Council Resources

“The formation process of the Salesian Brother”

Via della Pisana, 1111, CP 18333 - 00163 ROME

General Councilor for Formation

" Formative process of the Salesian brother "

Péliföldszentkereszt, 18 October 2013

The current "Ratio" about the formation of Salesians was published in the year 2000. With the passage of time it has needed revision to be adapted to new situations that have arisen in the Congregation and urgent educational challenges. At the beginning of the six-year period the Rector Major with the General Council made the decision not to produce a new "Ratio", because as a whole it remained valid; he asked, however, that the parts that were insufficient were reviewed.
Thus, in line with this decision of the Rector Major and the General Council, in 2009 the 6th chapter on the prenovitiate was rewritten; in January 2012 a new text was approved regarding the formation of Salesian brothers; finally, in July 2012, new guidelines on studies in initial formation were approved, replacing Annex 3 of the "Ratio". In collaboration with the youth ministry in July 2011 the orientation on "The experience of the aspirantate" was also approved, which is in continuity with the choices of the "Ratio" and in particular of the prenovitiate.

1. Reasons for the revision of the "Ratio"

We now ask ourselves why it was necessary to review the formation of Salesian brothers and then rewrite some parts of the "Ratio" in this regard. Here is a summary of some reasons.
1. First of all it had become evident for some time that the formation program of Salesian brothers in the various phases was limited, uncertain and easily subject to improvisation; it had therefore become necessary to offer the provinces a clear and complete program of formation that was "equal" with respect to the formation program of Salesian priests.
2. There was also a growing awareness of the lack of attention paid to vocational discernment throughout the formation process: there was little experience and a limited vision of the lay dimension of their vocation; there was not much clarity about the criteria to be applied to distinguish the vocation to the Salesian priesthood from that of the Salesian laity; there were also in some contexts frequent requests by Salesian brothers who asked to pass to the presbyterate.
3. Then it was noted that in some parts of the Congregation academic studies were not seen as important for Salesian brothers; not many were convinced of the need for a theological and pastoral foundation along with the philosophical and pedagogical foundation for the lay confreres; these studies were in some cases more or less "tolerated".
4. Finally, not much importance was given to the professional qualification of Salesian brothers; in fact it was not part of their training process. This led to a poor and uncertain identity and a low incidence of their work among young people.

In this context and with this awareness, when the 26th General Chapter introduced a new perspective about the vocation of the Salesian brother, highlighting the uniqueness of the Salesian consecrated vocation in its two forms, there was the feeling that the time had come to give to the Salesian Brothers a quality formation: it should have allowed them to live their true identity as lay Salesians and satisfy the apostolic needs of today.

To offer an overview of the formation of the Salesian Brother, paragraph 323 of the "Ratio" was rewritten , which offers a summary of the various innovations introduced; it reads as follows:

" In all the formative phases, basic equality and differentiation due to the vocational specificity of each formator should be taken into consideration. In particular:
in the pre-novitiate the Salesian consecrated vocation and its two forms are presented, ministerial and lay, also through meetings with significant figures; in this way the prenovice can acquire a greater knowledge and a first orientation on the forms of the Salesian vocation, without arriving at a decision in this regard;
in the novitiateeach novice, under the guidance of the master, carries out the discernment on both forms of the Salesian vocation, to reach the option of a Salesian coadjutor or Salesian presbyter / permanent deacon; such discernment and option precede the request for admission to the first profession, in which it is necessary to express one's own vocational decision; the Inspector is also involved in this process;
in the post- novitiate the Salesian brothers do, with the help of the Director and the Provincial, discernment about the professional environment in which they feel called to develop their gifts and abilities in response to the needs of the Province; in this phase they carry out two or three years of philosophical and pedagogical studies;
provided at least two years of philosophical and pedagogical studies, the Salesian Brothers begin or continue a period of " technical-scientific or professional training ", in order to acquire a "specific qualification" with a recognized qualification [1] , possibly before the internship;
for the internship the Salesian brothers are preferably placed in environments where they can practice the acquired professional qualification and verify the discernment made in the post-novitiate concerning the future professional environment; [2]
the specific formation of Salesian Brothers, as for Salesian clerics, should immediately follow the apprenticeship, [3]has a duration of two years and is completed in one of the regional or interregional centers approved by the Rector Major with the General Council;
the preparation for the perpetual profession is made, as far as possible, from the Salesian Brothers and Salesian clerics together, before or during the specific training;
the 'five-year period' involves both Salesian presbyters / permanent deacons in the first five years after their ordination and Salesian brothers in the first five years after their specific formation;
after specific formation, at an opportune time, if necessary, each Salesian coadjutor may have the opportunity to complete a specializationin his specific professional field and in the skills necessary for carrying out the various tasks or roles that will be entrusted to him, thus completing the professional qualification begun during the time of temporary profession ”.

2. Contribution of the different formative moments

In this second moment of my intervention I lead you, step by step, through this new formation program of the Salesian brother, which was not limited to paragraph 323 of the "Ratio", but which retraced and reviewed all the formative phases; in this way you will be able to understand the practical and formative implications of what was established in the revision of the "Ratio".


The merit of bringing about a change in our way of looking at and presenting the vocation of the Salesian brother goes to the GC26. The identity of our Salesian consecrated vocation is not primarily a question of what we do, but of who we are. We are consecrated persons who, called by God, have chosen to follow the Lord Jesus by giving themselves completely to God in the service of the young on the example of Don Bosco; we carry out this service in a dual vocational form: as Salesian priests or as lay Salesians.
To help the Provinces to present the Salesian vocation correctly according to this vision, in 2009 the Training Sector prepared and circulated an aid with the contents distributed in 15 thematic units, ready for use in aspirantates and pre-novitiates.[4]
In 2012 the Rector Major and his Council then promulgated a curriculum of intellectual formation for initial formation. Among other things in it we ask the prenovitiates to foster knowledge and love for Don Bosco, the vision and appreciation of the presence of the Salesian Congregation in the world and the understanding and attraction for Salesian consecrated life in its two forms, ministerial and lay. He also asked the prenovices to read the biographies of some notable examples of both forms of Salesian consecrated life. [5]
It is also significant that the Congregation asked that in the team of formators of the prenovitiate “ there should be at least one Salesian brotherto allow the prenovices to come directly to the knowledge of the two forms of the Salesian vocation ". [6]
Therefore the new guidelines have made it clear that in the early years up to the pre-novitiate, all candidates and prenovices must be given a good knowledge and experience of the Salesian vocation in its two forms, but that they should not be asked to choose between presbyterate and the Salesian laity; this decision will be made later during the novitiate.
These changes concern formation during the pre-novitiate, but they also have an influence on the aspirantate and vocation promotion. The past practice of some provinces of having aspirantates for candidates for the Salesian presbyterate distinct from those for candidates for the Salesian laity no longer seems valid today. Furthermore, for vocation promotion a correct presentation of the Salesian vocation to young people must always include the Salesian priesthood and the Salesian laity as two ways of living the same Salesian vocation.


The novitiate is a period of intense formation and discernment. The new guidelines call for each novice to clarify his vocational orientation as a future Salesian priest or a future Salesian brother before making the request to be admitted to the profession; in fact, he must declare his vocational decision in his application to the first profession. [7]
The master of novices helps him to make this process of discernment, making use in particular of the criteria expressed in "Criteria and norms", at the numbers 84-87. [8]The novice discern if, in the pastoral educative work with young people, has a greater propensity for "its value of its secularism, which makes specific witness of the Kingdom of God in the world, close to the young and to the realities of working life" [9 ] or for the "ministry, which makes it a sign of Christ the shepherd, particularly with the preaching of the Gospel and sacramental action". [10] The inspector is also involved in this discernment. [11]
To favor a correct discernment and to highlight the Salesian consecrated vocation, if during the novitiate there is the custom of giving the Salesian clerics the cassock, this is deferred at the time of the conclusion of the novitiate. [12]


The post-novitiate study program includes a series of subjects such as philosophy, pedagogy, Salesian studies, psychology, sociology and communication. Philosophy is the main subject; it requires the use of reason to arrive at a deeper understanding of the person, his freedom, and his relationship with the world and with God. [13] The study of philosophy, as well as for candidates for the priesthood, is important for those who want to understand the postmodern thought of the young, the relativism widespread in many parts of the world, the relationship between creation and evolutionism, and a series of many other topical issues. It therefore forms an integral part of the formation of the Salesian brother, who is called to be an educator and pastor of the young.
By now in numerous postnovitiates of the Congregation the formation is usually completed in three years; some post-novitiates are even a fourth year. According to the new guidelines for the formation of Salesian brothers, “the duration of philosophical and pedagogical studies for the Salesian brother during the post-novitiate must be at least two years. To favor a suitable time for professional qualification, it is ordinarily not convenient for him to extend the philosophical and pedagogical studies of the post-novitiate for more than three years. " [14]
During the last year of the post-novitiate, the Salesian coadjutor postnovice, with the guidance of the director and the inspector, discerns about the professional field, in which he feels called to develop his skills and abilities in response to the needs of the province: school, professional training, social communication, social work, administration and management, etc. [15]

Technical, scientific or professional qualification

Immediately after the post-novitiate, the Salesian brother is given the opportunity to engage in "technical, scientific or professional studies" to qualify for the profession he has identified in the dialogue of discernment of the post-novitiate. [16] Everything possible must be done to ensure that the studies give the Salesian brother a competence that puts him in a situation of equality with the laity who exercise the same profession in civil society. [17]
This is a novelty in the formation program of Salesian brothers, but it is not difficult to understand why it was inserted. On the one hand, it did not seem right that the Salesian brothers, following the previous training program, passed through all the various phases of their formation and made their perpetual profession without ever having had a direct and serious contact with the professional field, ie with the "Secularity" of their vocation. On the other hand, it seems obvious that, if the coadjutors must be able to carry out an educational action among the young people during their training, they need training and qualification in the professional sector.
It seems to me that on this point there is a great theoretical convergence, but a considerable difficulty in practice. All this requires each province to develop and implement a good plan to guarantee the professional training of its assistants, if possible, before the internship.


From what has just been said about professional qualification, it follows that during the training the Salesian brothers must preferably be placed in situations where they can exercise the professional qualifications they have acquired. This also helps to strengthen and verify their motivations for choosing the Salesian consecrated lay vocation.

Specific training

Specific formation is not an optional phase for Salesian brothers; it is part of their journey of formation. Just as, after the training, the clerics immediately proceed to their specific formation, in the same way the coadjutors, immediately after their training, proceed immediately to their specific formation.
Article 116 of the Constitutions says: "After the training the Salesian completes the initial formation. The specific formation of the candidate for the presbyteral ministry follows the guidelines and norms established by the Church and the Congregation and aims to prepare the priest pastor educator in the Salesian perspective. Specific formation offers the lay Salesian, with the deepening of the spiritual patrimony of the Congregation, an adequate theological preparation in the line of consecrated laity and completes his formation in view of apostolic educational work ".
This article was promulgated in 1984, but for almost twenty years, the specific formation of Salesian brothers did not materialize, despite some attempts made here and there. In 2005 we took the initiative to organize this training phase for the brothers. Today in all parts of the world there are six regional or interregional centers approved by the Rector Major and his Council for the two-year program of specific formation for Salesian brothers: in Manila in the Philippines for the East Asia and Oceania Region; to Shillong in India for the South Asia Region; in Yaoundé in Cameroon for the French-speaking Salesians of Africa and in Sunyani in Ghana for those of English; to Guatemala for the two Regions of America; in Turin for the three Regions of Europe. Moreover, Turin also serves as a world center, open to Salesian brothers from all the Regions of the Congregation. Just as some clerics are sent to Rome or Jerusalem for their specific formation because of the particular advantages that these places can offer, so also the Salesian brothers can be sent to Turin for their specific training for the advantages that derive from living at places of Don Bosco.
The specific formation of Salesian brothers is the answer to a particular need: they need to nourish their lives with the Word of God; this involves the study of Sacred Scripture. The faith transmitted in the catechism and taught in the prenovitiate and novitiate needs to be deepened; this is done in theology, which is nothing but the understanding of faith. There are many moral questions today that require a good knowledge of Catholic doctrine on each of them; just mention a few: abortion, euthanasia, contraception, gay marriages and population control; this is the field of moral theology. Educated Catholics today, including coadjutors, need a knowledge of the social doctrine of the Catholic Church, because it throws light on a wide range of problems, such as human rights, peace and justice, the morality of war, human trafficking, third world development and globalization. It is also important to deepen the theology of consecrated life and the process of growth in the spiritual life and to have a greater understanding of Salesian spirituality; at the same time we need to be better prepared for Salesian youth ministry, for the communication of faith through catechesis, for a fruitful educational and pastoral appreciation of social communication. It is also important to deepen the theology of consecrated life and the process of growth in the spiritual life and to have a greater understanding of Salesian spirituality; at the same time we need to be better prepared for Salesian youth ministry, for the communication of faith through catechesis, for a fruitful educational and pastoral appreciation of social communication. It is also important to deepen the theology of consecrated life and the process of growth in the spiritual life and to have a greater understanding of Salesian spirituality; at the same time we need to be better prepared for Salesian youth ministry, for the communication of faith through catechesis, for a fruitful educational and pastoral appreciation of social communication.
This phase requires a special community for Salesian brothers with their own director and formation personnel from the various Provinces. Furthermore, with the exception of Salesian studies, there are various lessons for the brothers. Academic courses are also open to other religious. The duration of the phase is mostly biennial.

Preparation for perpetual profession

Preparation for perpetual profession does not consist in a course conducted in the last weeks before the profession itself, after admissions have been made. The "Ratio" states that it includes "the process of discernment and the verification that precedes the final option, the request, the admission, and the immediate preparation for the act of profession". [18] The journey of preparation can last a year or several months; can be carried out during the internship or specific training through activities, personal and group experiences, a suitable guide, etc. [19] Ordinarily, this preparation is done by Salesian clerics and coadjutors together. [20]
During the preparation the confreres are invited to reflect once again on the Constitutions and on the fundamental themes of consecrated life; a spiritual guide, competent and experienced, is offered to follow each individual and the group. In particular, all Salesian clerics and Salesian brothers are invited to pay attention to the discernment of the two forms, ministerial and lay, of the Salesian vocation in view of the final choice. [21] Concretely, this means that they verify their vocation in the light of lived experience, they mature a new personal motivational synthesis, and conclude their discernment with the decision to definitively embrace the apostolic project of Don Bosco as a Salesian priest or Salesian brother. . [22]
In the provinces where specific formation precedes perpetual profession, "the same careful discernment must be done before the beginning of specific formation". [23]


The first years of full insertion in pastoral activity are particularly important for the Salesian priest and Salesian brother, because they pose new challenges and problems: “The passage from a life oriented and accompanied, which is that lived in the formation communities, to full personal responsibility in apostolic work it generally involves a change in the way of life, an adjustment to a different rhythm of life and work, and demands a new vital synthesis ". [24]This is the period in which some needs begin to be felt more strongly: self-assertion, the search for fruitfulness, personal initiative and creativity. Tension can grow when you notice the discrepancy between what is learned in the various stages of initial formation and what is found in everyday life; there may also be a sense of inadequacy for one's new roles and responsibilities, with possible frustrations and disaffections. [25]
Consequently, each Province chooses the ways in which it intends to accompany and help its young priests and assistants in their first five years of insertion into the province's pastoral educational work after their specific formation. It thinks of particular initiatives and programs in which both priests and brothers take part together. In this regard there are also initiatives and programs at the Region level.


As we have seen, specialization or professional qualification is different from specific training. In a suitable moment, after his specific formation, every Salesian brother, as a rule and according to need, “has the possibility of concluding a specialization in his specific professional field and in the skills necessary for carrying out the various tasks or roles that will be his. entrusted, thus completing the professional qualification begun during the time of temporary profession ". [26]
In the letter on the qualification of the confreres, [27]I strongly recommended that the provinces should have a plan for the qualification of the confreres, that responds to the needs of the province and that takes into account the abilities and propensities of the confreres. Without qualifications, the qualitative consistency of Salesian communities and the quality of educational pastoral work cannot be assured.

Permanent training

Beyond the personal, community and provincial commitment for ongoing formation, I would like to point out what the Regions are doing: over a six-year period they organize one or two regional Conventions on the Salesian brother, in which they also invite inspectors, provincial delegates for formation and youth ministry, formators, ... One could think of a European conference.

3. Expected fruits

What are the expected results of this revision of the formation of the Salesian brother? I will not dwell on the development of this point, because we can find a discussion of this in the orientations that appeared in the Acts of the General Council at the beginning of the last sexennium. [28]

We expect the Congregation to develop greater awareness and a clearer vision of the identity of the Salesian brother; moreover we have the hope of being able to offer to the Salesian Brothers a quality formation; we also have confidence in being able to realize through vocation animation a greater commitment to the promotion of this vocation within the framework proposed by the GC26, namely that of a single Salesian consecrated vocation in its two forms; Finally, we expect a new way of integrating the Salesian brother into pastoral educative communities, so that he can offer a specific contribution within our works and thus become a visible sign of the consecrated vocation among young people.

What I presented to you is a vision of the formation of the Salesian brother today in the Salesian Congregation. What remains to be done now is a change of mentality and practice in the life of the provinces, starting with the revision of the formation section of the provincial directory.

[1] Cf. Reg. 95.

[2] Cf. FSDB 442.

[3] Cf. C 116, FSDB 479.

[4] SECTOR FOR FORMATION, The vocation to Salesian consecrated life in its two forms: Salesian brother, Salesian priest , Rome 2009.

[5] RECTOR MAGGIORE AND GENERAL COUNCIL, Evaluation and Orientations regarding intellectual formation in initial formation, Rome 31 July 2012, p. 4.

[6] FSDB, Revision , 345.

[7] FSDB, Revision , 323.

[8] FSDB, Revision , 371, 384.

[9] C 45.

[10] C 45.

[11] FSDB, Revision , 323.

[12] FSDB, Revision , 384.

[13] Cf. Pastores dabo vobis , 2.

[14] FSDB, Revision , 425.

[15] FSDB, Revision , 323.

[16] Cf. FSDB, Revision , 417.

[17] Cf. FSDB, Revision , 409.

[18] FSDB 503.

[19] Cf. FSDB 507.

[20] Cf. FSDB, Revision , 323.

[21] Cf. FSDB, Revision , 512.

[22] Cf. FSDB 504.

[23] Cf. FSDB, Revision , 512.

[24] FSDB 532.

[25] Ibid.

[26] FSDB, Revision , 323.

[27] The letter is dated 4 June 2012 and is addressed to the Provincials and Provincial Delegates for formation.

[28] F. CEREDA, Care and promotion of the vocation of the Salesian brother , in ACG 382, ​​Rome 8 June 2003.