Saint Sulpice Assists the Formation of Formators

The week of 30 January 2012 saw an influx of numerous guests at the Sulpician residence in the 6th arrondissement of Paris. These twenty-one periodic guests are participants in a program for the formation of formators of clergy, and they take time off from their formation ministry during the year to come monthly for a week at a time for this creative program, called the Institute for the Formation of Educators of Clergy (IFEC).

IFEC was co-founded in 1969 by a Sulpician, the late Father Constant BOUCHAUD, pss (later a Superior General of Saint Sulpice, 1972-1984), and a priest of the Diocese of Lille, Father Pierre FICHELLE, on the initiative of the French bishops’ conference. Another former Superior General, the late Father Raymond DEVILLE, pss (Superior General, 1984-1986) also served as a Director of IFEC. This program is one aspect of the French Province’s ongoing formation.

The current co-directors of IFEC are Father Christian PONSON of the Archdiocese of Lyon and Sister Marie-Thérèse DELOUCHE of the Xaverian Sisters (pictured).

Co-directors usually serve two terms of three-years each and are appointed by the French bishops’ conference, at the recommendation of a special commission that oversees formation. Numerous outside presenters, among whom are diocesan priests, Eudists, Jesuits, and many Sulpicians, participate in the program.

In 2000, during his visit to Paris, Blessed Pope John Paul II gave a discourse to the bishops and members of the Institute at which he commended the vision to found the Institute at a time when priestly formation was rather fragile. The pope’s commendation, which makes allusion to the implementation of Optatam totius, Vatican Council II’s decree on priestly formation, said:

"They [the founders] knew how to develop the conciliar intuitions in the area of priestly formation in order to confront the difficulties of past decades, and to prepare capable teams of formators to aid young seminarians and to assist bishops in conducting the affairs of their dioceses. I rejoice in the fact that the Institute is open to priests from other continents and to religious formators as well, thus manifesting the care and concern for the universal Church."

The Holy Father’s remark about the international character of IFEC was well taken. During the present session (2011-12) there are 21 participants from France, Madagascar, Senegal, Central African Republic, Angola, and Vietnam. Normally the Institute is restricted to between 15-18 participants to ensure an active participation. Most are priests working in seminaries or vocation ministry, but this year there is also a religious sister who is the novice mistress of her Cistercian congregation, and (by exception) a permanent deacon who forms permanent deacons in his diocese. By design, the Institute accepts a majority of participants who already have some experience in formation work, but normally about one-fifth of the members are totally new at formation.

A social with IFEC 2012

This year three participants from the Central African Republic are being sponsored by the French Province of Sulpicians, in an arrangement encouraged by the Congregation for Evangelization of Peoples in Rome. When they are not attending Institute sessions, these three priests are engaged in formation ministry in three different seminaries in France, including one at the Sulpician seminary at Issy-les-Moulineaux. The goal is to give them the kind of theoretical and practical training simultaneously that will serve them well when they return to their own country to engage in seminary formation.

The program comprises a total of ten monthly sessions, plus a preached retreat. Topics covered include spiritual direction, supervision, theology of spirituality, sacred scripture, various spiritual traditions in the Church (including Ignatian method and the French School of Spirituality), how to direct good meetings, how to conduct courses, and how to deal with problem students. The sessions are complemented by daily liturgy of the hours and daily Eucharist, as well as occasional socials. All this promotes a spiritual and fraternal ambiance in the group.

To date, some 800 formators have passed through IFEC and have benefited from this unique experience. Some of these have been bishops, vicars general, and vocation directors, as well as seminary formators. Having celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2009, IFEC’s future looks bright, as the need for solidly-trained formators is a constant challenge in every continent. The Society of Saint Sulpice is proud of this initiative of the French Province.

More information on IFEC can be found in the Bulletin de Saint-Sulpice 2 (1976): 216-22, and Bulletin de Saint-Sulpice 11 (1985): 111-65.