FAQ - Applying

How long do you have to study?
The formation system is undergoing some change at present and there will be variations in the exact schedule but in most cases the normal course of preparation for priesthood is six or seven years. It seems a long time, but the years pass so quickly. This time is usually broken down into two or three years of philosophy (sometimes as part of a degree), and four years of theology.

It’s not all academic study. Men preparing for priesthood are also given practical pastoral training, and helped to deepen their relationship with God. They are also helped to come to a better understanding of themselves, to value their gifts, and to accept their limitations. Many of those who opt to become priests these days already have some relevant third-level qualification. This is normally taken into account, and may slightly reduce the time of preparation.
How many points do you need to get into seminary?
The points system doesn’t apply to seminary entrance. In order to be accepted into seminary formation, an applicant is usually expected to have successfully completed the Leaving Cert/A Levels or Second Level Programme.  Previous exam results are a useful indicator of a persons academic ability, but the primary consideration is that the applicant would be able to follow the course of studies without undue difficulty. The ministry of a priest has a lot to do with communication, so a student for the priesthood would need to have a good standard of English. An interest in reading is a big help. If you have the necessary points for university entrance, you may be asked to do a degree as part of your formation programme. In that case, an application needs to be made to the CAO in the usual way. Applicants who have been some years out of secondary school should check to see if they can matriculate on grounds of mature age.
Northern Ireland
While the educational system in Northern Ireland is somewhat different to the Republic, the same general principles apply. Applicants should have a good basic education. Normally a pass in five GCSEs is the minimum requirement. Should he qualify for admission to a university , he will be able to study for a degree during his course of study.
Suitable candidates who have not attained the minimum requirements can be helped to reach them by special courses, and there are also colleges for mature men who lack formal education to bring them up to the required standard.
Every applicant will have specific needs and therefore it is best to discuss your educational requirements with the vocations director as soon as possible so that the appropriate arrangements can be put in place.
It is important that the level of education of priests should be on a par with that of other educated people in the parish in so far as this is possible. Candidates for the priesthood therefore, will be encouraged to acquire any further qualifications of which they are capable and which are considered necessary.
How do you apply to become a priest?
One possibility is by having a word with a priest in your own parish. Alternatively, you can contact the diocesan vocations director. Every diocese in Ireland has a director of vocations. The Vocations Director for this diocese is Fr Peter McAnenly who is the Administrator of the Cathedral Parish, Armagh.
What happens when you apply to be a priest?
Applications generally begin as enquiries. People want information, and they want to know how to go about making the right decision. Applicants who wish to pursue their enquiry in a spirit of prayerfulness and openness to the plan of God, will be invited to take part in a discernment process , which will involve regular individual meetings with the director of vocations, usually over a period of six months or more. During this period, the director of vocations will help each candidate to arrive at a mature discernment of vocation, taking account of his personal faith journey, and his human experience.
Other possibilities offered by some dioceses include retreats, discernment groups, the opportunity to spend a few days in Maynooth or the opportunity to spend a full day with a priest as he goes about his ministry.

Once a formal application has been received, relevant documentation will be gathered, including:
 - Baptism and Confirmation Certificates
 - Certification of State examination results
 - Transcripts of third level courses taken, and the relevant degrees or diplomas awarded.
 - References will also be sought from previous employers, and from at least two other        
   independent referees.

A psychological assessment may be used as an element of the admissions process. The assessment would have the purpose of helping to identify the human gifts and limitations which an applicant may have. If he is accepted into the formation programme, he will be helped to develop these gifts and to work around these limitations. Like every aspect of the admissions process, the report of any assessment is always treated as confidential, and would only be seen by those who are directly responsible for dealing with the application.
Arrangements will be made for the psychological assessment to be carried out by an experienced registered clinical psychologist, who has an appreciation of the church’s understanding of vocation and priesthood. The results of an assessment are discussed openly but sensitively with the applicant  prior to the final interview stage of the process.
Unless the outcome of the assessment clearly excludes the applicant, the director of vocations will arrange for him to be interviewed by the bishop of the diocese or by the assessment panel, appointed by the bishop to assist him. In the final analysis, it is the bishop of the diocese who accepts a candidate into formation for the priesthood, and nominates him to the seminary. The final decision about the application rests with him.
Before the candidate is nominated to the seminary he would normally be asked to undergo a medical examination, the full results of which would be made available to him, and a synopsis of which would be sent to the director of vocations or the bishop.
What are the criteria by which an application will be evaluated?
A candidate for the priesthood needs to be a person of mature (or maturing) faith, who is motivated to serve people. He needs to be a self starter, but also capable of working as part of a team. He will be reasonably intelligent and will show some signs of creative vision. Compassion and warmth will be found alongside a commitment to truth, as essential elements of his character.

He has six or seven years to prepare, so readiness to learn is more important than having all the answers to life’s problems.

As basic conditions for acceptance into formation, an applicant should:
 - Have been  a regularly practising Catholic
 - Have maintained or re-established for some significant time the capacity to live the virtue of chastity (ie, to live his sexuality appropriately)
 - Have maintained or re-established for some significant time the capacity to live without dependence on alcohol or on the use of drugs
 - Have a track record of working/living constructively with others
 - Have no record of ever having placed vulnerable people (especially children) at risk
 - Be emotionally stable, and free from any major psychiatric illness
 - Be in good general health
Do you have to be very holy to be a priest?
Technically, the word holy means set-apart, in the sense of being single minded in our relationship with God. In practice that means that we nourish our relationship with God through prayer and that we allow that relationship to influence the decisions we make. In that sense, everyone is called to be holy.

A priest is not necessarily holier than other people. On the other hand, we are supposed to serve people by helping them in their relationship with God. We cant expect to be much good at that if we don’t look after our own spiritual life. Relationships are not static, they either grow deeper and stronger or fade away. A person thinking about priesthood would need to have at least the beginnings of a mature relationship with God.

Every relationship needs to be nourished by spending time together. In just the same way, time spent in prayer is an essential part of nourishing our relationship with God. Prayer is not always easy; it sometimes involves a struggle. Perhaps the most difficult part of it is actually setting aside time for it, in our busy world. But it is worthwhile.

Like all good conversations, prayer is about listening as well as talking. God has lots of things to say to us. He speaks to us especially through the Scriptures, which are His Word. It is important that we try to hear his word as something which is spoken to us, in the particular circumstances of our own lives, and not just as something that Jesus said or did two thousand years ago.

Praying is not just something we do with our heads (to understand), but also with our hearts (to be motivated and drawn, to love and to make commitments). One way of praying which helps to bring the Gospel to bear on our daily experiences is Lectio Divina. This is a very ancient approach to prayer which has rediscovered its popularity in recent times.

What promises do diocesan priests have to make?
Most of the promises priests make are actually made when they are ordained as deacons. This usually happens about a year before ordination to priesthood.

Diocesan priests promise to live as celibates for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. In other words, they make a commitment not to marry, for the sake of their ministry, and as a sign that our ultimate fulfilment as human beings is not to be found even in the best of what this world has to offer.

Diocesan priests also promise obedience to their bishop and to his successors. In practice, this promise is not about obeying orders. The bishop is in charge, but there are very few occasions when the bishop actually tells a priest what to do. Obedience is really an attitude of generous service, and a willingness to let go of one’s own agenda.
Obedience is probably experienced at its most difficult when the time comes to move from one appointment to another., for the good of the people and of the diocese.
Diocesan priests also promise to celebrate the liturgy of the hours (also known as the breviary, or the divine office) for the Church and for the world. It is part of the priest’s responsibility to pray for the people he serves.

What age do you have to be to become a priest?
The minimum age for ordination is 25 (although a bishop can give a dispensation to allow for ordination at 24, if he judges that to be appropriate). The majority of applications come from men between the ages of 18 and 40. People over 40 are not excluded off course, but we do need to establish that they continue to have flexibility and the energy that are necessary to begin what is not just a new career, but a whole new way of life.

Are applications from overseas accepted?
It is easy to see why someone who was born in Ireland but now lives abroad, might wish to apply to an Irish Diocese. It is not always quite as easy to see why someone who has little or no connection with Ireland would wish to do so.

Before accepting into formation for the priesthood, a man who is resident outside of Ireland, a bishop or his vocations director needs to explore the applicants motivation for applying to an Irish diocese. In the normal course of events, men who apply to enter into a formation process take part in a fairly demanding process of discernment and evaluation, before they are accepted into formation. This can be difficult to arrange if the candidate is resident overseas. For all of these reasons, many bishops would prefer not to accept applications from overseas, but would suggest that a man who seriously wishes to be considered should come to live and work in Ireland for a year or two, while engaging in the discernment and admissions process.

We are off course, obliged to follow the procedures which currently apply in civil law with respect to immigration and residence. Irish dioceses don’t actively seek applications from outside Ireland, because we don’t want to create the impression or the expectation that the future needs of the Church can be catered for without any commitment on the part of Irish Catholics themselves.