PROVIDENCE — Our Lady of Providence (OLP) Seminary has been shaping future priests at its location in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood for over 30 years. Father David Gaffney, the current rector of OLP, has played a crucial role for more than a decade in preparing priests for service in the Diocese of Providence while ensuring safety in the parish community.
The principles for any Catholic seminary are set forth by the Universal Church. Each bishops’ conference then implements those guiding principles. The document governing seminary formation in the United States, the Program for Priestly Formation (PPF), was developed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The fifth edition of the PPF describes a seminary as “a learning community of the disciples of Jesus…a community of charity and friendship, where fraternal bonds are anchored in genuine relationships to the Lord and his Body, the Church.”
Having spent many years in high school ministry before ordination and having recently served as spiritual director at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, Father Gaffney likes to tell the seminarians, “I know where you’re coming from and I know where you’re going.” He describes the years spent in seminary as a time of “intentional reflection and intentional preparation for the vocation of priesthood.”
Rigorous training at OLP Seminary is separated into four dimensions: Intellectual, Pastoral, Spiritual and Human.
In addition to weekly formation sessions, the men are formed intellectually especially in the philosophical and theological sciences while completing a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy at Providence College. The seminarians’ pastoral work happens through a weekly assignment in the community, which could include teaching religious education in a local parish; working at Emmanuel House, the diocesan homeless shelter; the St. Edward Food Center; or visiting residents at the Jeanne Jugan Residence, a nursing home run by the Little Sisters of the Poor. The seminarians receive spiritual formation from a daily horarium of praying the Liturgy of the Hours and the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy at Mass. They also meet regularly with a priest spiritual director as they continue to respond to the Lord’s divine call for their lives. Additionally, the men engage in retreats, days of recollection, devotions and spiritual reading.
Human formation is the basis for all formation in seminary life. At Our Lady of Providence, among the many opportunities the men have to grow in virtue, community and inter-personal bonds with others, the seminarians have frequent interaction with Dr. Michael Hansen, director of Human Formation, and the director of the Office of Prevention and Outreach. He guides seminarians through the Safe Environment Training and continues to meet with them regularly, and as requested, throughout their years in the program. The Safe Environment Training is a required program for all clergy, religious, lay employees and volunteers, which focuses especially on awareness, prevention and reporting of abuse to ensure the highest standard of safety for our children and compliance for those who serve in the Church
These four dimensions of priestly formation are intentionally subject to a separated focus during the seminary years with the goal of integrating them in practice.
Once their journey at OLP is complete, seminarians are assigned by the bishop to a major seminary such as St. John Seminary in Boston or the Pontifical North American College in Rome where they embark on a course of study in theology. This four-year program prepares them in a more concrete way to take on the responsibilities of priestly ministry.
“When I speak in parishes, I tell people that priests don’t just appear in their parishes; there are years of effort, study, prayer and hard work that precede their assignments,” said Father Gaffney.
Father Gaffney is in his second year as rector of OLP Seminary, and his 12th year in priestly formation. He previously spent a decade in the role of spiritual director, first at OLP, followed by five years in Rome. His day-to-day tasks involve overseeing the formation of all seminarians at OLP, including tracking their academic performance at Providence College. Currently there are 17 seminarians at OLP from the Diocese of Providence and six other dioceses and archdioceses in New England.
“One of our main goals is for our seminarians to fully understand the call to priesthood and use all of the resources of the seminary to help them achieve this goal,” said Father Gaffney.
Father Gaffney received his B.A. from the College of the Holy Cross. He earned a M.A. in Counseling from Rhode Island College; a M.A. in Religious Studies and Biblical Studies from Providence College; a M.Div. from Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary; and a M.A. in Christian Spirituality from Creighton University. He has served as an assistant pastor, college chaplain, pastor and high school chaplain in addition to his seminary work. He was ordained to the priesthood on June 24, 2000.
“The training received by the men at Our Lady of Providence Seminary contributes to maintaining safe environments for young people in parishes across the diocese. The seminarians benefit, and the people they will one day serve as pastors will benefit as well,” said Father Gaffney.