Step 1: Discernment
Welcome! If you are reading this, it may well be because you are considering Priesthood and if that is the case, you are in the right place. The information here is naturally relatively brief – but we hope that it will open doors for you in terms of who to contact, and what you might expect as time goes by.
First of all, there are some very helpful words written by Fr Stephen Wang, a Priest of the Westminster Diocese, about some of the key areas to consider when reflecting on whether or not you have a vocation to be a Priest. His words encourage you to pray about it, and – when you are ready – to find a Priest to share your thoughts with. It may be that you have come to this page on the website because a number of people have asked you if you have thought about being a Priest. At this stage, you may be very unsure of that, even a bit nervous of it, and that’s very natural. With any life long commitment it is not something which will be entered into lightly. Similarly, you are too precious for anyone to force you into something that is not right for you. Vocations Directors are there to help and to guide, to be a sounding board and a place of sharing, hopefully rooted in some wisdom from our own experiences in Priesthood. But we are not on commission, and we don’t have any targets to meet except, “is this right for this particular man, at this time?” and that is a question we ask and answer together with you, in prayer, over time.
Read what Fr Stephen has written and feel free to get in touch at any time as you find yourself reflecting more deeply on the call to Priesthood. It may be that you are most comfortable speaking to your own Parish priest first, and it is certainly helpful that he knows you are considering Priesthood. You can also contact Fr Graham via this website, or by phone (see contact info box on this page). If you have been reflecting for a while already and want to do this now, then please do: we are here whenever you want to get in touch.
Step 2: Going deeper – preparing for application
Once you are in touch with the Vocations Director, you will have a series of chats with him that helps him to get to know you as a person: your journey so far, and the things that have inspired you to get in touch. It is also likely that he will link you into a group of like minded people with meetings which are a mix of some input about Priesthood, some sharing and some time for personal prayer.
The Vocations Director will also suggest some books and articles for personal reading, and will help with any questions you have. It may be that this is in conjunction with other Priests, or Religious Brothers or Sisters, or lay chaplains, depending on your existing contacts – with your Parish Priest or University Chaplain, for example, or with a religious community.
With a Diocesan Vocations Director, the initial focus will be on Vocation in general: are you called to Priesthood, to married life, to single life, or to life as a Religious Brother or Sister? As things become clearer, there may be other people who you are directed towards; ultimately the Vocations Director will have the greatest expertise within the Diocesan priesthood, and if your vocation lies elsewhere then he will point you in the most helpful places for you.
Depending on your own journey and circumstances – it may be that there is a College or University course that it is wise for you to finish, or work commitments to complete which affect the timing of things, in addition to your own personal discernment – then after some months or years journeying in this way, and if it is evident that you are called to the Diocesan Priesthood, it would become time to submit a formal application to the Bishop.
Step 3: The application process
Since seminaries (houses of formation and study for those training for Priesthood) work on an academic year, September to July, then the application process generally fits a timetable to start in the following September. It is possible to make a formal application any time from October to March.
The application process is set out below – it looks very daunting, and of course it has to be rigorous for your sake and for the sake of the Diocese, as it would be a disservice to everyone to put a candidate in a position where they left work, etc., to go to seminary and it just was not right for them. The process is one where you are strongly supported, though. Firstly, a Vocations Director is unlikely to recommend you for the process if he thinks it will not be right for you, so you can begin the application with his confidence in you. Secondly, all those involved want the best for you. Thirdly, the Vocations Director is on hand, or on the end of a phone, at every stage of the process.
To apply for Priesthood includes:
- Completing a written application form with details of your academic and work history to date.
- Preparing a written account of approx 1500 words about your journey so far and what it is that has inspired you to apply for Diocesan priesthood
- A psychological assessment, from which you would also receive feedback. Just as with many job interviews, the input from a psychologist assesses your character strengths, and highlights any aspects which may cause struggles in Priestly life.
- A CRB check, as a natural part of any role that involves contact with children and vulnerable adults
- Interviews in the context of a seminary. Brentwood Diocese usually join other Dioceses for this and the interviews take place over a weekend at St John’s Seminary, Wonersh (near Guildford in Surrey). Seminary staff and other experienced interviewers such as headteachers chat with you, and there is also an assessment of how you work as part of a group.
- Interviews in the Diocese. These are with senior Priests of the Diocese, as well as men and women with experience perhaps in education, or in business, that mean they are able to make considered judgements about people. As with those who interview in the seminary, these are people who are very sympathetic to the church, and to candidates for the Priesthood.
- Interview with the Bishop. Every other part of the process serves as advisory to the Bishop, who will be the one with the final decision. The Bishop has long experience of working with those considering Priesthood, and he will be seeking to see all that is best in you so as to discern if it is the right moment for you to begin training for Priesthood, and to discern which seminary will best meet your needs.
Generally the sets of interviews described above take place in April and early May, so that by the middle of May you know where you are beginning seminary in September, giving you time to make all the necessary practical preparations.
The support from the Diocese naturally continues strongly, whatever the outcome of the interviews. If the decision has been taken to defer your application, then the Vocations Director will chat that through with you, and assess the feedback from the selection process that has led to that decision. Together you will then be able to agree the next steps in your discernment. If you have been accepted for seminary the Vocations Director remains your first point of contact and – together with the Seminary Rector and other seminary staff – will help you prepare for seminary.
Step 4: Seminary formation
As you talk with the Vocations Director during the discernment and pre-application process, you will have many opportunities to ask questions. It is impossible to adequately write about seminary here, not least because the training is, to a degree, tailored to each person depending on their academic and professional background.
Discernment does not end as you walk through the seminary doors, of course. One of the reasons why the training is anywhere from six to eight years in duration is to allow your own personal prayer and reflection to continue. It is by no means “failing” to decide not to continue in seminary – it may well be the mark of mature discernment, over time. It is also the case that what you experience in seminary should prepare you for the beginnings of parish life – and that once you are in a parish you will find that the learning continues, with every day and with every new situation!
There is the possibility that you would be sent for a “Propadeutic” (pre-seminary) year at Valladolid, in Spain. This is a year which has been tailored as a bridge into seminary formation, and is especially designed to ground candidates in key principles of prayer, as well as offering experience of study and formation abroad.
For the main years of formation the Diocese places students generally in two seminaries: St John’s, Wonersh and The English College, Rome. Although the context is different, the essential model of seminary formation was set out in Pope John Paul II’s letter, Pastores dabo Vobis (I will give you shepherds). Pope John Paul II wrote of four key areas of formation:
|Academic…||Generally, candidates for Priesthood study Theology and Philosophy part time for a total of between five and seven years. This usually leads to a degree level qualification, and may also lead to a Masters level. Along with foundational principles and knowledge, the studies do have a specifically Catholic content including (for example) Church history and a focus on the teaching documents of the Church.|
|Pastoral…||Tutors – often Diocesan Priests – share their experience of pastoral situations, and prepare you for situations such as bereavement, working with children, Sacramental preparation, etc. During your time in seminary there will also be study days with specialists in these areas to add to your ability to work with a range of pastoral situations.|
|Spiritual…||Your formation here is partly through living the rhythms of seminary life – Morning and Evening Prayer, Mass, and times of retreat and silent reflection. In addition the seminary will have a Spiritual Director and they will meet with you individually at very regular intervals, as a place where you can discuss your prayer life, as well as any other matters that concern you, in complete confidence. There will also be regular talks on spiritual themes, and suggestions made about reading in this area.|
|Human…||This dimension of formation is about you as a person: how are you growing in your personal strengths of character. Are there areas where you feel you may struggle in parish ministry – hospital visiting, perhaps, or working with sixteen year olds in a school assembly or Mass? Consideration here might also be given to your style of leadership: do you have the authority to take decisions where necessary, yet also the sensitivity, humility and ability to listen so that you involve others in decision taking, working collaboratively with those in the parish and local schools. This dimension of your formation would also consider the challenges of living celibately, and living alone. Here too the seminary would arrange days and weekends with people who are experts in helping others with their development, as well as the ongoing personal formation by the seminary staff and through the fact of living with other students in community.|
You can read more about seminary life if you want to by visiting the websites for St John’s seminary and the Venerable English College, Rome. It is always good to remember that seminary is not an end in itself: the very reason for seminary is to help with your discernment about your vocation – as a Diocesan priest, or not. If as a Priest then the seminary experiences will help you a great deal in Priesthood, but as noted earlier the learning – in all four dimensions of formation – will continue with each new day, and each new situation.
Hopefully this section of the website has given you all the key information you need at this stage. Do get in touch with Fr Graham to help you with your discernment at this stage, to link you with like minded people, and to offer you whatever help and support we can as you pray and reflect on who God is calling you to be, how God is calling you to serve.