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Qualifications for Becoming a Priest

Does my age make a difference?
Yes, it does. We believe that adult candidates can become some of the best priests and we believe that God can call a person at any age. Many dioceses and religious communities have age limit requirements, however, and not all sponsors will accept candidates who cannot be ordained by age 40, 50 or 55. One must check in each case. In the Diocese of Richmond, we normally do not accept a candidate who is over 45 years old.

Will I be accepted simply because I want to be a priest?
As with any candidate, younger or older, a desire or sense that one is called is only one of many significant factors in accepting a candidate for the seminary. The church has many requirements, e.g. academic ability, physical health, mental and spiritual health, evidence of an ability to live a celibate life, realistic idea of what is required of a parish priest which is often demonstrated by a candidate’s involvement in a parish community. In many cases age becomes an important factor, as noted above. One’s desire for priesthood must be tested, taking into account these other factors as well as submitting to a process of discernment needed both by the individual and the diocese. It is important that we provide the best possible priests to serve the needs of the Church.

What if I have been married?
A previous marriage does not, by itself, make it impossible to consider a call to priesthood. In fact, in many cases, one’s previous marriage can be a significant factor contributing to a grace-filled priestly ministry.

What if I am a widower?
Generally it is advisable to wait one or two years after the death of a spouse before entering the seminary. This provides opportunity for grieving, transition and preparing oneself to enter a new, celibate state of life.

What if I have been divorced?
In itself, a divorce is not an impediment to priesthood. If the former partner is living, an annulment must be granted before admission to the seminary. Some dioceses and religious communities will not accept divorced candidates, but, after careful examination, many others will.

What if I have children?
It is important that children be at least eighteen years of age and financially independent of their father. Some seminarians report that their adult children are some of their strongest supporters in the seminary.

What if I have made mistakes in life?
Priesthood is not just for saints. Actually, the ability to regularly seek forgiveness and guidance from God is an asset in one’s vocational discernment. It is important to fully disclose one’s history in the application process so that those assisting in your discernment can be most helpful. Some actions, however, are impediments to acceptance into a seminary and ordination, for example, voluntary homicide, procuring an effective abortion or positive cooperation in either. The same would be true for one who has been guilty of apostasy, heresy or schism. There are other crimes or activities which will prompt hesitancy on the part of any potential sponsor. In addition, if one has had some other seriously detrimental behavioral pattern, e.g. alcoholism or other drug abuse, or sexual activity, a suitable period of probation must be demonstrated to assure than one can successfully live a sober and celibate life. A spiritual director is often of significant help in discerning one’s readiness for seminary life.

How important is my work background?
Generally, a sponsor will be looking for some stability or progress in one’s work record. Often a person’s past experience can become a strong asset after ordination, e.g. experience in a helping or teaching profession, or financial/administrative experience. On the other hand, if a person has great instability at other jobs, it does not present much promise that one will be able to deal successfully with the challenges of priesthood and parish ministry.

What impact does one’s sexual orientation or lifestyle have on becoming a priest or religious?
Religious orders and dioceses are seeking people who have a strong sense of self as a man or woman and understand one’s own emotional needs. Candidates to religious life or the priesthood should also have the gifts and talents to live celibately. They should understand what are appropriate expressions of love in a celibate context. Living a celibate life requires abstinence from sexual activity.

Dioceses and religious communities, in working with candidates, look for behavioral evidence that celibacy is a possible lifestyle for a person. Above all, the Church reminds us that a priest is someone who is called to love – to love God and his people. Candidates for such a vocation should have an awareness of their own identity as sexual people, and should demonstrate an ability to express their love through a life of care and concern for others.

How old do you have to be before you enter the seminary?
In general, the diocese of Richmond will accept a man for seminary studies once he has completed an undergraduate degree. In some cases, exceptions may be made to this policy. However, careful consideration regarding health, finances, and future years of priestly service must be taken into account prior to the acceptance of an applicant.

What are the qualifications of a Diocesan priest?
A potential candidate is a single Catholic man with a broadening intellect who is emotionally and physically sound. He must have a capacity and a willingness to love and serve Christ’s people as a celibate priest. There has to be an openness to learn and to grow mentally, intellectually and spiritually. He must be blessed with the desire and a willingness to embrace the challenge of the Catholic Church of the twenty-first century with joy, hope and enthusiasm.

Do you have to be a virgin to become a priest?
No. A person’s past life is not the main concern. The question is: Am I willing and able now to live and love as a celibate person in the service of others?

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