Why did you become a priest?
We become priests because we feel a personal call from God. That does not mean we had an experience with thunderbolts and voices. Instead, we had an inner feeling and we grew to know ourselves better, recognizing our talents and abilities. That sense of being called kept coming back to us.
Over time and with prayer, we each came to believe this was the right path for us. We decided to at least give it a try by beginning the initial formation process to enter priesthood.
How did your family and friends react to your decision?
That depends. Many of us found that our family and friends were supportive and encouraging. But not everyone experiences that same support.
Sometimes, because of misunderstandings or fear, families and friends are less enthusiastic about our decisions. That is when we have to trust the voice of God that we hear in our hearts and the good judgment of the communities and dioceses that think we are right for this and support us in our decision.
How important is prayer in your life?
Because we have chosen a way of life that says that God is most important, prayer is central to our lives. Think of it as a deep level of communication with God similar to the kind of communication that happens between any two people who love each other. Our relationship with God grows and deepens with prayer.
Since prayer is important, many priests spend about two hours a day in different types of prayer. Part of that time we pray with others at Mass. We also pray other formal prayers like the Liturgy of the Hours or the Rosary, or spend time reading and reflecting on readings from the Bible.
Part of the time we also pray alone in the presence of the Eucharist, perhaps reading or just being quiet with God. One of the positive effects of prayer, whatever shape it takes, is to keep us aware of God’s activity through people, events and circumstances of daily life. Many people ask us to pray for them also.
Is prayer always easy for you?
Not always. Even those monks and nuns in contemplative life, whose ministry is prayer, go through dry spells when our prayer time seems dull or uneventful. As we grow in our experience of prayer, we learn to adjust to these changes. We often depend on the support of our communities or the help of a spiritual director (someone like a coach or trainer) to help us keep praying during difficult times.
Those of us who are parish priests have our parish communities and our fellow priests to lead us towards prayer even when we would rather not be bothered. We try to be faithful even when we do not feel like it.
Our efforts are not always perfect, but we are convinced of our deep need for God. We believe God draws us to a deeper relationship with Him and responds to our faithfulness and perseverance in prayer.
What is the difference between a diocesan priest and a religious priest?
A diocesan priest ordinarily serves a church community (a parish) within a geographic area called a diocese. He serves the people as a parish priest, but he may also be involved in many other forms of ministry, such as teaching, hospital ministry, military, university or prison chaplaincy.
A religious priest is a member of a religious congregation whose ministry goes beyond the geographic limits of any diocese. A religious priest seeks to live a life of poverty, celibacy and obedience within a community of men with a particular spirituality. The community shares a common vision and spirituality and often emphasizes a particular type of ministry.
How long does it take to become a diocesan priest?
Generally it takes four years of undergraduate study in philosophy at Cardinal Glennon College, followed by four years of graduate study in theology at Kenrick School of Theology. If a man already has a college degree before entering the seminary, he may spend two years in the Pre-Theology program at Kenrick – Glennon Seminary to obtain the prerequisite number of undergraduate hours in philosophy in order to study graduate-level theology. Kenrick – Glennon Seminary is administered by priests of the Archdiocese of St. Louis specifically for educating and preparing men to be priests.
How old do you have to be to enter the seminary?
Some men enter the seminary after graduating from high school and some men enter the seminary following college or after working for a number of years. The United States Catholic Conference of Bishops has asked dioceses to accept men over 45 only in extraordinary circumstances, on a case-by-case basis.
What does a seminarian study?
As part of his formation, a seminarian studies the Bible, the Church and its teaching, moral questions, the sacraments and their celebration, the history of the Church and its Canon Law, and other subjects too. Seminarians meet regularly with a tutor and spiritual director to discuss developments in their prayer life and study of prayer. But the seminary isn’t just about academics. There is also a lot of time for personal prayer and growth as well as pastoral opportunities that mirror some of the things a man will do if he becomes a priest, which is similar to “work experience.”
Do you have to be particularly academic to be a seminarian?
Not necessarily. The kinds of grades you earn are only one part of who you are. A generous heart, a prayerful soul and good people skills are as important as anything else when it comes to being a priest. A seminarian needs to be an average or above-average student. He should be able to pass the courses in the seminary and show that he can be an effective minister.
What is seminary life like?
It is an exciting time for most of us. Of course, we encounter times of struggle, emotionally and/or academically. But we are finally starting to realize our dream of being a priest, and that is exciting. The academics are as challenging as at any college or university. In addition to our studies and meeting with a spiritual adviser, we are encouraged to enjoy friendships with both men and women, but dating is not part of our life because seminarians are preparing for celibacy rather than marriage. Much like a sports team or a military training class, seminarians are able to form special bonds with their classmates as they journey through the challenges of the formation process together.
What vows do diocesan priests make?
Strictly speaking, diocesan priests do not make solemn vows like monks or nuns. They do, however, promise celibacy and obedience to their bishop. They do not make a vow or promise of poverty, but they do try to live simply so they can be of service to God’s people.
Are you ever attracted to others in a romantic way?
Of course. We still experience normal human needs, feelings and desires. As celibate people, we choose to channel these feelings into other healthy directions. We work at remaining faithful to our vow of celibacy through prayer, closeness to Jesus, and good friendships.
What if you fall in love?
This happens, just as it could happen to a married person. Our responsibility in such a situation is to preserve the commitment we have made, which is to live as a priest. We try to develop relationships within the limits and responsibilities of our commitment to celibacy. Solid friendships with our brother priests encourage us and help us to live our commitment faithfully.
Obviously falling in love can be a painful situation for a priest. Yet we know all Christians eventually face pain in their lives. It isn’t always easy to be a faithful spouse, or to be a Christian single person either. Dealing maturely with such a challenge of our vows can make us stronger than ever in our vocations.
Do you ever wonder about marriage and children?
Sure we do. It is only natural that we wonder “what if …” Many of us are surrounded by married people with children and we see the rewards and struggles of married life on a daily basis. We also recognize the value and joy of our own lifestyle.
Are you ever lonely?
Of course. Like people in any way of life, priests can be lonely sometimes. We try to nurture significant friendships so we can fill our human need for closeness to other people and, of course, we pray. There is, however, a real difference between simply being alone and feeling lonely.
Why has there been a decline in the number of people entering priesthood?
Actually, the number of men being ordained worldwide is increasing. In the United States, the situation is more complex. To attribute the lower number of persons entering the priesthood to any single cause would be too simple. The world and the Church have undergone dramatic changes in the last 30 to 40 years. Furthermore, the high number of people entering religious life in the 1950s and 1960s was not typical of most of the Church’s history.
Today’s lower numbers have been attributed, among other things, to increasing discouragement on the part of parents; the reluctance of many people to make permanent commitments of any kind; and an increasing attachment to material goods and social status.
Seminary training is meant to help the seminarians and the people who guide them decide whether the seminarians have the skills, gifts and desire to give their lives to this challenging and fulfilling ministry.