"His calling is a declaration of love."
Your response is commitment,
friendship, and love
manifested in the gift
of your own life"
St. John Paul II
Make an Initial Enquiry
A young man contacts one of the Vocation Directors possibly after speaking with his parish priest, university chaplain, youth leader, trusted friend or by responding to information found in his parish, school or on the internet. During their initial meeting, the “candidate” will be encouraged to tell his story about his life and the process that has brought him to the point of meeting with the Vocation Director. He will be asked to provide general information about himself and his interest in the priesthood. Questions about his family and educational background, how he practices his faith, prays and serves others are covered. Also covered are things like his understanding of chastity/celibacy, his relationships with others, and how the call to the priesthood has manifested itself in his life and what he envisions ministry to be. At this initial meeting, the candidate is given an opportunity to ask any questions about the diocese, priesthood, or the application process.
The Vocations Director will usually encourage the candidate to get a spiritual director (if he does not already have one) and to meet with him regularly to further discern God's call. After a period of discernment and when both the candidate and Vocations Director feel that the basis of a call to the priesthood is present, the candidate and the Vocations Director will discuss the application and selection process which will take place for the candidate to qualify to become a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Birmingham.
Given a satisfactory completion of the application and selection process and all its requirements, the candidate would then meet with the Archbishop to be formally accepted for the diocese and be informed at which seminary he will begin his formation for priesthood.
There are a number of steps throughout priestly formation that direct the path to ordination. During time in seminary you would be instituted into the ministries of acolyte and reader, and then formally be accepted as a candidate for Holy Orders.
Once a seminarian has undertaken five years of formation in seminary, and also has spent time working in pastoral situations, an important decision has to be made. This is the decision as to whether he should now be ordained. A number of important considerations need to be taken into account such as how the individual has coped during formation, how he relates to the people he will be called to serve, can he adequately fulfil the demands of the life of a priest, and most importantly, does this man really have a good sense of being called by God to serve as a priest?
At this stage an important point has been reached. The candidate has spent a number of years discerning his call, and he will also have had feedback during this time from those involved with his formation. He should therefore have developed a good understanding of what it will be like to be a priest. The final decision as to whether he will be ordained is not just a personal one for the man himself. Given that a priest is called to serve the Church, it is his own bishop who makes the final decision. The bishop will take into account the views of others, especially those directly involved with his formation.
If the candidate wishes to proceed to ordination, at this stage he makes a formal application to his bishop. One final step before becoming a priest is ordination as a deacon. The diaconate is an ordained ministry in its own right, which involves preaching the gospel and also assisting at the altar. A deacon (which literally means a ‘servant’) has authority to celebrate certain sacraments in the name of the Church, such as baptism and marriage, but he cannot exercise the ministry of a priest by celebrating Mass, hearing confessions or anointing the sick. Once you become a deacon the obligations of celibacy, obedience and regularly praying the Divine Office become part of your life.
Throughout the years of formation the candidate is discerning his vocation; if he felt at any time that priesthood was not his true vocation then he could have left the seminary without further obligation. He must be free in his vocational choices and no pressure would have been put on him. Once he has been ordained however, there is no turning back; the obligations of ordained ministry are part of his life.
After the applicant has made the decision to pursue the possibility of a priestly vocation, he begins the application process which includes: the completing of a confidential application form with a chronological autobiography and work history, the compiling of sacramental and academic records, a medical examination, and psychological assessment. The Vocations Director works closely with the applicant through this process. The application material is reviewed by the Vocations Director and copies of the relevant material are then given to the members of the Selection panel who will review the application and interview the applicant. If the applicant is successful at this stage a recommendation is given to the Archbishop for his review and final decision after which the candidate will meet with him.
Acceptance and Assignment to the Seminary
An applicant who is accepted as a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Birmingham is now assigned to a seminary by the Archbishop. Often a candidate will spend a pre-seminary year attending St. Alban’s Seminary (Royal and Pontifical English College) in Valladolid, Spain before entering full seminary.
Once you have been ordained, the bishop will normally appoint you to your first parish, where you will minister to the people.
Priestly formation in seminary has led the new priest to this point, but it does not end here. Formation continues for the rest of priestly life and ministry, as Jesus himself seeks to deepen and enrich service of him and his flock.
Of course, every vocational journey is unique and thus there are variations from the outline provided here depending on the person’s life experience. This general outline, however, provides a brief description of the process that enables the Church and the candidate to discern God’s will and call.
Some people contact the Vocations Director with a certainty that they feel God is calling them to the priesthood. Most, however, enter the seminary still asking, “Is God calling me?” The seminary is meant to be a place where God's call can be tested and discerned through prayer and the formation process. If you feel God may be calling you to the priesthood, take the first step and accept Jesus’ invitation: “Come and see.” Even if it is determined that you do not have a priestly vocation, the time spent in prayer and learning about your faith will prove to be a blessing no matter what vocation you discover to be yours.