How to Train as a Catholic Chaplain

Updated July 20, 2017

Becoming a priest or nun is not the only way a Roman Catholic can enter the ministry. Training as a Catholic chaplain is another way, but it requires several steps managed by the National Association of Catholic Chaplains (NACC). The training process involves getting a master's degree and completing a Clinical Pastoral Education program. A CPE program trains you through your experiences working in a group and with prisoners, hospital patients, students and others. It's the hands-on training you need on your path towards becoming a chaplain.

Enrol in a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program. You will need four units of training to earn qualification toward becoming a Catholic Chaplain. Check the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education's website for a list of programs in the U.S. Courses prepare potential chaplains, across faiths, to provide pastoral counsel to individuals in need.

Write a personal learning contract for yourself. Most programs begin with this step. Writing in a notebook or on a word processor, reflect on your personal goals during your period of training. Think about who you are in the context of being a pastor. How will you feel around people in crisis who you are helping? Think about the educational environment and what you hope to learn.

Attend your scheduled didactic seminar. This may be led by your CPE supervisor and will be composed of a discussion following a lecture. Depending on your training centre location, it can be anywhere from a geriatric centre, to a correctional facility or hospital, this seminar could include information about the staff and management of that location. It could also discuss issues of pastoral care and how it applies to the people your are working with.

Participate in scheduled interpersonal peer group seminars. Since this aspect of chaplain training is experiential, it's important to attend these meetings with your CPE supervisor and others in your class. These meetings are an unstructured group seminar where you can bring up any issues affecting you and solicit feedback from the group. There should be a focus on personality and spiritual development in these discussions.

Present verbatims and case studies during more formal peer group seminars. A verbatim offers explicit information about a specific situation you are dealing with during your training phase. It's purpose is to evaluate. A case study examines, in a more generally way, the person or the patient you are working with. Think about the relationship of chaplain and patient. Each situation should be reflected upon in a theological and psychological way.

Schedule supervisory meetings. Ask for evaluations and plan to meet with a supervisor at least one hour each week, in private. Seek feedback and reflect on any aspect of the program with the supervisor. It is important to share as many concerns as possible with your supervisor in this early phase of training as a Catholic chaplain. His or her feedback will help you reach the next levels of your training.


The Catholic chaplaincy is open to all genders. Women comprise 70 per cent of the National Association of Catholic Chaplains (NACC) membership. The average NACC chaplain is 63 years old. It is recommended to have at least one year of theological study under your belt before enrolling into a clinical pastoral education program.

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Stephanie Smith is an attorney. She's been writing for five years about the environment, housing policy and pop culture. Her work has been published on eHow and