One of my favourite psalms is Ps 148. In it we read “ I praise you for the wonder of my being”.
In introducing you to this year’s ‘Good Shepherd Seminarians’ I can honestly tell you that the good Lord has created three great men who are so different. Read their stories and see. However, I want to tell you another thing. Their different personalities does not stop them from being totally committed to a common life in the seminary. Our first year, along with Damien from Brentwood Diocese and Mark from East Anglia Diocese, have given the seminary so much both individually and also as a group. Let’s pray that their testimonies will produce new Seminarians for the years to come.
-Canon Stuart Wilson.
The whole story started nearly 40 years ago. I grew up in a Catholic family and went to a Catholic school. I remember attending the youth group at my school and enjoying very much helping poor children in Lima. I was told by a priest that I would be a good priest. I was amazed and thought that God wouldn't call a guy like me. After a couple years of vocational discernment, I decided to enter the seminary. Five years later I decided to leave and that was a very difficult time in my life. I was hurt and thought that I had failed in my vocation. God in his mercy put people around me who were like my angels. Several priests helped me out when I was broken and lost.
Later on, I started teaching and thought perhaps that is what life was all about. I eventually left my country to do postgraduate studies and become a consultant in education in America. I truly thought that life was good; I had money, I travelled extensively; however, in the back of my mind there was a strange feeling of ‘Hmmm, there must be something else, but what is it?’
After a few years I decided to move to London and perhaps start again. I was teaching in a state school and once again life seemed good, but not fulfilling. I wasn't quite sure what I was missing. I met a Carmelite priest nearly three years ago and that changed my life forever. Once visiting him in Aylesford Priory I had a religious experience. I felt that God was calling me once again. I was truly frightened, but I decided this time I am going to do something about it.
I started vocational discernment and here I am now in seminary. I am grateful every day for the chance to resume my vocational path that started nearly 25 years ago. Perhaps I will never fully understand why God is calling me although I will do my very best to give my all for his Kingdom and the people of God.
I grew up in Willesden Green and went to the London Oratory School, followed by a theology and religious studies degree at the University of Leeds. Then I ended up at Westminster Cathedral, living and working as the intern for two years. Living with priests and seeing their ministry cemented my vocational journey, which started aged 16.
As part of the Post Confirmation Youth Group in our parish we would visit sick and housebound parishioners. One week I was asked: ‘What do you want to be when you’re older?’ With no answer, I was told: ‘Go on, become a priest!’ The thought stuck and grew from then on, with both intellectual questions to answer and a personal relationship with Christ to grow through Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Confession and going to Mass regularly.
I applied to the diocese to study for the priesthood in my second year at the Cathedral and was accepted just over a year ago. I was very apprehensive before starting seminary, rather unwilling to return to academic studies so soon, and not sure how I would cope with such a structured and community-based life. I have however, thoroughly enjoyed my time so far.
We are very blessed and privileged to be given the time and space to study the word of God, the philosophical grounding of our reasonable faith, the Church history that has brought us to today and the theology that will inform, God-willing, our teaching and preaching. All of this alongside times of prayer, Mass, spiritual guidance, human formation and community, living as brothers with a common purpose.
All of these have been opportunities to ultimately grow in being a more well-rounded person, who is closer to Christ, better informed and hopefully living the virtues and Christian life more fully and authentically.
Bl John Henry Newman reminds us that everyone has a unique vocation. All of us also have a unique journey which has brought us to this point in time. For 23 years I served as an Anglican priest in a variety of inner-city and post-industrial parishes.
When I was received into the Catholic Church I didn’t convert as I was already a Christian. I simply took the important step to return to the Mother Church. It was like moving from the entrance hall into the audience chamber. The house was the same, for there can only ever be one Church. I didn’t need to be re-baptised; I just needed to be received into Full Communion.
Looking back I can see many sign-posts on the way (the Oxford chaplaincy, community life in Venice, Gregorian chant, Catholic renewal and social action, the witness of the saints, to name a few). In a sense surrendering all wasn’t difficult for decreasing is God’s opportunity. Seminary is also about that, creating space where God recreates. It’s a bit like the potter’s house where our sense of vocation is given form. Out of the Spirit’s re-moulding and cleansing something beautiful is being fashioned.
In community and silence, through listening and engagement, through study and reflection, and above all in worship and adoration we discern God’s voice. I am excited by the transformation I see taking place, and I know that at the end I will be better equipped for future service and my vocation more finely tuned.