For any lifelong vocation that we take on, there will be different challenges and sacrifices, just as there will be particular rewards and joys. When Jesus asked the rich young man to come follow me, he asked him to give up the one thing that he was in love with most, the one thing that was really getting in the way of him developing a loving, committed, freely giving relationship with the Lord - his money. Jesus was asking this young man to be detached from that one thing that was enslaving him, that took the focus of his whole life, that was not allowing him to be free to live life to the full.
So, to be a Priest, or a Brother, or to be Married, or a Sister, or living a dedicated Single life, all require us to go beyond those things that would entrance us and enslave us to living a narrow, small, and insignificant life, rather than to do something great for God. Beyond this, if a person's call is to be a Priest, then there will be particular challenges specific to this calling. For many these will be in the area of sacrificing the joys of married life for a life that is lived in a Community (for a Religious Order Priest), or alone (for a Diocesan Priest). A young man considering this journey needs to way up his ability to walk this road, but at the same time, needs to be aware of the particular joys and fulfillment of living and ministering as a Priest, rejoicing with and reaching out to those who most need his ministry.
Qualities of a potential priest
- Is committed to and passionate about the Catholic faith
- Cultivates a strong sense of the sacred – the place of Christ in his life
- Has an eye and a love for the Word of God and seeks to live out the Gospel in daily life
- Participates in the celebration of the Eucharist – actively and regularly
- Has a growing commitment to personal private prayer
- Understands baptism as the first vocation of the faithful
- Is developing an openness to what's new, what's different, what lies out of the comfort zone – even while being grounded in the familiar, in the routine, in what conserves
- Has an eagerness for the prophetic, a sympathy for the marginalized, a challenging voice for the excluded, and a hunger for social justice
- Recognizes the importance of authority and institution – helps nurture the sacred within family, Church, and tradition
- Is focused on the Kingdom of God – stretching from this life to the next
- Has completed secondary school or the equivalent of Senior
- Is intelligent and exhibits an eagerness to learn
- Maintains a strong sense of individuality, demonstrates a generosity of spirit and private integrity – balanced with a commitment to community, family, and Church
- Enjoys a healthy capacity to live and value life – with an equally healthy capacity for asceticism, selflessness, and discipline
- Has a deep appreciation for sexuality and is able to defend its goodness – coupled with an equally strong defence of purity and chastity
- Is conscious of the world-community – considering other nationalities and cultures
- Lives a responsible and independent life – with an unabashed love for this world, for its joys and its sorrows
The Role of a Priest
God’s plan for the world is ambitious; it involves nothing less than the complete transformation of human society. The building blocks for this massive plan are our local communities. As part of these communities, the church works in partnership with civic leaders, community organisations, other Christian churches and other religions.
One of the most satisfying things about being a priest is being part of a faith community and being a pastoral leader. This involves presiding at communal worship. It also involves being among smaller communities, such as families at big moments like weddings and baptisms. Priests are called upon to enter the lives of people when life is darkened with sadness and difficulty. Even through these difficult moments, a priest can experience a profound satisfaction that they have been an instrument of God.
Messenger of Hope
Jesus Christ has an incredible impact on the world. The teachings of Christ have shaped the values of many societies and continue to shape those values today. A critical part of a priest’s mission is to tell Christ’s story of hope. That story brings comfort to those who are weak and without a voice.
The story is intended to disturb and activate those who have the power to make the world a better place. Jesus’ message of hope is not always popular; many people have been killed for preaching the Gospel, but it is a powerful message that must be told.
Today there is a strong awareness that people everywhere long to have spiritual nourishment. The Catholic community itself also needs to be fed with the body and blood of Christ. The priest of the future will continue that tradition of assisting people to develop their spirituality. The future priest will also need to explore ways of helping people make spiritual sense of their lives in a dynamic and changing world. Before doing these things, priests are students of prayer themselves.
A priest develops his personal relationship with God, to learn the ways of God and to lead others on those paths.
This time of enquiry and preparation allows the applicant and the vocations team to reflect and consider the applicant’s suitability to be a priest and his readiness to enter the seminary process.
The foundation year aims to immerse the student in an understanding of what it is to be a diocesan priest. Through Good Shepard Theological College, the academic phase equips the student with the intellectual skills required to be a priest in the modern world. The pre-pastoral phase involves preparing for the move into parish ministry which follows.
The pastoral stage is a year-long internship in a parish of the student’s home diocese. The student reflects on the experience of ministry in order to expand his pastoral abilities.
While continuing to grow in pastoral experience in a parish, this phase involves preparation for the ministry of a deacon. This is an ordained ministry which involves presiding at sacramental liturgies: baptisms, weddings, funerals. The student continues to study part-time.
For at least six months the deacon will exercise this ministry whilst preparing to be ordained a priest.
The newly ordained priest will continue to learn and grow spiritually through all the years of his ministry.
How much does it cost to become a priest? Do I have to pay for my own studies/textbooks/etc?
There is no financial cost involved with training to be a priest. In New Zealand, each diocese funds the training of its priests. The seminary provides food and accommodation and covers the academic costs. Each student receives an allowance to cover personal expenses such as books and clothes. If students have cars they are welcome to bring them to the seminary. There are also vehicles available to enable students to get to them to go to class, household shopping and pastoral activities. The expenses related to car use for personal reasons are reimbursed to the seminary.
What sort of things do you have to give up to become a priest?
The first thing that often comes to mind when this question arises is the requirement for priests in the Roman Catholic Church to be celibate. The issue of celibacy is addressed in another answer on this page. When a man becomes a priest he embraces a particular vocation, a particular way of life. Priests don't earn a lot of money. Being a priest is a lifelong commitment which is different to the current trend to change careers a number of times during a working life. A priest's pastoral responsibilities often take priority over personal wishes. All of this is hard to take without a spirituality of service. No one could say that the priesthood is a mainstream way of life. One has to be honest and say that the priesthood is a radical vocation. What the church needs are people who have a heart big enough to take on this challenge. While it won't always be easy, it will bring deep satisfaction. To be a priest you need to believe in what you are doing in such a way that the sacrifices you make are worthwhile.
I'm 16 and I think I want to become a priest. Am I to young to start thinking about it or to start studying? (or I'm 45, am I too old?) What age do most people start studying for the priesthood.
At the age of 16 you are probably doing a lot of thinking about the path you will take after leaving school. It is a good time to be thinking about the possibility of becoming a priest. If you are 45 you are not too old to be thinking about becoming a priest either. Most people who start at the seminary are in their 20s. However there are exceptions to this, some seminary students are somewhat older. There is no magical, definitive age for beginning at the seminary. Some important attributes for a person of any age beginning formation are maturity and the capacity to take on board new learning. A person's age alone does not tell us a great deal about who they are and what they believe in.
I want to become a priest one day but not yet. What should I do now to help me become a priest later?
An important question that needs to be considered is the reason behind not wanting to move towards priesthood at the moment. Some things that can help prepare you for the priesthood include getting involved in your local parish community if you are not already involved, paying attention to your spiritual life and developing a healthy habit of prayer. It would be good to talk about these kinds of things with your local priest or the Vocations Director, whose contact details are on this site, and to get some good reading material to help stimulate your reflections at this time. If you are waiting for an email or an SMS from God telling you that the time is right, you will be waiting for a long time. God's ways are often much more subtle than this. If you feel that you have some kind of calling to be a priest, doing nothing will not help you make a good decision. God gives us opportunities, but we have to cooperate with God in order for things to happen.
How long does it take to become a priest? Can you study part-time?
It used to be said that it took about seven years to become a priest, but given the diverse backgrounds of today's students for the priesthood, timeframes can vary. Today the approach to seminary formation needs to be flexible; and it may sometimes take less time or more time to be ordained a priest. This may sound like a long time, but you need to take into account the variety of phases involved in seminary formation. You don't spend seven years doing academic courses. Have a look at this page which outlines the phases of formation. View the Process. Rather than working from a particular timeframe, the formation program of each seminarian takes into account past studies and experiences as well as the learning needs of each individual. So the ultimate aim is not to "produce" a priest on time, but rather to ensure that a priest is equipped with the skills that he needs to be a competent pastor. Training to be a priest involves more than studying subjects at a College. Formation for the priesthood also involves living in situations where you will be exposed to experiences which develop your understanding of yourself, your relationship with God and your ability to relate to people in a pastoral situation. Going beyond book or classroom learning, formation involves living in a seminary and eventually in a parish. These places become communities of formation where people learn with the assistance of others. Learning to become a priest is a full-time occupation, students for the priesthood are expected to live in these communities of formation and focus their time and energy on the task of preparing to be a priest.
How do I know if I'd be suitable to become a priest? How do I know if I'm ready to start studying for the priesthood?
Every priest is different; each one brings his own strengths and weakness to ministry. Part of the process of considering whether you are suitable to be a priest is exploring those strengths and weaknesses. Those elements need to be explored through personal prayer and reflection and also through conversation with other people. In the initial stages of thinking about priesthood people often want to keep their thoughts to themselves, but it is good to find a priest with whom you can discuss what is happening. As things develop you should make contact with the Vocations Director to enable you to discern further. Eventually the Director will arrange for a professional vocational assessment to help you and the Bishop make the final decision about starting at the seminary. As you can see, with finding who is suitable to be a priest, it is not a case of ticking off items on a list. Human beings are complicated and so the task of discerning whether you are ready to begin at the seminary must take that into account. It is also important that you continue praying so that you will be open to where God is leading you. See the Person page within this site for a list of some of the most important qualities of someone who might be suitable to be a priest.
Can a priest choose what parish he works in?
The process through which a priest is appointed to a parish is aimed at bringing together the needs of the priest and the needs of the church. Every priest is different and every parish is different. The Bishop has ultimate responsibility for appointing priests to particular ministries. Efforts are made to match priests and parishes in a way which is best for all concerned, and it always depends a great deal on what is happening in the diocese at that time. Every parish has its own limitations and joys; one of the qualities required for ministry is to be able to have a positive attitude in a variety of situations.
Is it harder to be a priest today than it was a generation ago, with all the controversies and challenges in the Church and in the world today?
It is probably true that the priesthood has had more stability and status sometimes in the past. More recent years have seen occasions of scandal and there is anxiety about the future of the church. But then, every era of the Church has had its challenges. The crisis and lack of hope that the church experiences today is also shared by the whole of humanity. The human race has to find a path into the future, weaving through a variety of difficulties like terrorism, the growing divide between rich and poor, and the search for an ultimate purpose in life. As Catholic Christians we believe that Jesus Christ and his message is essential in negotiating all of this. To be able to be a priest in the future, you will need to have a very clear sense of your mission to bring Jesus' message of hope to the world - by what you do, what you say and by assisting others to strengthen their faith. You will have to be convinced of the saving power of the cross; convinced that where there is despair, the cross can bring resurrection and life. You will have to believe that God is changing the world to become his Kingdom. You will need faith and courage, and as a pastor of the believing community you draw from the faith and courage of the community and the community will draw these qualities from you.
Who do I contact to start the process of inquiring about priesthood?
Fr Mark Chamberlain
Holy Name Parish,
PO Box 6090,
Ph: 03 479 0066
Fax: 03 474 9955
(All enquiries will be handled confidentially)
Ordination of Fr Sani Lam
The people of the Diocese of Dunedin welcomed Fr Sani Lam to the priesthood in a joyful ceremony at St Joseph's Cathedral Dunedin on Friday 11 December 2015. Fr Sani has been based in the South Dunedin pastoral area this year in his final preparations for ordination. There was a strong Samoan presence and contribution to the ordination liturgy, reflecting Fr Sani's origins and family connections. Bishop Colin reminded Fr Sani of the importance of his role as a source of unity, voice for the Gospel and servant of God's people. After the ordination, Fr Sani was mobbed by well-wishers delighted in his decision to serve God in this part of the world.
A selection of images from the ordination convey some of its drama, colour and joy.