Council Resources

Guidelines concerning initial formation in North Europe - Atlantic - German Zone

Via della Pisana 1111 – 00163 ROMA
The General Councillor for Formation

Rome, July 9, 2007
Prot. 07/0490

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To the Reverend Provincials

and Provincial Formation Delegates

Subject: Guidelines concerning initial formation in North Europe - Atlantic - German Zone

Dear Provincials and Delegates,
I present to you the “Guidelines concerning initial formation in North Europe: The Atlantic - German Zone”. They are the outcome of a considerable amount of work: the revision of the Formation section of your Provincial Directories, the assessment of your formation communities in terms of their numbers and quality, your responses to my Report on initial formation, and lastly, the study and reflection on the part of the Rector Major and the General Council.
Let me thank you sincerely for working and collaborating with me in this process; I hope it was a useful exercise for you as well. Now, with this letter, I intend to underline some positive aspects of initial formation in your zone and others that seem to require more attention. I want to lay particular stress on the Guidelines issued by the Rector Major and his Council.

As a whole, the Atlantic–German zone experiences a dearth of vocations. From 2000 through 2005, the average number of novices in the whole zone was 6 a year, of which 2.7 were from Germany alone. To face up to this situation, the Rector Major, in his concluding talk on the occasion of the Team Visit to the Provinces of the Atlantic and German zone, asked that particular attention be given to the young people who already share in the Salesian mission and spirit: volunteers, past pupils, youth leaders and altar servers. He invited everyone to renew their commitment to help the young find their path in life and to propose to them the vocation to Salesian consecrated life, above all through personal guidance and the explicit proposal of vocational options. 
The Ratio requires that each candidate go through “a serious process of vocational guidance” (FSDB 329) and be admitted to the prenovitiate only “when he has made his option for the Salesian life” (FSDB 330). In article 17 of the General Regulations, this process of vocational guidance before the prenovitiate is called the “aspirantate”.
Although it may take different forms, the aspirantate is turning out to be a strategic phase in guiding young people who show an interest in the vocation to Salesian consecrated life. It is essentially an experience of spiritual direction, vocation discernment, sharing in the life and mission of the Salesian community, study and intellectual advancement. It is also the time for the Salesians to get to know the candidate’s family. The aspirantate is the meeting-point between youth ministry and formation. In general, you expect the candidates in your zone to be not so young, and therefore you will need to have a flexible approach to the aspirantate, taking the age, maturity and experience of your candidates into account.
The Delegation of MALTA has an aspirantate at Savio College, Dingli which looks after the prenovices and postnovices as well. In recent years it has formed a team to assess the progress of each candidate and offer him counselling; the candidates focus their attention on their own life-story and God’s call; those who show an interest in Salesian life when they are in school or junior college are followed up by a vocation animator who acts as their spiritual guide. Instead, the aspirantate concerns itself mainly with university students: they are invited to take part in community and pastoral activities and are put through a spiritual and pastoral programme of training for leadership; this programme is much appreciated and acts as a bridge between their pastoral involvement and the vocation to consecrated life.
In AUS the aspirantate and the prenovitiate go together. The aspirantate - at Unterwaltersdorf this year - runs from the month of August till the feast of St. John Bosco, when the prenovitiate officially begins. At Unterwaltersdorf there is a school and a day college, and there are confreres engaged in parish ministry, the Salesian youth movement and pastoral services to various sectors.
GER follows up its candidates in a variety of ways: spiritual direction, week-end reflection sessions, visits to Salesian houses, pilgrimages to Turin, youth ministry and volunteer work; there is an annual programme comprising different activities. Those who need more time for discernment are welcome to stay in some communities, where they live as “aspirants”: the community of Benediktbeuern, in particular, offers this opportunity to students of social work or theology.

1.1 Before the prenovitiate, let candidates for Salesian life have an aspirantate experience, that is to say, spiritual direction, vocational discernment, study, community living and the exercise of Salesian youth ministry. Candidates who do not come from our educational institutions or activities are in particular need of this experience of community life before the prenovitiate.
1.2 Since the aspirantate is the meeting-point between youth ministry and the formation process, there is a need at the provincial level for the provincial youth ministry and formation delegates, vocation animators and those responsible for prenovices to have an exchange of views on the subject of the aspirantate. At the Atlantic-German zonal level too a similar exchange of views could be useful between the provincial youth ministry and formation delegates.
1.3 The following problems need to be studied jointly by the youth ministry and formation sectors: the criteria for choosing young men for the aspirantate, the elements of the human and Christian formation of an aspirant in coherence and continuity with the youth ministry programme and the prenovitiate requirements, the role that can and ought to be assumed by the aspirantate experience within a Province’s framework of vocation animation, the modalities of guidance and discernment leading to the making of an option for Salesian life prior to the prenovitate, and the preparation of vocation animators for the aspirantate.
1.4 During the aspirantate, the two vocations of the Salesian priest and the Salesian brother should be introduced.   


Each Province of the Atlantic-German zone has its own prenovitiate, but the way it is set up varies from Province to Province.
GER has a prenovitiate that lasts a year. This year there is a prenovice at Benediktbeuern where he forms part of the formation community, which includes postnovices and students of theology as well; however, there are different formation programmes for each category. The other prenovice, a doctor of Pedagogy, stays in the house of Essen where he has a practical experience of youth ministry and studies Italian. Both the prenovices have regular meetings once every month or every two months with the one responsible for their formation. If it is possible, the Province will try to put the prenovices together in the same house in order to conduct a good formation programme for them; as a rule, they will not be engaged in academic studies.
MALTA has its prenovitiate together with the aspirantate at Savio College, Dingli; the prenovitiate does not seem to be very distinct from the aspirantate.
Till last year BEN had its prenovitiate together with the novitiate and the postnovitiate in its community at Ghent. That community has now been closed and the prenovitiate transferred to Oud-Heverlee.
GBR conducts its prenovitiate in three houses (Chertsey, Bolton and Bollington), depending on  the academic preparation and previous Salesian experience of each candidate.
AUS entrusts the responsibility for following up its candidates and prenovices to the community it considers best suited for the task. This year the formation is carried out in the community of Unterwaltersdorf and completed with the help of an experiential programme in the community of the Provincial House, that is, Don Bosco Haus at Vienna. The prenovitiate runs from the feast of St. John Bosco to the end of the scholastic year.

Formation programme
In GBR the prenovices receive a community and apostolic experience in a Salesian community.
In MALTA the candidates are engaged in academic studies. In general, there does not seem to be a clearly defined formation programme for the prenovitiate.
BEN had only one prenovice and he was assigned reading and study tasks to help him learn about Don Bosco under the guidance of a confrere responsible for his formation. In the first year he completed his preparation to be a teacher, and was a part-time teacher in the second year, assisted by a tutor, at the nearby Don Bosco school. He was also involved with the youth of the parish, had  a Salesian guide, and learned Italian in preparation for his novitiate at Pinerolo.
In AUS there is a yearly programme of Italian and catechism classes; the prenovices take part in events conducted by the Salesian youth movement; they are offered personal guidance.

Formation requirements
The Ratio does not favour academic studies during the year of prenovitiate because studies can so dominate the prenovitiate year that they leave hardly any room for all the other aspects of formation. In fact, the Ratio requires that “the studies that are done during the prenovitiate must fit in with the tasks assigned for this phase. The quantity of academic obligations ought not to be such as to take away from the fundamental objectives” (FSDB 342). The Ratio also prefers that each Province have the prenovitiate in one community. The tendency in the Congregation today is to have a prenovitiate of one year’s duration.

Formation team
In general, the prenovitiates have a formation team, even if not all its members are dedicated exclusively to the prenovices. There does not seem to be a confessor in every team. It would be necessary for a Salesian brother to be part of the formation team or at least to visit the prenovitiate from time to time to enable the prenovices to have contact with the two forms of the Salesian vocation. In GER, considering the small number of prenovices, the one responsible for them is assisted by the Provincial Formation Delegate.

2.1 In the prenovitiate there should be a serious commitment to human formation, drawing upon means such as writing an autobiography, formulating a personal plan of life, and availing of the help of a psychologist. As part of Christian formation, there should be spiritual direction, catechesis and formation to prayer.
2.2 The Provinces should check whether the study load does not come in the way of achieving the objectives of the prenovitiate and whether it may not be better to have a year of prenovitiate without academic studies and conduct this formation phase  in a single community.
2.3 With the help of the interprovincial Formation Commission, the Provinces of the Atlantic-German zone should discuss the formation programme of the prenovitiate and especially the intellectual formation carried out in this phase. It is important that those Provinces that have the novitiate in common continue the discussion and come to an agreement on the prenovitiate programme.
2.4 The Provinces should prepare those who will be responsible for formation in the prenovitiate and create formation teams that include a Salesian brother, at least on a temporary basis. In the prenovitiate the presentation of both vocations to Salesian life should continue.

AUS, GER, BEN and MALTA have chosen to send their novices to Pinerolo. In general, these Provinces are quite satisfied with the formation their novices receive at Pinerolo. There is also a good collaboration among the Provinces for this novitiate. The “Curatorium” meets twice a year, and there is also a meeting of those responsible for the prenovices from all the Provinces involved in Pinerolo.
If it had sufficient numbers, GBR would have preferred to have its novitiate at Farnborough within the context of a large Salesian community of 18 confreres, with many well experienced and elderly Salesians, and other Salesians active in a secondary school and three local parishes. There is also the possibility of availing of qualified personnel from outside to teach the novices, and there are appropriate opportunities for supervised apostolic work. In the cultural context of the Province, the novices come at a more mature age, with many having already completed their University studies.
The novices however are few because, notwithstanding the strong links between GBR and IRL, there are unfortunately no candidates from Ireland; instead, in the past some novices joined from the United States and Canada. To compensate for their small number, the novices had structured experiences and community meetings with the elderly Salesians in the house, with other seminarians and with committed adults in the parishes.
Should it have a novice next year, GBR is studying the possibility of sending him either to the novitiate at Pinerolo or in the United States. It recognizes the importance of providing novices with a sufficient experience of Salesian community life, pastoral experiences, spiritual direction and serious Salesian studies; at the same time, it realizes that its novices are not so young and have different levels of maturity and academic preparation; it becomes necessary to chalk out a personal formation itinerary suited to each one’s needs. GBR would appreciate an open and genuine dialogue with the Formation Department.

3.1 Considering the choices made by the Provinces regarding the formation community for their novices, AUS, BEN, GER and MALTA should strengthen their collaboration with the novitiate of Pinerolo or Genzano by drawing up an Agreement and seeing to the proper functioning of the “Curatorium”.
3.2 Because of the small number of novices, GBR and IRL should continue their discernment and enter into a dialogue with the Councillor for Formation regarding the advisability of collaborating on a regular basis, apart from exceptions, with a novitiate in SUE, SUO or CAN, or with an Italian novitiate.

4. Postnovitiate

GER and AUS have their postnovitiate at Benediktbeuern, where the studies comprise philosophy and social pedagogy. At present there are 3 postnovices - 2 from GER and 1 from AUS: one is studying philosophy, another is preparing his dissertation, and a third is doing an introductory course in youth ministry. The postnovices form part of a formation community of 8 confreres in formation, but an effort is being made to improve their formation by offering them a separate programme of meetings and pastoral experiences. The Salesian responsible for them, in close contact with the Rector, organizes their formation programme, conducts the personal talks and the assessments, and sees to the administration.
The community is a small one; the average age of the Salesians in formation is 33. There is also a larger community of the house within which is inserted the small formation community and together with which prayers are celebrated on some days of the week; in this way those in formation have the possibility of frequenting the sacrament of reconciliation and also of receiving spiritual direction. At the present moment, a proposal to include more members in the formation team is being studied.
Within the house council, there is a sub-group comprising the Rector, the vicar, the one in charge of formation, the one in charge of pastoral care, a representative of the Salesian students and another confrere. This sub-group deals with matters concerning community life, spiritual life and the liturgy as well as collaboration between the formation group and the larger community of the house. For the past three years a “Curatorium” has been functioning too; it reflects and decides on questions pertaining to the formation of Salesians. Its members are: the Provincial of Germany who presides, other Provincials who have students at Benediktbeuern, the Rector of the house and the one in charge of formation.
In MALTA the postnovitiate is in the community of Savio College, Dingli, which serves also as an aspirantate and prenovitiate. Those in formation who have to study philosophy do the Post-graduate Certificate of Education at the University, the PGCE, which is a Licentiate in teaching.
In GBR, on completing their novitiate, two postnovices remained in the house of Farnborough, becoming part of the formation community under the supervision of the Rector; both did their studies at the University of London, one for a professional qualification in Education, and the other in Youth Ministry and Theology. GBR would prefer to conduct the postnovitiate formation within the context of the Province, while keeping itself open to other options.
In BEN the only postnovice who did his postnovitiate from 2003 to 2006 formed part of the community of Ghent and attended a teacher training institute to secure a diploma for teaching language and religion to youth between 12 and 15 years of age. For the future BEN does not rule out joining with another province, possibly with Benediktbeuern, but it would like to retain the freedom to conduct this formation phase in the Province as well. It is not convinced about the propriety of having all the formation phases after the prenovitiate done on an European level. It would prefer to have not only the prenovitiate but also practical training and the specific formation for the priesthood done in the Province.
AUS has a postnovice at Benediktbeuern. It favours formation in a European context for all the formation stages after the prenovitiate.

4.1 The formation in the postnovitiate must seek to keep a proper balance among the various aspects of formation, and ensure continuity with the novitiate as regards spiritual life, the personal plan of life and the practice of spiritual direction for which the Rector is the spiritual guide proposed.
4.2 The Provinces of AUS and GER should work more closely with regard to the postnovitiate at Benediktbeuern. Benediktbeuern remains open to receive postnovices from other Provinces as well; BEN, in particular, should weigh the possibility of drawing on this formation and academic experience. GBR’s postnovitiate needs to be strengthened.


Both GER and AUS have the formation community and study centre for their candidates to the priesthood at Benediktbeuern. Since these candidates belong to a single formation community together with those of the postnovitiate, all that has been said above about Benediktbeuern in connection with the postnovitiate is also valid for this formation stage.
At the moment BEN has no candidate in this stage of formation, but last year there were two: one was placed in the community of Oud-Heverlee and the other, for reasons of health and language, in the Salesian community of Brussels. At Oud-Heverlee the studies were done at the interdiocesan seminary of Mechelen which has now been transferred to Louvain; till last year there was in this seminary a Salesian who taught dogmatic theology and youth ministry; presently there is another confrere who serves as the spiritual director of the seminary. At Brussels instead the Salesian studied at the theological institute of the Jesuits and had the Salesian Rector of the community as his spiritual guide. For the future, the Provincial intends to have his candidates for the priesthood do their first years of study at the interdiocesan seminary of Louvain, since the seminary offers a good study programme for preparing young men for the priesthood and the formation there is in tune with the culture of the country and with the opportunities and difficulties it manifests. For specializations he would prefer to send them to the Catholic University of Louvain, Benediktbeuern or the UPS.
Since 1991 Battersea has been the house for Salesian candidates to the priesthood in GBR, mainly because of its nearness to the Theological Faculties of the University of London. Our students frequent Heythrop College, a Faculty of Theology of the same University, where one of the Salesians is a professor of Philosophy; he is also a member of the formation team at Battersea. In an urban and multicultural context, amidst a disparity of much poverty and great riches, and with a parish, a primary and a secondary school near by, there are several opportunities for a fruitful pastoral experience. As in the case of the postnovitiate, GBR would prefer to have its specific formation for the priesthood done within the context of the Province, while keeping its other options open.
The Salesian candidates for the priesthood in MALTA frequent the UPS while staying in the community of Gerini; they complete their fourth year of theology at All Hallows College, Dublin.

5.1 The team of formation personnel of AUS and GER at Benediktbeuern needs to be strengthened. MALTA can continue with its choice of Rome – Gerini UPS for the baccalaureate and Dublin for the pastoral year.
5.2 We would recommend that, in addition to the international communities of Rome – Gerini and Jerusalem, the Provinces make use of the formation community and study centre of Benediktbeuern. BEN, in particular, should give consideration to a tie-up with AUS and GER. 

6. Specific Formation of salesian brothers
The Ratio requires that after practical training there be a phase of specific formation for Salesian brothers (cf. FSDB 448) in the same way as there is a phase of specific formation for the priesthood for Salesian clerics. Such a phase ought to offer a “serious theological, pedagogical and Salesian formation” (R 98) and should not be confused with qualification in the professional field (cf. FSDB 456).
Considering the reduced number of young Salesian brothers, the Rector Major, at the conclusion of the meeting of European Provincials, said: “Let there be a new community for the specific formation of Salesian brothers either in Turin or in Rome.” After consulting the Rector Major and the Regional Councillors for Europe, Turin has been chosen, and more precisely, Crocetta as the study centre and the community of St. Francis de Sales at Valdocco as the formation community. This new phase of formation for the Salesian brothers of Europe will begin in Turin in September 2007. GER is interested in maintaining contacts in order to know more about this new experience.

6.1 We invite the Provinces to support this new phase of formation by sending their Salesian brothers to Turin, ordinarily after they finish their practical training. In these first years, there is also the possibility of enrolling in this course other Salesian brothers in their first ten years after perpetual profession.

7. Salesian Studies
For GER and AUS there is at Benediktbeuern the University of Applied Sciences (social work), the Institute of Salesian Spirituality and the Centre for Youth Ministry, together with an oratory, a parish and a youth hostel. Salesian formation receives considerable emphasis by way of specific courses on Salesian themes and also in the form of various youth pastoral activities which are always accompanied by a formation guide and combine theory with practice.
In the Faculty of Theology every semester the Institute for Salesian Spirituality organizes at least one or two programmes of “Salesianity” on an academic level, open also to laypeople. The programmes that have been conducted so far are: a basic course on spirituality (J. Weber), the life and works of St. Francis de Sales (J. Weber), the pedagogy of Don Bosco (J. Schepens), a reading-course on the Memoirs of the Oratory (R. Gesing), the history of religious orders in the 19th and 20th centuries as exemplified in Don Bosco (N. Wolff), an understanding of the Church and its pastoral activities, taking the cue from Don Bosco (K. Bopp), liturgy and music in the life and work of Don Bosco (J. Gregur), history, basic questions and problems concerning the world mission as seen by Salesians (K. Oerder, L. Bily). Now it is a matter of integrating the Salesian study themes in the new curriculum of the faculty, as is required by the Bologna process. The professors are highly motivated in this respect.
The Manual for Salesian Youth Ministry (Rome 1997) has been partly translated and is referred to in the context of youth ministry. In September 2007 there will be a visit of a week’s duration to the places of St. Francis de Sales (Annecy and the surrounding areas).
In BEN not much is done in the postnovitiate in the matter of Salesian formation, even though there are many opportunities available for the exercise of youth ministry. During the specific formation of candidates to the priesthood, there is a socio-cultural formation programme on Don Bosco offered to the lay collaborators of our Salesian works.
In the Delegation of MALTA, at the beginning of the year all the students in formation, the two aspirants and the three practical trainees formulate a formation plan for the year. From a reflective point of view, there are two three-day live-ins away from the community in which the experience is centred on the Word of God and the Salesian aspect of the calling.
In GBR both the academic - spiritual and pastoral aspects of Salesian studies are covered in the community. They are part of a formation programme laid down in the Provincial Formation Plan.

7.1 We ask that every Province adopt the new Guidelines for Salesian studies issued by the Rector Major and his Council, and take steps to prepare some confreres to teach this subject, especially Salesian history, spirituality, pedagogy and youth ministry.

Today’s consumer culture and individualism tend to make young people weak in the face of difficulties. Initial formation must therefore be able to harness the candidates’ best energies and avoid the risk of forming a generation of weaklings. It is necessary to form to work and temperance and to live and work together.
The CG25 invites us to commit ourselves to give witness to “a simple and humble way of life, modest and sober, hard-working, sacrificial, and willing to serve even in the most humble of ways” (n. 35). This directive applies to all communities, but it needs to be given particular consideration in formation communities.
While agreeing with these guidelines, BEN points out that it is not easy, and sometimes not even possible, to radically modify the way of life of an apostolic community (in which there are young confreres in formation); it is easier instead in those that are specifically formation communities.

8.1 The residence in formation communities should be simple. The whole setup of its life must be such as to foster growth in a spirit of community. Encouragement must be given to community settings and spaces. Those who are in formation ought to be involved in domestic services; the domestic staff needs to be reduced to what is strictly necessary.
8.2 The formation community ought to have a way of living that is simple, reduced to essentials and at one with the poor. It is necessary to create in those being formed a greater vigilance and moderation with regard to personal expenses, the use of vehicles, and the possession of personal instruments, especially those of social communication.
8.3 In its community plan, the formation community should choose some concrete lines of action for its life of poverty and conduct the “scrutiny of poverty” at least once a year. The presentation of the budget and the expenses of the community will also help to create a sensitivity to community poverty.

9. formation of formation personnel
We are increasingly aware of the need for a specific formation to be a formation guide. It is a matter of forming the person of the formation guide and imparting an ability to form others. Matters to be studied are the content and methodology of human formation, spiritual direction, pastoral activities, continuity between the different stages of formation, personal growth in affectivity, and the contribution that can be made by psychology. There is a need for convergence and competence on these points on the part of everyone.

9.1 Let opportunities be given to formation staff-members, both present and future ones, to qualify and update themselves for their task of formation. In particular, Rectors of formation communities should be given a year of preparation, or at least six months of updating, before they assume  office.
9.2 Regular meetings of formation personnel ought to be promoted. The formation of those responsible for formation is to be fostered also on the Atlantic-German zonal or regional level.

Europe needs a language for communication among Salesians. We invite the Provinces to reflect and choose a common language to be learned right from the first stages of formation, that would serve as a link and a means of communication. It would seem more needs to be done to promote the study of Italian and English.
BEN and GER observe that the greater part of their young candidates who have finished their secondary studies, possess a basic knowledge of English. Italian is part of the programme of the prenovitiate in view of the novitiate at Pinerolo.

10.1 Practical decisions must be taken to ensure the teaching, learning and practice of Italian and English.

I wish to thank you for your kind consideration and cooperation in putting these “Guidelines” into practice. Let them be an object of study, especially on the part of Provincial Formation Commissions and Provincial Councils, the Zonal Formation Commission, and formation communities.
In Don Bosco,

Fr. Francis Cereda