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The Saint Luke Institute Candidate Assessment Program: Case Study

James grew up in a traditional Catholic family. His parents regularly attended Mass; his mother served as a Eucharistic minister; and his father served two terms on the parish council. Catholicism and the integration of their faith tradition was an important part of James’ upbringing and family history.

When James was a teenager, his father lost his job; this resulted in financial stressors along with an increase in his father’s alcohol use. At the time, James began to rely heavily on his parish priest for support and began working part-time to lessen the financial burden. James conveyed during the psychosocial interview that this was when he began considering the priesthood. He also identified it as a pivotal moment in his development, as he no longer felt like a child.

James was a high achieving student, performing well in high school and securing an academic scholarship to college, where he studied religion and business. He said he wanted to continue nurturing his interest in theology while also having something practical to fall back on should he not pursue seminary. During college, James performed well academically, was involved in Catholic activities on campus, and worked part-time at the student center. Prior to graduating James decided to apply to the seminary of his local diocese; he recognized a growing sense of a vocation, which felt confirmed both by his vocation director and by other peers who knew him.

James entered the psychological evaluation in an open and cooperative manner; he was highly verbal, socially skilled, and presented himself in a very positive way and as a strong candidate for seminary. However, when the evaluation team spoke to him in greater depth about his family, James revealed notable feelings of shame about his father’s struggles with alcohol and how hard it had been on him as an adolescent to shoulder that weight. In addition, James identified how his image of himself became tied to how well he could perform in school or the extent of his extracurricular activities, citing that a part of him felt that if he were “better,” perhaps his father could stop drinking.

Psychological testing data validated several of his strengths: he was bright, hard-working, achievement-oriented, and very rooted in ethics and morality. However, it also reiterated many of the vulnerabilities that James was able to identify for himself: struggles with low self-esteem, a strong desire to please others, and a high level of conscientiousness about his impact on those around him. Testing also suggested a high potential for addiction and underlying symptoms of mild anxiety, which James appeared to have been managing through staying busy and over-performing.

In integrating the information from the three interviews and the accompanying psychological testing data, the evaluation team was able to see the big picture of James’ life experiences and better understand how they informed his understanding of his vocation and of himself. The evaluation team, in turn, was able to provide recommendations that essentially generated a road map for James, his vocation director, and the formators to help him better integrate knowledge of these vulnerabilities and capitalize on his existing strengths.

Examples of the types of recommendations that were offered included:

  1. Exploring his concept of self-worth in spiritual direction, especially given that much of his identity had been associated with what he does as opposed to who he is as a person
  2. Discussing in pastoral formation his level of activity and tendency to become overly involved, as James tends to distract from feelings of anxiety or low self-worth by becoming busy
  3. Exploring the literature from Adult Children of Alcoholics and discussing with formators how this dynamic might impact James over time
  4. Considering participation in brief individual therapy to develop additional coping skills for his anxiety and to talk through some of the underlying feelings around his father’s continued struggle with alcohol.

For confidentiality, reasons, names, identifying data, and other details of treatment have been altered.