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What is a Diocesan Priest

A diocesan priest is one who is called to serve people in a particular diocese and parish. He takes a vow of celibacy (that is, he is not married) and a vow of obedience to his Bishop and the Bishop’s successor. A diocesan priest is primarily a parish priest, but he can also be assigned full-time to a specific ministry in the life of the Church. In the parish the priest administers the sacraments, cares for the needs of the people in good and bad times and helps to promote the message of Christ. It is a call to give your life to making Christ’s presence real through the sacraments and especially through the Eucharist.

What do Priests do?

Priests do far more than celebrate Mass and pray all day.  The life of a priest is busy, demanding, challenging—and incredibly rewarding.  The vast majority of priests live happy, fulfilling lives.   Individual priests have a very wide variety of tasks within the Church. There are many specialized ministries such as being a chaplain, working at the diocesan offices, or teaching in a seminary.  But the majority of priests serve in parishes. Their duties include:

  • Celebrate Mass and preach the Gospel
  • Lead a parish of Catholic Christians
  • Bring new members into the Church through Baptism
  • Hear Confessions and provide spiritual direction
  • Help teens and young adults come to know Christ
  • Prepare couples for marriage and counsel married couples
  • Teach people how to pray
  • Feed the poor, visit prisons, and advocate for justice
  • Counsel people going through difficult times
  • Visit the sick in hospitals and anoint them for healing
  • Perform funerals and bury the dead
  • Manage the temporal affairs of the parish
  • Pray daily for the People of God

A Diocesan priest is a man who:

  • is called to be open to God’s love, promises and will for him
  • is prayerful, desiring to love God and God’s people with his whole being
  • is available and involved in the day-to-day lives of the people he is privileged to serve
  • represents the presence of Christ and the Church – ever beside its members through the successes and struggles, joys and sorrows of life
  • provides leadership with others, enhancing the role of the laity to make the parish a welcoming, active, participative, prayerful and inclusive place in which all know themselves to be loved by God and called to fulfil their personal vocations within the Church and beyond
  • is a presence of the Church in the wider community
  • administers the parish, including financial oversight and integrity
  • takes responsibility for his personal spiritual development, continuing formation, ongoing education and emotional and physical health in order to fulfil his responsibilities well

How to Become a Priest

The process of preparation for priesthood is usually called formation because it involves more than academic study and professional education. It includes the development of the whole person. Priestly formation takes place primarily in a seminary with some parish and other pastoral assignments. The period for preparation can take between four to seven years depending on previous education and experience.

A seminary is the place where men discerning their vocation undertake discernment and formation. Once a man enters the seminary, the decision to be a priest is by no means final. The discernment process continues as he begins preparation for the priesthood, especially in the first few years. Entering the seminary is the optimum environment for a man to grow deeper in his spirituality and earnestly ask God, ‘Is this really what you are calling me to be?’

Life in Seminary

Given that priests are called to be “set apart” for ministry, the Church has long seen the value in having her future priests literally set apart for much of their formation, offering some space from the all-pervasive voices of conventional culture. The seminary is thus intended to be a “seed-bed” within which priestly vocations can develop and be nourished, and in which future priests can grow in holiness and virtue.

Of course, diocesan priests are not called to be monks but rather to a ministry that is immersed in the life of the parish. As such, there is a degree to which the apartness of seminary life—necessary though it is—can take some getting used to. And indeed, the closer a seminarian is to ordination, the more involved he normally becomes in parish ministry and other pastoral experience.

The seminary provides an opportunity for men to live in a community of brothers who share a love of Christ and a desire for the priesthood. They are able to support and challenge each other, and their common experience often builds bonds of friendship that last a lifetime.

Seminary life is not without difficulties, and it is not unusual for some men to subsequently discern that the priesthood is probably not for them. In preparation for the obedience he will owe to Christ and his bishop as a priest, the seminarian is asked to voluntarily forego certain freedoms he may have once enjoyed. However, the challenges of formation also help seminarians to grow in faith and personal holiness, and to prepare them for the challenges of parish ministry.

Evaluation:

Throughout the time of preparation for the priesthood it is the responsibility of the formation team and of the student himself to be constantly reviewing his progress in the four critical areas of formation. In this way decisions are made, periodically, which lead either towards ordination or to the recognition of a different vocation. A decision to leave the seminary is never a failure or a waste. Part of the purpose of formation is to provide a process through which a person is enabled to discern God’s will for his life. Even if a person chooses or is asked to leave seminary the experience gained during formation will help him to develop gifts for his future life and enable him to make a positive contribution both to the Church and to wider society, in whatever path he later follows.

Your Call

If you feel called to Diocesan Priesthood please talk to your local priest or to the Diocesan Vocation Director in the Diocese where you live. A full list of Diocesan Vocation Directors and their contact details can be found here.

What happens when you apply to be a priest?

Applications generally begin as enquiries.  People want information, and they want to know how to go about making the right decision.  Applicants who wish to pursue their enquiry in a spirit of prayerfulness and openness to the plan of God, will be invited to take part in a discernment process, which will involve regular individual meetings with the Director of Vocations, usually over a period of six months or more. During this period the director of vocations will help each candidate to arrive at a mature discernment of vocation, taking account of his personal faith journey, and his human experience.

Unless the outcome of the assessment clearly excludes the applicant, the Director of Vocations will arrange for him to be interviewed by the assessment panel, appointed by the Bishop. This panel will arrive at a decision as to whether the candidate should be accepted for formation, and their recommendation will be forwarded by the Director of Vocations to the Bishop.

How long do you have to study?

The normal course of preparation for the priesthood is six or seven years.  Many of those who opt to become priests these days already have some third-level qualification.  This is normally taken into account, and may reduce the time of preparation by as much as two years. This time is usually broken down into two or three years of philosophy (often as part of a B.A. degree), and four years of theology.  It is not all academic study.  Men preparing for priesthood are also given practical pastoral training, and helped to deepen their relationship with God.  They are also helped to come to a better understanding of themselves, to value their gifts, and to accept their limitations.