Twenty-five or more years ago, men would enter high school seminaries at age 13 or 14. There are not too many high school seminaries anymore, Father Connall said.

According to Dr. Haffey, men who come to the seminary have a “well-developed sense of their Catholic identity.”

Bishop White is a college seminary in which a priest candidate lives while he earns a college degree. By the end of the four years, the staff and the seminarian “should feel certain,” Dr. Haffey said, “that he is fit to enter a major seminary,” which can be one of several in the United States or Europe.

Anyone wanting information about the seminary can call Father Connall: (509) 326-3255.

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