Council Resources

Project of the Formation Community



The General Councillor for Formation

To the Rectors and Members
of the Formation Communities

To the Reverend Fathers
Provincials and Provincial Delegates for Formation

Process of discernment and of sharing

                        “At every level formation must be organized according to a structured and complete plan; it must be accompanied by a mentality capable of taking an overall view and carried out by the combined efforts of different people working together.” (FSDB 211); this is what the “Ratio” asks for, indicating the strategies for an approach to formation. The plan or project is a necessity for the formation community which,  being a “real training ground for a person to grow to maturity” (FSDB 287), needs a plan that indicates the path to be followed  in the formation process..
            These notes are meant to provide help especially for the Rectors and members of formation communities and then for Provincials and Provincial Formation Delegates as a series  of motivations, requirements and suggestions that can serve for the animation of formation communities and for the construction of a formation project. By formation communities we mean communities for initial formation: prenovitiate, novitiate, postnovitiate, communities for the specific formation of Salesian Brothers, communities for the specific formation of Salesian Priests; this document is addressed to them..
In addition, these notes are similar to the suggestions provided for the “Project for the salesian community” since in initial formation it is necessary to learn how a community produces its project; in particular the method of community discernment is used, as the GC25 suggests. They also have their own specific character with direct reference to the “Ratio”, and what follows from the particular nature of the formation community and the process of initial formation.
1. Reasons for and the purpose of the project
These days a project takes on special  importance in the life of individuals and of communities. For a young person on the threshold of adult life having a project means giving direction to one’s own life, taking responsibility for it, directing one’s own efforts. In the same way, for a formation community a project offers  many advantages, rather, it has become a necessity. Each formation community  is in a different situation from any others, and so what is done in one community cannot easily be transferred to another; each community needs to accept the responsibility for finding its own way ahead. While they are fundamental, general recommendations are not sufficient.
- Above all the project helps the formation community to carry out a discernment regarding its own progress. Formation is God’s work. As the Lord Jesus called the Apostles, prepared them with loving patience and sent them to proclaim the Gospel, (cfr. FSDB  96), so He continues to act today through His Spirit with those he chooses for salesian apostolic consecration. The Spirit of Jesus is “the first and principal agent” (FSDB  217) of their formation.
            This means that both the formation community and the individual must listen to the Spirit and let themselves be guided by Him. The work of formation is a continuous process of discernment; the community project is also an expression of this discernment. Therefore the project is not primarily a method for organising the life of the community. It is a real act of faith in God who has called together the members of this particular community, formation staff and those in formation. The community places itself in an attitude of openness before God and asks itself what He is calling  them to.
            Now, there is no doubt that we find part of the answer in our Constitutions and in the “Ratio”, which offer us valuable suggestions about the type of Salesian to be formed and the nature of his formation process. But these remain at the level of principal aims and general lines which are valid throughout the world. It is necessary to incarnate them in the concrete reality of each community, and this is the work of discernment. It is one thing to set out in the “Ratio” that the charism needs to be inculturated in each community; it is another to decide what in practice this community needs to do.
- In this way the community is able to give direction to all its formation work. Formation is a complex procedure. There is multiplicity and diversity in those being formed and in the formation staff, in its stages and activities, in its content, in its expressions (cfr. FSDB  210). Now, as the iron filings in a box all point in the same direction when a magnet passes over them, so, when it has a project, everything in the community is directed towards concrete aims. The different tasks, the relationships, experiences, attitudes,  activities, judgements that make up the formation experience are thought of and lived as aspects of a single process, of  activity that is coordinated and directed towards the purpose of each phase (cfr. FSDB 212). In this way one avoids many community activities and formation experiences being left to chance, to improvisation, to diversification and independent action by individuals and groups.
- This unified arrangement helps the community to strengthen communion among all the members. Through the project the community acquires an overall view of its purpose and the way it is going, and reaches convergence around certain key points. Since each one has taken part in the community discussion and made his own contribution, as a result there is greater understanding of each other and greater harmony in the group. Formation staff and those in formation become united in the desire to travel together towards the common goal, following the way they have traced out and agreed together. The community planning process builds communion among people and serves as an  antidote to singularity and individualism.
- The community also succeeds in encouraging everyone to accept responsibility for the formation process. The “Ratio” requires “the involvement of everyone in formulating and evaluating the community plan and programme of activities” (FSDB 287). In fact, already in the prenovitiate it is required that the candidates harmonise their activities with the community project.  (cfr. FSDB 340). Those in formation therefore are not passive subjects in their formation. Through direct participation in the planning process, they not only come to know the nature and the purpose of their own phase of formation, but in addition look closely at the integrating elements in their vocation, and personally accept the aims and objectives of the process and make their own the whole formation programme. Thus those in formation become fully involved in their formation. They feel a certain responsibility for the project, and set to work with enthusiasm to carry out what the plan proposes, making use of their own talents, energies and resources. Being involved in the planning process makes a big contribution towards making their formation a personal matter.
            As you can see, the community project launches a process of discernment of God’s call to live in a particular situation; it is a means for all the members to work together towards precise aims; it is an efficient method for creating a shared vision, to build community, to help relationships grow; it is a help for every confrere to feel appreciated and to work towards his own formation within the context of the community. The community project is not so much a point of arrival as a point of departure. Through the planning process the community is not trying simply to draw up a document but is committing itself to operate in formation “in a reflective and concerted manner, fostering communication and coordination, taking forward a systematic and continuous activity capable of dealing with the actual situation and of renewing itself.” (FSDB 574).

2. Requirements for launching the community planning programme
The launching of the community planning programme requires certain preconditions that can ensure the process goes well and the final product is effective.
- Above all, it is necessary to cultivate certain attitudes and keep an eye open for certain dangers, avoiding the deceptions or illusions in any project. The community is not the only agent in the project; it recognises and accepts the plan that God has for it.
The goal of the planning process is not the success of the community, but the formation of Salesians who are convinced, profound and happy in their vocation, filled with pastoral charity and ready to carry out their mission to youth with dedication and efficiency. The community drawing up the plan is not aiming to produce something perfect but at  its own genuine evangelical spirit, aware that it is the instrument through which the Lord carries out the formation of the hearts of those he has called. In drawing up the project it does not put methodological refinement in the first place, but rather seeks to reach the confreres in the depth of their being starting from their life experience and that of the community itself. (cfr. GC25 73).
Since the planning process is an exercise in discernment, it does not forget the primacy of God and leaves room for his grace; it then becomes a  real spiritual experience for the  community. Listening to Sacred Scripture and prayer become its context and horizon. Docility to the Spirit creates the conditions for being open to the gospel and to life, for not losing one’s way in the face of uncertainties and mistakes, for being open to renewal and conversion.
- In addition, experience teaches us that the success of the community project depends to a large extent, if not entirely, on the dispositions the members of the community bring to it. If the project is seen by the confreres as an imposition by the “Ratio”, the  tendency will be to put it off as long as possible or to do it as quickly as possible. It is obvious that this kind of project is of no use. It is important therefore, that before beginning the process, the community is itself convinced of the need to work according to a project  (cfr. GC25 72), and really wants to do so, seeing in it an important means for its own fulfilment and growth as a community..
If there is hesitation or lack of interest on the part of some, it is better to hold a community meeting first about the idea of the project to try to clarify  and resolve any doubts and especially to get people ready to participate. The point should be reached where the confreres are open to if not actually enthusiastic about the process to be started. The community produces the project, not because it is forced to but because it feels the need,  not because it has to but because it wants to.
- Finally there is a third requirement to be fulfilled. The community planning procedure does not start from zero, but has several important points of reference. On the one hand there is our Rule of Life, which provides authoritative recommendations on formation and on the formation community; in addition to that, there are the General Chapters and the letters of the Rector Major. Then there is the text of the “Ratio” which traces out for the whole Congregation what formation today ought to be.
No project therefore can leave these recommendations to one side if it wishes to be faithful to God’s call at the present time. For this reason it is necessary that before starting the work of planning, the formation community should take the trouble to take up the texts referred to. This presupposes a certain familiarity with the general guidelines regarding formation which are to be found in the first part of the “Ratio” and which are concerned with vocational identity, the aspects or dimensions of formation and the methodology of formation. It addition it is necessary that everyone is familiar with the nature of the phase of formation in which the community finds itself; this is explained in  the relevant chapter in the second part of the “Ratio” and includes the nature of the phase, the arrangement of the four dimensions or aspects and the formation requirements.   
To these points of reference should be added the Provincial Formation Plan which provides the overall frame of reference for formation in the Province. The fruit of discernment at provincial level, this identifies the kind of Salesian that God is calling each confrere to be, in his own place within the church, society and culture; it traces out the working guidelines for the growth of each Salesian in his own vocation. The formation community therefore follows these recommendations and tries to translate them into its own life and activity.
3. Stages in the community planning procedure.
The stages in the community planning procedure are essentially the stages of a process of discernment. One presumes that sufficient time has already been spent on the presentation and the study of the “Ratio” with regard to both the general part and the specific phase of formation.
- Once a spiritual atmosphere of prayer has been established, a willing participation in producing the project ensured, and the contents of the background texts assimilated, the first stage in the planning procedure is to project what the formation community would want to be in response to God’s call. It is a time to dream with realism. It is when the community, looking towards the future, asks itself what God is asking from it. It is not a question of describing a formation community in the abstract; it is a question of identifying what should be the features of this community called to incarnate itself in the “here and now.” What do we ourselves see as the ultimate purpose of this community to which God has called us? What kind of Salesian, with what characteristics are we producing? What should be the formation procedures regarding human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation to be used in this community and in this particular phase?       
It is very important for this stage to listen to the promptings of the Spirit in each member of the community. In fact, each member is invited to share with the community what he believes the divine plan for it to be. Reflecting in God’s presence, he shares with the other members his vision, his concerns and his expectations  for the community; he also shares his experiences in the community both joyful and sad, and his needs in order to achieve his own personal project. Gradually, through the contributions of each one and the exchange of opinions, the community moves towards a convergence of views about the character that God is calling it to assume.
It is good to remember that in this first stage one is describing what the community wants to be, not what it wants to do. It is important that the vision that emerges from the contribution of everyone should not be something intellectual or cold but something that makes all the members of the community enthusiastic. It is something they find attractive, that encourages them and is realistic; it corresponds to their desires and to their expectations; it shows the possibilities there can be as a result of the combined efforts and the sacrifices of everyone. Obviously, there is no point in copying other peoples’ documents or projects; it may be useful to see an example  of a project in order to get a clearer idea; however, it is up to the community to do its own work, which is not basically the drawing up of a document but a process of discernment and of sharing.
- Once arrived at a “shared vision” of the future, the second stage begins, which is that of considering, in the light of the “vision,” what one sees in the community: the situation of the community. Often there is a tendency to begin at once to speak about the problems: however, it would seem a better thing to do to look first at the “successes” and the resources of the community in view of the desired future. This way of proceeding creates a positive atmosphere for the whole process  and helps to encourage the members, since they see the things  that have already been done, and what it is possible to achieve. Then one moves on to identify the  difficulties, the things that need to be improved in view of the aims already identified. There is no need to draw up a huge list of all the positive and negative points in detail. A good planning process presupposes the ability to identify the three or four points that are essential and that in practice cover all the rest; it is a question therefore of gathering together the fundamental challenges that arise for the situation. 
- And so one comes to the third stage of the process, which deals with the lines of action. In the light of its vision of the future and of its actual situation, the community traces out its path for the year. These lines of action are put together according to the four dimensions or aspects of formation with particular attention to the phase of formation being lived. Each dimension is expressed in terms of objectives to be attained, strategies or procedures to be implemented, interventions  to be made to reach the goal (cfr. FSDB 577). The objectives give a practical form to the vision of the future, expressing it in the form of goals that can be verified. The strategies or procedures are the main elements that need to be attended to in order to reach the objective. And the interventions are the actions to be taken.
In the lines of action it is a good idea to point out some requirements for formation that need to be ensured for the success of the experience. The lines of action should also be accompanied by the annual programme in which are set out the timescale, the way of proceeding and those responsible  The more explicit the details the greater the chance of the plan being effective.
It is to be hoped that the lines of action cover the essentials so as not to extend the community on too many fronts; they should be significant so as to have a considerable impact on the community ; they should be capable of being achieved within the year, taking into account the real possibilities of the community.
4. Things to give special attention to during the planning process
There are three things of special importance to attend to during the whole process: the effort to reach convergence, the task of the Rector, the role of the formation staff.
- It is  important that during the process an effort is made to arrive at conclusions by a consensus, or better by a convergence among the members of the community. Convergence does not mean unanimity, but that each member, even though not completely satisfied with the conclusion or the decision, nonetheless is prepared to give his support to it. Naturally, to arrive at a convergence among a group of people requires time and effort, but it has the great advantage of overcoming differences of opinion, of creating a shared vision of problems and solutions, and consequently of  fostering unity. In this way the project becomes “owned” by all the community; each member can see himself in it. And remaining open throughout to what God is asking of them, the planning process becomes  a real act of discernment.
- The role of the Rector in such a process is not that of deciding alone nor of imposing his ideas. He encourages the members of the community to adopt an attitude of listening to the Spirit and to each other and considering the topic or the  problem from different points of view. He invites each one to take part quite freely, and to this end he tries to create an atmosphere of trust and respect. He helps to gradually find a convergence, overcoming motives for dissent. He accompanies the community throughout the whole process, guiding it with great sensitivity, and ensuring that it is neither too rushed not too long drawn out.
- In the formation community the formation team has a particular  role (cfr. FSDB 234 - 239). It has the experience, formation praxis and reflection that make up a patrimony for the continuity of the formation community itself. It ensures that there is a unified and integrated organisation at the service of the single formation experience; it has the ability to propose and to accompany. During the planning process it will take care to give those in formation the space to make up their minds, to express their opinions and their own experience of life, to make their proposals.
5. The written formulation of the community project
I already said above that the project is not primarily a written document, but the convergence of the community on the goals to be reached and on the measures to be taken in order to become what God is calling it to be. Therefore, the community is not so much aiming at producing a document, as at all taking part, listening to each other, sharing and reaching a convergence; these are the real fruits of the planning process. Nonetheless there is the need for a written formulation which would be a record for the community. It is  not necessary that this be prepared by everyone; doing it that way would make community meetings very heavy going.  Instead it is preferable for the Rector to ask one or two members to take notes during the community assemblies and then to write up a text; this is then put to the community, and to the council for its approval; then a copy is given to each confrere.
 Presenting the text of the project, it is important to provide a brief historical and geographical context for the formation community. It is useful to set out the structure of the formation community. This involves describing the composition of the formation team explaining their roles: the one in charge of studies, the one in charge of the liturgy and spiritual animation, the one in charge of arranging pastoral experiences, the economer…; similarly the procedure for personal guidance, spiritual direction (cfr. FSDB 262) and arrangements for Confession. It is also a matter of presenting the organisation of the young confreres, perhaps in special groups with a description of their function, or the structure of the whole community with various committees responsible for different areas: liturgical spiritual committee, pastoral committee, fraternal committee, economic committee,…There should also be a description of the timetable and the manner of carrying out the planning process and its evaluation by the whole community and by the formation team. So too, the relationship with the Study Centre should be mentioned.
The final parts of the text of the project refer to the three stages of the planning process. The written text should indicate God’s call, the situation of the community and the lines for action, always according to the four aspects or dimensions of formation for the specific formation phase that is being followed. In effect it is a matter of writing up in a structured way what had been done in the three stages of the planning process. The appendix contains a scheme to help with drawing it up.

6. Point of reference for a personal and community process
After it has been drawn up the community project becomes the constant point of reference for each member and for the whole community.
At the beginning of the year  the  community formulates or updates the project (cfr. GC25 65) and gives it a special focus with the programme for the year (cfr. GC25 74). Then the community sets to work putting it into practice.
Periodically, through the “good night”, the conference, the assembly or some other means, the Rector reminds the community and the individual members of the tasks undertaken.  The contribution from the House Council in focusing on some practical issues is important; each month it can assess “what has been done” against the programme of  “what was to be achieved.”
The whole community verifies and evaluates the progress made regarding the project during the year and towards the end of the year. To limit the verification to the end of the year would be to run the risk of not having the time or opportunity to make the necessary corrections, remove any obstacles and provide the necessary impetus to reach the goals. In this way the project is not just a fine document but becomes an effective means for bringing the community together and helping it make progress in  its formation mission.  
On his part, each member tries to harmonise his personal project of life with that of the community (cfr. FSDB 220). The community project therefore becomes a point of reference for each one’s personal project.
The Provincial with his Council has the responsibility to accompany and verify the community project, and does so through the Provincial Delegate for Formation and the Formation Commission. In this way the community learns to move forward together within the context of the Province and is encouraged and guided in its progress. On his part, the Provincial verifies that the community project is in harmony with the provincial formation project.
It has been said that not to succeed in planning is to plan not to succeed! The community planning process is a way that experience has shown to be a help to achieve the kind of community that we want to see in every one of our formation houses. Our community is not a “finished product” for the fact that it is made up of a certain number of members, but it is something that is in the process of being constructed, a work of art in progress. To bring it to a conclusion is the task of each one of us with trust, generosity and cheerfulness.

Fr Francesco Cereda

Rome, 19 March 2003
Solemnity of St Joseph


Scheme for drawing it up



What are the characteristics of this community?

In this opening part the formation community is described: its historical and geographical context, the formation team and their roles, the composition and structure of the community, the timing of the personal assessments or “scrutinies”, the timing and the method of community assessment, the relationship with the Study Centre.


What does God want from this community in this specific phase of formation?
1. The call takes into account the Salesian vocational identity and features, the purpose of the community in this specific phase of formation, the four aspects or dimensions of formation: human, spiritual, intellectual, educative and pastoral.
2. The contributions of each one are sought to arrive at a convergence of views.


Where is the community placed with regard to God’s call: is it close or far away?
1. The situation also takes into account the Salesian vocational identity and features, the purpose of the community in this specific phase of formation, the four aspects or dimensions of formation.
2. First the strengths of the community are considered.
3. Then the difficulties are identified.
4. Finally three or four crucial points are identified, that is the fundamental challenges arising from the situation.


What steps should the community take? In what direction , in what way, with what means?
1. These are arranged according to the  four  dimensions or aspects of formation; each one being expressed through
- Objectives
- Strategies or Procedures
- Interventions
2. Some formation requirements, that ensure the success of the experience  can also be presented. 
3. These should also be accompanied by the programme for the year, in which are set out the timing, the means and the persons responsible.