Venerable English College, Rome
Born in Coventry 32 years ago, I grew up in a loving family that was very blessed not to want for anything. My siblings and I, however, have ended up taking quite unexpected paths, to the surprise of our friends and family. I hadn’t even considered priesthood until my mid-twenties, after I’d finished my undergraduate degree (Psychology BSc). I started going back to Mass – unable to shake off the spiritual sense that I was meant to give God time. I noticed the difference in my heart from how I remembered feeling at Mass in my youth – i.e. indifferent – because now I wanted to pray. I found EWTN at this time and figures such as Bishop Sheen who presented the faith in all its glory. As I kept praying, the shocking thought gripped hold of me: I think I could be a priest!
Once God puts that idea in your head, it is nearly impossible to remove it. And believe me I tried, out of fear for what it meant. I went about my business trialling other paths that might fulfil that sense of meaningful existence – perhaps I could be an R.E. teacher; perhaps a therapist etc., etc. Leaning towards the latter, I started a Masters course reading Further Psychology in Northampton. There I met a lovely Polish girl and thought for sure now that the priesthood niggle would go away. We had a wonderful few years together and travelled the world, but it didn’t work out. A priest friend still jokes with me that if God wants you he’s going to get you because it is the path destined to make you who you really are. It came to crunch time – priesthood now or never.
I visited the vocations director and he sent me to live with the rector-emeritus of Oscott college, Mgr. Mark Crisp, and I cannot overstate how valuable this pastoral year was for me. Fr. Mark was the perfect guide through the application process and before the end of my time with him, I’d seen the Archbishop and was told he was sending me to Valladolid, Spain, where the now mandatory propaedeutic year of formation is held. This year abroad was extraordinary. The quality of the teaching/formation is excellent and we were challenged from day one on all fronts as regards our vision of priesthood. We learned that it is never on our terms, but Christ’s; that we must become, as JPII put it, "masters of our humanity" so as to be as self-possessed and therefore as truly self-giving as possible. The spiritual director walked us through the mystics and deepened our prayer life. And of course, the different events of the year – most notably a Valladolid Holy Week (see YouTube) – were culturally enriching encounters with Catholicism away from home. The website for the propaedeutic year is well worth visiting for a better portrayal of formation: http://www.sanalbano.org/
To have been sent on to the Venerable English College in Rome is yet another incredible blessing and I am currently in my first year there. The past two years have prepared me for major seminary well and I am thankful to the Lord for how my path has unfolded. I have met wonderful people, who have been very kind and generous with prayers and friendship. This in turn has brought me closer to Christ and his Church. So if you are thinking about giving this priesthood idea a go, dive in and watch the Lord surprise you with where it leads.