That's the Spirit: Dr. Jason Heron helps those called to serve discern the meaning of their lives
October 31, 2023
In 2016, the Vatican published a revised version of a document titled "The Gift of Priestly Vocation," which made an introductory phase of formation required for seminarians worldwide. As dioceses around the globe were called to formulate preparatory programs, one theologian from Mount Marty University was called to lead.
For two academic years, future seminarians from the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls have joined Dr. Jason Heron on-campus in Yankton to study the Bible and catechism.
"The choice to become a priest is an enormous life decision," Dr. Heron said. "The program is not designed to convince the young men to go to seminary. It's designed to help them discern where their life is headed."
Intellectual formation is one of three parts of the program, including human and spiritual formation. With the calling from the Vatican, those interested in seminary now spend a year inside the diocese, immersing themselves in priesthood, community, and service to local parishes and schools before completing several years of seminary.
"The propaedeutic year required us to ensure that we had the resources necessary to form the seminarians well," said Father Michael Kapperman of the Diocese of Sioux Falls. "For a well-rounded intellectual formation, we needed a professor who not only knew the faith but was striving to live the faith. Anyone who interacts with Dr. Heron knows that he is not only knowledgeable about the faith, but he is a true disciple of Christ. He provides a great example to these men of how a disciple approaches academic studies."
"I'm just a person in the pews. Being able to give future seminarians the perspective of a layperson is really interesting."
Though the Catholic church faces a shortage of priests, the preparatory program isn't necessarily focused on filling sanctuaries.
"You could go through the propaedeutic [introductory] year and discern that, 'I don't think this is what I'm supposed to do.' And that's just as good of an outcome," said Dr. Heron. "The church is doubling down on the formation and saying, 'whatever the numbers of priests, whatever the shortage, it doesn't matter. We want people who are well-prepared and suited to this type of life.'"
Every Thursday, Dr. Heron collaborates with four seminarian students—Thomas Clinton, Benjamin Ulin, Peter Doty, and Beau Kirsch—helping them discern the meaning and purpose of their lives and what their Creator is calling them towards.
"What I enjoy as a teacher is being able to not only teach the content of my discipline but also to interact with my students on a personal level. In the propaedeutic program, I help them discern the trajectory of their life, so that gives me a lot of life to help people like that."
ABOUT DR. JASON HERON
Dr. Jason Heron has taught at Mount Marty University since the fall of 2017. Before joining the Lancer community, he was in Ohio, completing his doctoral work in theology at the University of Dayton. Outside of being the faculty fellow and liaison to the Sioux Falls Diocese, Dr. Heron is an assistant professor of theology, teaching core undergraduate courses and electives in theology and literature. Dr. Heron also holds the S. Wilma Lyle endowed chair of theology.