It is a great joy to be able to share with you the faces and names of the nine new men who have recently been selected to begin formation for the priesthood here in Westminster diocese. They are (from left to right in the photo): Rajiv Michael, David Knight, Ronald Seery, James Barber, Mauro Iannicelli, Joseph Okoro, Mike Maguire, Mark Dunglinson and David Lucuy Claros.
Look at their photographs and you will see men from different cultures and classes. Just as Jesus called a tax collector, a political activist and fishermen to be the first disciples so now he continues to call men of great diversity – a nurse and a travel agent, a musician and an IT consultant. Amongst the nine are men originally from Bolivia and Bedford, Italy and Ireland, Nigeria and Cumbria. The diversity of the men reflects the diversity of the parish communities which they will be called to serve in our diocese.
You will notice also that these are men of different ages – from their mid-20’s to their early 50’s. 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 the ten men, their acceptance for formation has been the result of a long journey. Mike Maguire, for example, explains: “I first thought about the priesthood over 25 years ago when I was growing up in Tyne and Wear in strong Catholic family. Our local parish priest was such an inspiring figure for me – always there when he was needed, serving his people through thick and thin. His example inspired me to think that God might be calling me to be a priest like him. That seed has been within me all these years during which God has led me to live and work in London, where I am now a Senior Nurse at the A & E department of the Chelsea and Westminster hospital. It was through this work that I became involved several years ago in the annual Westminster pilgrimage to Lourdes, which has been another very inspiring and formative experience in my life. I love my work in nursing but In recent years that 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. I find it hard to put into words my gratitude to God and to all who have encouraged and guided me to this moment in my life.”
As Vocations Director for our diocese, I have had the honour to accompany these men over the last year or so. A man does not select himself for the seminary – he is called by God through the Church. So my initial role is to discern with each man whether this “calling” could indeed be from God. After many individual meetings with these nine men I then brought them together as a group last September for monthly meetings so that they could support and encourage each other. It has been wonderful to watch strong friendships growing between them as they share this courageous path of “putting out into the deep” to learn what God’s will is for their lives.
The last 6 months have been a time of deeper discernment as they entered into the formal application process which involves psychological and medical assessments, the gathering of references and all necessary paperwork – all rooted in prayer and on-going reflection. This process culminates in the Selection Advisory Conference in March at which the candidates are interviewed by a team of priests and lay people. This team makes its recommendations to Archbishop Vincent Nichols who then meets with each candidate individually and makes a final decision.
Joseph Okoro explains, “The meeting with Archbishop Vincent was a very emotional experience for me. Mine has been a long journey and to be welcomed by him with such warmth and to receive his blessing to formally train as a priest for Westminster was just one of the most joyful moments of my life. I thank my family and friends back home in Nigeria where my journey began and I would like to thank my 'new family' which God has given to me since I arrived and made my home in London several years ago. I would particularly like to thank Fr Anthony Psaila and the parishioners of St Erconwald’s in Wembley who have encouraged and supported me so much.”
In September each man will begin his seminary formation. Please keep these nine men and all of those training for the priesthood in your prayers. Please pray that many others will have the courage to answer God’s call and follow in their footsteps. And if you, like Mike and Joseph, have a sense that God may be calling you to the priesthood, I would be delighted to meet up and hear your story so that together we can consider the best way forward.
Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.