Exploring Priesthood in the Diocese of Derry

Signs You Might be Ready to Discern

If you have ever thought about being a priest, and have experienced some or all of these signs, you may have what it takes for a vocation in the priesthood.

  • God has placed in your heart a desire to be a priest.
  • You have a deep love for Christ and His Church.
  • Other people have mentioned you would be a good priest.
  • You desire to live a life of virtue and prayer.
  • You want to help others grow closer to Christ.

Discernment Steps

  1. Take your time – There is no rush in finding your vocation. It is best to be patient and allow yourself to enter into a deeper relationship with the Lord.


  1. Pray. Pope Francis stated that “Discernment is always done in the presence of the Lord, looking at the signs, listening to the things that happen…” You must take time in the presence of the Lord to listen. Take time each day in prayer (preferably before the Blessed Sacrament), entering into silence with the Lord and His Word, allowing Him to guide the conversation.  If you find yourself talking too much, just be still and listen.


  1. Frequent the Sacraments. Be sure to attend Mass on a regular basis, daily if possible. Frequent the Sacrament of Reconciliation at least once a month.


  1. Seek Spiritual Direction with a priest whom you look up to and trust. Meet with him every few weeks to discuss how your prayer is going and what you think the Lord is whispering to your heart.


  1. Read about the priesthood. It is a great way to hear the Lord’s call, as it will open your eyes to the nature of a priestly vocation. Take a few moments each day to devote to good spiritual reading.


  1. Get Involved with your parish. Some great ways to get involved include volunteering as a lector or Eucharistic Minister; or catechesis programmes to help share and pass on the faith to others; helping with parish visitation and outreaches in the local community.  All of these will help paint a picture of parish ministry.


  1. Contact Your Local Vocation Director – The first contact should be your parish priest, as each priest is responsible for vocations within his parish. Tell him of your desire to become a priest and the previous steps you have been taking. After doing that, he will point you to the Vocations Director. If, however, you do not feel comfortable speaking with your parish priest, you can contact the Vocations Office directly at 07973421352.

Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina is a centuries old tradition within the Church where we open ourselves to God’s Word and allow Him to speak to our hearts.  As in any relationship, our prayer life must include both speaking and listening.  Here is a quick guide that can help you listen to God’s Word as you discern. (adapted from The Better Part by John Bartunek).


Take time out of each day to spend with the Lord, preferably before the Blessed Sacrament. Enter into the quiet with the Lord, acknowledging that He is present and He made the appointment to meet with you.  He has something to say to you!


Read through the Scripture passage slowly.(Start with one of the Gospels-the Gospel of the day perhaps) If nothing strikes you or stands out to you. Wait a minute and read it again slowly.  Allow yourself to enter the scene. Find what strikes you and consider why, what does that mean? What does it have to do with my vocation?


From those questions, begin to have a conversation with the Lord.  Ask Him to guide your thoughts and respond to what He is saying to you. Your response will usually be praise (for the good things He blesses you with), contrition (for the wrong you have done), thanksgiving (for your gifts and talents), adoration (reaffirming your willingness to follow him).


As things naturally quiet down, make a commitment to the Lord based on the conversation.  Thank the Lord for your time in prayer and close with a concluding prayer such as the Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, and Glory Be.

If during your time in prayer you become distracted, start at step 1 – Concentrate.  If nothing strikes you during the reading, do not worry; take your time and slowly move through the Scriptures.  This is not a time for reading as much of the Bible as you can but allowing the Lord to speak to your heart.  Through this relationship, and the guidance of a Spiritual Director, you will come to know His will in your life.

How to Become a Priest

The process of preparation for priesthood is usually called formation because it involves more than academic study and professional education. It includes the development of the whole person. Priestly formation takes place primarily in a seminary with some parish and other pastoral assignments. The period for preparation can take between four to seven years depending on previous education and experience.

A seminary is the place where men discerning their vocation undertake discernment and formation. Once a man enters the seminary, the decision to be a priest is by no means final. The discernment process continues as he begins preparation for the priesthood, especially in the first few years. Entering the seminary is the optimum environment for a man to grow deeper in his spirituality and earnestly ask God, ‘Is this really what you are calling me to be?’

Life in Seminary

Given that priests are called to be “set apart” for ministry, the Church has long seen the value in having her future priests literally set apart for much of their formation, offering some space from the all-pervasive voices of conventional culture. The seminary is thus intended to be a “seed-bed” within which priestly vocations can develop and be nourished, and in which future priests can grow in holiness and virtue.


Throughout the time of preparation for the priesthood it is the responsibility of the formation team and of the student himself to be constantly reviewing his progress in the four critical areas of formation. In this way decisions are made, periodically, which lead either towards ordination or to the recognition of a different vocation. A decision to leave the seminary is never a failure or a waste. Part of the purpose of formation is to provide a process through which a person is enabled to discern God’s will for his life. Even if a person chooses or is asked to leave seminary the experience gained during formation will help him to develop gifts for his future life and enable him to make a positive contribution both to the Church and to wider society, in whatever path he later follows.

How long do you have to study?

The normal course of preparation for the priesthood is six or seven years.  Many of those who opt to become priests these days already have some third-level qualification.  This is normally taken into account and may reduce the time of preparation by as much as two years. This time is usually broken down into two or three years of philosophy (often as part of a B.A. degree), and four years of theology.  It is 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.

How do I become a priest for the Diocese of Derry

Application Process:

The Process for Application to Seminary in based round a series of ‘Come and See’ weekend and scheduled meetings that begin the journey for applicants who wish to enter into priestly formation for priesthood in the diocese. On the ‘Come and See’ weekends, the emphasis of which throughout is prayer and discernment as the applicant is invited to consider the Lord’s call to service in his Church.  Normally, these will have been preceded by meetings with the Diocesan Vocations Director, who will assist an aspiring applicant in discerning whether or not the time is right to make a formal application and so begin the process. The weekends are also about meeting like-minded individuals who are also thinking about a possible vocation to priesthood and are considering entering seminary. Thus, an important part of the weekends is the time spent socialising with fellow applicants. There are discussion points, guided reflection offered by various serving priests, time for personal prayer and opportunities to meet on a one-to-one basis with Vocations Director and others.

Who else is involved?

Along with your Diocesan Vocations Director you will normally be assigned a Spiritual Director or Mentor. Both the Vocations Director and Mentor have a very specific role within the application process. The Diocesan Vocations Director should be your first contact regarding guiding you through the application process. The Vocations Director will be available to help you through the various stages, including the application form, the various elements of paperwork that need to be gathered and the requirements which need to be met. Your Vocations Mentor has a different responsibility since the core of your discussion with your Mentor is your relationship with God and discerning your calling. Matters shared with your Mentor remain within that forum and the Mentor has no other formal involvement within the application process.

The Process is, therefore, centred on the individual applicant but must also be mindful of the Church’s need to discern an authentic calling to the ministerial priesthood. In other words, it is not only the applicant who is discerning whether or not he has a call to be a priest: The Church also has to assist in validating whether a vocation to the priesthood is authentic, properly motivated and freely chosen, and whether the individual has the potential to be able to serve the wider Church community as a priest.

So, if I think I might be called to be a priest, when do I start?

The whole process, from discernment to entry into seminary runs over two years; the formal application process itself, with the associated Vocations weekend and ‘Come and See’ encounters, runs from September to June. Its purpose is to assist prospective candidates in discerning their future and to prepare them, after suitable assessment, for entry into the seminary process.  Anyone thinking about applying should do so some time before the summer, to allow time for those early discussions to take place, and for the Diocesan Vocations Director to be able to advise on the best way forward, including entering the application process.

How does the application process begin?

Only after a sufficient amount of time has passed, allowing for a discerner to have journeyed with the Director of Vocations and Vocations Mentor, and after careful consideration of a discerner’s motives, will he be advised whether or not to apply for studying for the Diocese of Derry.  The application process is a journey of reflection and exploration. Therefore, must be done with sufficient time allowed for prayer and reflection.

Prior to interview with the Bishop and the selection panel you will be asked to complete the various stages involved in the application process. Initially you will be advised to make a formal application through completing and submitting the diocesan application form. This will include four written references, a medical report and your agreement to undergo a psychological assessment.  Once these steps have been completed you will then be invited to meet with the bishop and the interview panel.  Based on the outcome of the formal discernment process you will be advised of the panel’s decision.  Every part of the process serves to advise and assist the Bishop, who is the one with the final decision.

The support from the diocese naturally continues regardless of the outcome of the application process. If the decision has been taken to defer your application, then the Vocation Director discusses concerns and assesses the feedback from the selection process that has led to that decision. Together you will then be able to agree the next steps in your discernment. If you have been accepted for seminary the Vocations Director remains your first point of contact and – together with the Seminary Rector and other seminary staff – will help you prepare for seminary.

On successfully completing the Application Process applicants will be sent to the Royal Scots College in Salamanca, Spain, to begin their seminary formation with a “propaedeutic”, or “Initial Seminary Formation” course which runs from January to June each year. Thereafter, the Bishop will decide where the training should take place.

Seminary formation

Discernment does not end as you walk through the seminary doors, of course. One of the reasons why the training is anywhere from six to eight years in duration is to allow your own personal prayer and reflection to continue.  A decision either to continue in seminary or to leave should be made as the fruit of your own mature discernment.

What is Propaedeutic Formation?

Propaideúo is a Greek word, meaning ‘to teach beforehand. ‘”The principal objective consists in laying the foundations of the spiritual life and for facilitating a greater self-awareness through personal growth.” The Propaedeutic stage prepares each individual candidate for the journey ahead. It gives them time and space to develop a grounded spiritual life and helps them to prepare for the prolonged study that the formation journey demands.

The Propaedeutic stage is the indispensable period of intellectual, spiritual, human and pastoral formation of candidates for the priesthood. These are vital areas of growth in developing the skills necessary to enable seminarians to look towards the next stage of formation with greater personal self-awareness and honesty. It gives the student an opportunity to explore the faith, so that when they move on to the next seminary phase, where the academic element is substantial, this challenge will seem less daunting as they will have constructed more solid foundations.

Propaedeutic Course

A propaedeutic course is intended to provide candidates for the Priesthood with aspects of spiritual and human formation for priesthood. It is intended to help them explore their faith, deepen their relationship with Christ and reflect on what a vocation to be a priest means for them, so that they can be all the better prepared to enter into the academic and formational programme provided by the major seminary.

As a programme of formation, what is offered aims to provide as broadly-based and comprehensive a catechetical curriculum as possible, looking at the major aspects of any Christian formation

  • Knowledge of the Faith,
  • Formation in prayer,
  • Preparation for and reflection on sacramental life
  • Formation in moral life
  • Formation for community living
  • Preparation for mission, keeping in mind the Church’s project of a New Evangelization

Diocesan priesthood, which is the ultimate goal of formation, is characterised above all by a life of service to the Christian community and is rooted in a spirituality of service. Candidates should have certain qualities: right intention, a sufficient degree of human maturity, a sufficiently broad knowledge of the doctrine of the faith, some introduction into the methods of prayer, and behaviour in conformity with Christian tradition.” Spiritual formation also requires an authentic and balanced human formation: “It is important that the priest should mould his personality in such a way that it becomes a bridge and not an obstacle for others in their meeting with Jesus Christ.” In this regard, seminarians who are engaged in this initial stage of formation will be encouraged to:

  • take responsibility for aspects of the shared life of the community;
  • participate fully in the community’s life, spiritually, liturgically, socially;
  • generously place his talents and experience at the service of others;
  • conscientiously follow the Rule of Life laid out by College staff on behalf of the Bishops;
  • humbly and prudently reflect on his experiences, his relationshipsand his vocational sense as the period unfolds, so as to share a self-evaluation of his progress.

Holy Hour for Vocations (USCCB)

The following Holy Hour is a model and is based on the ritual book Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside of Mass.

Opening Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, (cf. Pastores Dabo Vobis, 1)
you promised always to give your Church shepherds.
In faith, we know your promise cannot fail.
Trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the Church,
we pray you raise up sacred ministers from your holy people,
that the sacrifice in which you give your body and blood
may be daily renewed in the world until we come to that kingdom
where you live with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

hear the prayers of your people (cf. Roman Missal, Mass for Priestly Vocations)
gathered here before you.
By this sacrament of love
bring to maturity
the seeds you have sown
in the field of your Church;
may many of your people choose to serve you
by devoting themselves to the service of their brothers and sisters.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

After a period of silent prayer, the Liturgy of the Word begins.