It is a great joy to be able to share with you the faces and names of the ten new men who have recently been selected to begin formation for the priesthood here in Westminster diocese.
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 stockbroker and a teacher, a musician and an IT consultant. Among the ten, are men originally from the Philippines and Finchley, Costa Rica and Camden, Nigeria and the USA. The diversity of the men reflects the diversity of the parish communities which they will be called to serve in our diocese.
You will also notice that these 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 the ten men, 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.”
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 ten 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 has been a time of deeper discernment as they entered into the formal application process. This involves psychological and medical assessments, the gathering of references and all necessary paperwork – all rooted in prayer and on-going reflection. The 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. Shaun Richards explains: “Meeting 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 one of the most joyful moments of my life.”
In September each man will begin his seminary formation - a new stage in their journey which could last for up to seven years. Please keep these ten 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.