A small Catholic college in Lander, Wyoming, has launched a new program that challenges seminarians with wilderness experiences to strengthen their faith, vocations, and pastoral skills as eventual priests.

Wyoming Catholic College, known for its rigorous academics and COR Expeditions, offers backcountry treks to high school students, families, and undergraduates as well as specific seminaries such Holy Trinity in Irving, Texas, and the New York-based Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. But its new St. Jogues Seminarian Project is open to individual seminarians ages 18+ from dioceses throughout the country.

Applications are now being accepted for the 10-week summerlong program, which includes multi-day backcountry hikes in the Rocky Mountains for 12 men and a priest with daily Mass and adoration followed by practical pastoral experience with homeless people in urban environments. The program begins the first week of June.

Thomas Zimmer and Andre Klaes of COR Expeditions told Catholic News Agency that the project is named for the heroic martyr St. Isaac Jogues, a French Jesuit missionary priest who spread the Gospel in North America in the mid-1600s under harsh conditions….

After a typical nine months of seminary studies, seminarians are usually sent to parishes and other summer assignments as part of their formation. Seminary deans are looking for programs that get seminarians away from computer screens and out of classrooms but still prepare them for pastoral assignments, according to Klaes, who described what they will experience for a summer assignment in the Rockies.

“They are forced to live in a tent with three other guys, live seven days straight on the trail, cooking meals, and never alone. It’s a very different experience for guys who’ve been able to isolate themselves. So that’s a big part of what we provide,” he said.

“We are providing human formation: They are literally living together, relying on each other to cook, gather water, set up shelter, and endure storms. These are things that are easily stripped away from us in today’s society where everything is so easy,” said Zimmer, who has led wilderness trips in much of the United States and several foreign countries for more than a decade. He is also a faculty member at Wyoming Catholic.

In Klaes’ experience, he said, “some of my priest friends struggle in the priesthood because of a lack of friendship coming into the priesthood. But those who are full of life, full of joy and doing amazing things are those who have a tight-knit group of friends on whom they can rely. Formation directors have acknowledged the fact that diocesan priests often live entirely alone, so it will be their friendships that carry them through their priesthood….”

From Catholic News Agency via Catholic World Report