How long will it take to become a priest?

Formation programmes vary enormously and can range from five to seven years depending on the nature and background of the candidate. While programmes can be tailored to the needs of the individual they generally involve the candidate receiving substantial education in philosophy and of theology. Along with his intellectual formation time also needs to be given to forming the seminarian as a pastoral minister, spiritually rooted and mature and capable of ministering in a compassionate, mature and stable way. The years of training also include significant times of discernment about the vocation to priesthood, including the support of spiritual directors. Following this time of preparation and discernment, the Bishop may call the candidate to ordination.

Who should consider becoming a priest?

It is important to say that there is no such thing as a typical priest or indeed a typical seminarian. Diocesan priests in Scotland offer a rich variety of characters, talent and interests.

A suitable candidate should be single with average, or above average intelligence. He should be emotionally stable and capable of relating well to men and women. He should be in good health and be sincerely interested in serving as an ordained minister. Anyone attracted to becoming a priest should be interested in working with people and in serving God.

Clearly as a prospective minister in the Roman Catholic Church a suitable candidate should have a desire to serve the Church. He also needs to have a working grasp of things Catholic and be ready to embrace the vision of the Church as outlined by the Second Vatican Council and subsequent official Church documents. A suitable candidate should be generous in spirit and ready to take on the challenge involved in the seminary formation programme and in following Jesus Christ in his Church – signs of his willingness to set aside his own preferences or ambitions in order to serve in whatever circumstances or tasks are asked of him.

What does a priest do?

The particular ministry that a priest might get involved in depends on several factors. Firstly the needs of the Church, especially the needs of the diocese in which he serves, the ordained minister has after all placed his life at the service of the Church under the authority of the diocesan bishop, but a priest’s own interests and talents are also important. Besides serving in a parish community, he may be asked to put his talents at the service of young people, in an educational role, in supporting people discerning their vocations in life, or in roles supporting people in particular circumstances – such as the disabled, the elderly, the sick – or in spiritual direction. A diocesan priest spends much of his time celebrating the sacraments; Baptism, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Marriage and Anointing. He will often be involved in helping individuals, couples or families to prepare for special sacramental moments.  He will be involved in visiting the sick, visiting the homes of people in his parish and working with various groups and organisations. His involvement with the people of the parish may lead him in any of a number of directions attending to the needs of young and old. He may find himself ministering in the local school or university. He will spend time with those caught up in the sadness of death or the joy of new birth. The priest working in a parish strives to be available to the community whenever he is needed. He will be involved in offering counsel and comfort. He is also a spiritual leader in the community. Along with his parishioners, he addresses issues that touch all members of the community, particularly those who are abandoned and forgotten. On a daily basis, some of his time has to be set aside for prayer, especially the Liturgy of the Hours.

Most priests working in parishes are responsible for all ministry provided by the parish. He is also responsible – and accountable – for the administration and general organisation of the parish. Having said all this a priest is also charged with care of self. He must find time to relax, to look after himself and to recharge his batteries.

Why become a diocesan priest?

Everyone looks for meaning and fulfilment in life. As Catholics we look to our faith in God and the person of Jesus to provide us with that meaning and fulfilment. It is in the service of God that ultimately we find our calling as Christians. Discovering our place in God’s plan allows us to discover what form that service might take; single, married, religious or as an ordained priest. As a result, and after serious reflection, prayer and study, some men feel that they are called to ordained service as a priest.


What is a Diocesan Priest?

A priest who is committed to working within a particular geographical area, for example Galloway, under the direction of the Diocesan Bishop is a Diocesan priest. Most often diocesan priests will work in a parish and live close by its church. In many dioceses, particularly in rural areas, the priest may have responsibility for more than one parish and, while living in one of them, he may have to travel to several other churches or Mass stations.

In addition to serving the needs of people in the context of the parish, diocesan priests will often find themselves caring for people in hospitals, prisons, schools, or other settings.

How old should applicants be?

This varies from diocese to diocese. Church law lays down that a man should be at least 24 or 25 before he is ordained as a priest. Since seminary courses normally last 6 or 7 years, applicants should have completed, or be about to complete secondary school – about 18 years old at the very least.  In fact, many dioceses encourage applicants of that age to continue into higher education or work before entering the seminary, to gain some experience of life beyond school, to develop skills or talents which might enhance their future service of the Church or simply to ensure a more mature and stable understanding and grasp of what priestly life might mean for them. Applicants are often considered even into their forties, and some dioceses will consider, depending on circumstances, candidates in their fifties or even in their sixties.

What academic background do I require?

The application process does not focus on the applicant’s academic background alone but instead it takes an overview of the applicant’s abilities and skills in many different areas. Having said that, as a minister of the Gospel priests have to deliver homilies which necessitate an ability to study and prepare well. Also, the seminary process itself will involve perhaps as many as seven years of formation including academic study. It would therefore be foolish to suggest that an applicant’s academic background is unimportant. Applicants leaving school should aim to present university standard qualifications, but older applicants or applicants with other skills may be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

What should I do now?

Having considered the way forward you should contact your Diocesan Vocations Director. A list of directors is available here. Chatting your feelings through will help you to clarify whether you feel called to priesthood. Your diocesan vocations director may also be able to offer some accompaniment and direction that may help to structure your discernment. Also look out for the various events that are scheduled from time to time by Priests for Scotland. For example, if you feel ready, you may wish to take part in our annual enquirers’ retreat, which takes place around “Good Shepherd Sunday” in April or early May. This is a no commitment time out to explore the call to ordained service. Other events will be advertised on this website from time to time so don’t forget to check back!  You might consider “liking” us on Facebook or following us on Twitter (see right for the link).

What should I do now?

In short: ask someone (especially a local priest) about priesthood or get in touch with the Vocations Director in your local diocese. He will help you work out whether or not you might have a vocation to be a priest, and, in time, suggest that you take part in the Process for Application for Seminary in Scotland (PASS). This Process is a four-month long programme of weekends and discernment which is mandatory for those seeking to enter seminary for a Scottish diocese. During the period you will be offered regular meetings with a Spiritual Director, with your Diocesan Director of Priestly Vocations and attend a number of retreat weekends run by the Diocesan Vocations Directors from around the country. This gives you the opportunity to meet and chat to priests who will be happy to share their experience of serving as ordained ministers in Scotland. At the same time you will be invited to submit your application for seminary. Numbers vary, but on average there can be from as few as six to as many as twelve men involved in this process. For more information see The Process for Seminary Application. Running the process of discernment and application to seminary together can be very helpful since often applicants grow in confidence as they hear from representatives of the Church that God may be calling them applicant to priesthood.

If you are accepted as a candidate for seminary you will be invited to take part in our Propaedeutic Period (or “Initial Seminary Formation” course). This is a six month course that takes place in the Royal Scots College in Salamanca, Spain, from January to June each year. It aims to prepare participants for seminary with some foundational courses that should help the candidate to settle into the seminary programme more easily, some exploration of the spiritual life and reflection on one’s own personal vocational journey.

What can you tell me about seminary?

Why not check out the seminary for yourself at Most priests have good memories of their seminary days. Although the course can at times be demanding most students would say that they enjoy getting to grips with the various philosophical and theological courses. Most students enjoy the camaraderie of their fellow students and they find that the six or seven years that they may spend at seminary pass very quickly. While the Scots College Rome is our national seminary we do have seminarians at other seminaries both in Rome and elsewhere. In addition, why not look at the Royal Scots College in Salamanca, where we run our Propaedeutic or “Initial Seminary Formation” course each year