16 men have started studying for the Catholic priesthood at the start of the 2011 – 2012 academic year at Allen Hall, the Diocese of Westminster’s seminary in London.
The new intake brings the number of men preparing for the priesthood at Allen Hall to 50, up from 46 in 2010 and the sixth consecutive annual increase.
This number includes men who are preparing to become priests in the Diocese of Westminster, other English and overseas diocese including Lancaster, Nottingham, Johannesburg and Toulon and religious orders including the Salvatorians, Passionists and the Congregation of the Holy Cross.
For the Diocese of Westminster, 32 men are now preparing for the priesthood. 12 men started this September with six studying at Allen Hall, three at the Beda College in Rome and three at the Venerable English College in Rome. A further two men are spending a year ‘discovering priesthood’ at The Royal College of St. Alban, Valladolid, Spain before actually entering seminary.
You can download photos of Allen Hall from the link at the bottom of this page.
Damian Ryan is one of the Diocese of Westminster’s new seminarians. He shares some thoughts as he begins this new chapter in his life.
Can you say a little about your journey so far?
After leaving school at 17, I worked as a salesman, a market research supervisor, a chef, and a swimming and football coach. It was then that I realised that I was ready for further studies so at the tender age of 26 I went to study Psychology and Sports studies at the University of Hertfordshire, with the idea of going into sports coaching. God, however, had other ideas!
Looking back, how has God guided you to the seminary?
I felt restless at university about my chosen career path as a sports coach. At the same time I began to want to go to Mass every day, and to learn more about my faith. It was around this time that many people started asking me if I was thinking about priesthood. I thought it was a conspiracy! After talking with my parish priest and chaplain at the university, Fr Mark Vickers, he encouraged me to ‘come and see’ whether or not God was calling me to the priesthood. He kindly offered me a position as parish assistant at St Peter’s Church, Hatfield, to test this. My spiritual director was also fantastic in guiding me with deep wisdom during this period of discernment. As well as receiving encouragement from parishioners at St Peter’s, this journey towards the priesthood has given me an ever-deeper sense of peace which, to me, has been the biggest sign that this is indeed the right step.
How are you feeling as you begin your seminary journey?
Very excited! When I first made the decision to apply to seminary 18 months ago, I wanted to move in straight away! I had to be patient though as God obviously wanted me to wait, and so since then I have continued working in St. Peter’s Church, visiting the sick and housebound, serving at Mass every day, helping with the Chaplaincy, helping and leading catechesis classes, helping to run a youth group, as well as other general parish duties. During this time I’ve come to know the parishioners there, who have been overwhelmingly kind and encouraging, and so, as D-Day approaches, the sense of excitement is tinged with a sadness that I’ll be leaving such a generous, warm, and kind community. But most deeply, as I begin this journey, God willing, towards the priesthood, I feel as if I finally know who I am and who I was made to be. I feel as if the priesthood will complete me in a way that nothing else will.
What advice would you have for anyone else discerning a possible call to the priesthood?
Do not be afraid! Pray, live the Christian life, and frequent the sacraments. If you are a student, going to Mass sometimes during the week is both doable and very good to do. Praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament has helped me enormously, as well as having a good spiritual director. Getting to know good priests, other good Catholics at events such as the ‘Evangelium’ and ‘Faith’ conferences, where you can meet many others who are discerning a possible call to priesthood as well as learning more about our faith, are very good things to do too. The main thing is to be courageous, relax, and to let Jesus do the work. He knows what he’s doing
The Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster said:
“Over the past year. through initiatives such as a monthly Vocations Mass at Westminster Cathedral and a new Vocations Discernment Group for Young Adults, the Diocese of Westminster has been helping to encourage more men to consider the priesthood as their vocation.”
“The growth in the numbers of men joining Allen Hall seminary is also a tribute to the faith of families and parishes. That’s where vocations are sensed and nurtured or, missed and discouraged. I hope that every parish will take time to ask itself, how can we nurture in future vocations to the priesthood?”
“The life of a priest is one of generous service, willingly given. God willing, Allen Hall’s new seminarians will become future priests here in our diocese and in other dioceses in England and Wales and abroad. Please pray for them everyday.”
Mgr Mark O’Toole, Rector of Allen Hall said:
“I am delighted that there are this number of men preparing for the priesthood at Allen Hall. The 16 new seminarians both religious and diocesan who join us this year come from a wide variety of backgrounds and have shown great generosity in taking this step. Their witness is a sign of God’s faithfulness and I am sure they will be a great encouragement to other men considering a vocation to the priesthood.”
Fr Richard Nesbitt, Vocations Director for the Diocese of Westminster said:
“The 12 men who are preparing for the priesthood for the Diocese of Westminster are men of different ages – from their mid-20s to their late 40s. It is very rare these days for a candidate for the priesthood to enter seminary straight from school or even directly from university. Instead the men answering God’s call will usually have seen and tasted the world, had their successes and failures. And this ‘school of life’ will surely make them more compassionate and understanding priests. “
“For each of our new seminarians, their acceptance for formation has been the result of a long journey. Richard Peel, for example, explains: “I first thought about the priesthood over 25 years ago when I was moved by a homily my parish priest in East Finchley preached about vocations. That seed has been within me all these years when I have travelled and worked in many different places. In recent years this voice calling me to the priesthood has grown stronger and stronger until I knew that I had to test it and see if it is indeed God’s desire for my life.”
“Today, these men are beginning seminary formation - a new stage in their journey which could last for up to seven years. Please keep these 12 men and all of those training for the priesthood in your prayers. And please pray that many others will have the courage to answer God’s call and follow in their footsteps”