February 4, 2015

How do you become a priest?

“How did you know you are called to the priesthood?” and “How do you become a priest?” are the two most frequently asked questions I get. In the last article I answered the first question, and here I will answer the second.

The journey to priesthood differs from man to man; no two paths are the same. Each man brings with him a unique background of education and life experience which mean some adjustments must be made to their program of study and formation. The schedule also differs greatly if he is studying to be a religious like a: Jesuit, Redemptorist, Franciscan, or Dominican for example.

A solid background in philosophy is required before you begin studies in theology at the seminary. Some men spend up to 4 years studying philosophy after they finish high school; while others who already have a university degree in another subject and have years of work experience can go through an intensive one-year philosophy program.

Currently Saint Augustine’s Seminary offers a 6-year program. The theology studies are offered over four years through a teaching partnership of professors between the University of Toronto and the Seminary faculty in-house. During these four years of study, the candidate takes courses in a diverse field of subjects such as: Sacred Scripture, Dogmatic Theology, History, Canon Law, Ethics, Liturgy, Pastoral Counseling, Psychology, Preaching, Interfaith Studies, and Parish Administration.  There are also many choices of elective courses available if you have a special interest you wish to learn more about such as the scriptural languages of: Latin, Greek or Hebrew.

In the middle of the four-year theology studies is an internship year. This 12-16 month experience allows the candidate to see first-hand the everyday life of a parish priest. Here he lives with, and is mentored by, a seasoned pastor in a busy parish. Often this helps the candidate and the Church discern if priesthood is this man’s vocation. Many of my peers find this to be one of the most enjoyable experiences of the formation program.

There are many opportunities for hands-on ministry throughout the 6-year program since the academic formation only lasts from September to April. During the 4 months of the summer, or throughout the academic year, the men chose to do placements as a hospital or military chaplain, others visit schools giving talks and catechesis to the youth, others volunteer at a nearby shelter and soup kitchen, and others visit the elderly in long-term care facilities. Many live in a local parish during the summer and help in their home diocese, while others take regular jobs to earn money to pay for their books and school expenses for the upcoming year.

Before all the studies or the internship, the candidate begins the first year in an intensive program of spiritual growth and detachment from the secular society. During this time at the seminary, the candidate fasts from all media, such as: the television, internet or cell phone use, and music. Without distractions, and often in silence, the man uses this time to build the foundations of a solid prayer life as he spends countless hours studying sacred scripture, the Catechism and in prayer.