As we approached Thanksgiving break at the seminary, my class was given a study guide in preparation for our written and oral comprehensive exam, which we will take at the end of January.

This exam is required for the degrees which will be awarded to us. The long preparation period is meant for us to take time to reflect, research and synthesize all we have learned in six years into a systematic, comprehensive whole.

The result of taking distinct classes in various fields is that the subject matter can become compartmentalized in our minds and lives. Our classes at the seminary have quite a range: philosophy, Scripture, liturgy, history, systematic theology, anthropology, moral theology, social ethics, medical ethics, Christology, canon law and administration, to name a few.

Imagine being stuck in administration mode and forgetting about social ethics! It's imperative that we integrate these: We need to remember that doctrine has developed throughout history, is rooted in Scripture, has been expressed in liturgy and is taught to people pastorally so that it can inform our prayer life and our actions.

The same can happen in other fields. We know what can happen when accounting, business administration and ethics remain distinct fields of study and aren't integrated within the student.

For example, here's a question we might be asked during this exam: "As pastor in a rural community, you have an influx of poor Catholic immigrants from a certain country into your area. What are their needs; what are their rights (according to Church law); what are your responsibilities concerning them; what is their history; how are they used to expressing their faith (or are they used to expressing it); and what would you do socially, pastorally and liturgically concerning them, and also concerning the current population of the parish?"

I made this question up, but the actual questions are just as multi-faceted.

My classmates and I are in the process of studying together for this exam. We are organizing the basics of each field; next, we will try to understand them in the context of various situations.

Our teachers have tried to keep things in perspective for us as we continue along, and we have been trying to prayerfully integrate everything ourselves. We've tried to see all of our studies and formation in the context of our future ministry in the Church.

In the end, this is what we're concerned with: ministry in the Church, not academic prestige. We are not concerned with the academic degrees, except as they help us fulfill our mission.

We don't refer to our clergy as "Doctor;" nor do we expect them to be making names for themselves in the academic arena. We call them "Father," and that's what we want them to be for us: like a father.

We expect priests to be knowledgeable, well-read and wise in order to be in service to the people of God. Some do become academics, but the ones I know still prefer the title "Father" to the suffix "Ph.D.," and they wouldn't give up being a priest to become an academic.

With my graduation and ordination (God willing) only seven months away, I'm confident that the education I have received will serve me well in my priestly ministry. I hope that I can apply it well in my work and pass it on in my teaching.

Most of all, I hope to continue to be a student of theology. As much as I've learned over the past six years, the mystery of God and His love for us couldn't be comprehensively covered in 6,000 years of classes.

(Deacon Daniel Quinn is a seminarian studying for the priesthood for the Diocese of Albany in his final year at St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore. He is a native of Holy Trinity parish in Johnstown.)

This is part of The Evangelist's ongoing series of reports from diocesan seminarians on their studies, work and development. To read previous installments, search for "seminarian diary".