Steps to the Priesthood

You might be thinking: “I’ve got this niggling feeling that Our Lord might be asking me to follow him by thinking of the priesthood. What can I do to find out?”

First Steps:

First of all having the courage and generosity to face up to the question of what God may be calling you to be or do with your life, by sharing it in serious conversation and quiet reflection with Jesus over a period of time (Honestly pray to God with an open heart, and do not just think about it on your own.)

Then talk about it to family/friends/school chaplain or other trusted adult Christians and see whether or not they think you are the sort of person who could be a good priest.

At some stage share your thoughts and feelings with a priest who knows you (usually one who serves your parish community). The priest can then refer you to (or if you wish you can directly contact by letter/phone/email) the Diocesan Director of Vocations (See contact for information).

The process may seem long and daunting but it needs to be serious and thorough in order to be a really helpful service to you and to us.

The church in our Diocese will try hard to help you answer Our Lord’s call to “Come, Follow Me” – to wherever that may lead you.

Journey of Discernment

The Director of Vocations will arrange an initial meeting with you, to begin the journey of seeing whether you are truly called to the Priesthood.

Other pastoral/life experience may be suggested as required (e.g. completion of education, further parish involvement, practice of prayer).

Informal Enquiry:

Possible candidates begin a series of discussions in regular meetings with the Director of Vocations over a substantial period of time (6 – 18 months as required) in what we call a “journey of discernment”. This is to enable the enquirer and Vocations Director to discover whether or not there are sufficiently positive signs of a vocation to the priesthood as to warrant the enquirer proceeding to formal application to the Diocese.

In this journey together we look at such areas as family background, education, adolescence, human relationships, work experience, influential/significant people in one’s life, story of thoughts of priesthood. Also important considerations are a person’s understanding of God/Church/Priesthood and motivation/sexuality/marriage/celibacy, and their ideas on community, leadership, service and commitment. Other qualities looked for are a sense of responsibility, maturity, sociability and prayer, and including a sense of humour!

Throughout this period enquirers have the opportunity to meet like-minded individuals from our own and other dioceses in both formal and informally arranged events. ( Weekends/ Retreats/Days of Reflection/Social Evenings)

Enquirers are encouraged to seek the guidance of a Spiritual Director who accompanies them as a friend in their faith and prayer, helping them to be attentive to the voice of God in their life.

In this time the Vocations Director will usually contact the Enquirer’s Parish Priest/Religious Superior for an informal reference.

The process continues with a more Formal Selection Process.

The Selection Process
This is the formal stage of discernment and involves:

An Enquirer enters the formal stage of discernment, called the Selection Process, on completion of the “Application For Priestly Formation” Form. This process will help the diocesan Bishop to make a judgement as to whether an individual may have received a call from God to serve as a priest, and also about the suitability of that individual to begin training for the priesthood.

The application form asks you for some basic information which will inform those involved with the selection process about your personal history, education, employment and membership of the Church. In addition you will be given the opportunity to tell us in an essay something about your life journey to date and also about your sense of vocation and understanding of the priesthood.

At this point, in compliance with legal responsibilities, the Church must make a National Database and Criminal Records Bureau Check, safeguarding the young and vulnerable in its duty of care.

References will be requested from the applicant’s Parish Priest, Employer, Academic and Personal Referees.

Its purpose is to provide an independent assessment of an applicant’s suitability/readiness in (general) principle for seminary formation.

It comprises:

  • A residential weekend (Friday 4.00pm – Sunday lunchtime) meeting the students and Staff, sharing in the life of the seminary community.
  • An introductory meeting with the Conference Organiser
  • Two interviews by a panel of two priests and two lay people.

Their recommendations are then sent to the Bishop and Director of Vocations.

In order to be assured that an applicant enjoys normal good health the Bishop will arrange for the applicant to have a specific medical examination from his GP, whose confidential report will be sent to the Bishop alone.

Church law requires that the Diocesan Bishop must take the psychological health of a candidate into account when he is assessing that candidate’s ability to be able to dedicate himself permanently to the ordained ministry. On his behalf this is undertaken by a chartered clinical or counselling psychologist who is familiar with the demands of priestly life and formation.

The assessment usually consists of a one-day appointment which includes two interviews, a brief general intelligence assessment, and a psychometric test of personality and clinical characteristics. The psychologist sends his report to the candidate and the Director of Vocations for the Bishop. This report is confidential to them, and no one else can see it without the written consent of the candidate. The candidate then has the opportunity to discuss the report with the psychologist, Bishop, and Vocation’s Director in a further debriefing meeting.

The purpose of this conference is to enable a panel of priests and lay people, – who are given a copy of the candidate’s application form, essay, references (excluding Medical and Psychological Reports), and the reflection of the Vocation’s Director on the journey of enquiry – to give their final recommendations to the Bishop as to whether or not the applicant should be accepted for seminary training and formation.

This is usually held at St Mary’s Cathedral, Newcastle, in April / May.

Candidates are asked to arrive at the Cathedral for 12.30pm.

The Conference follows the following format:

12.30pm. Candidates and Panel Members meet informally.

1.00pm. All enjoy an excellent lunch together.

2.00pm. Interviews begin:

  • usually conducted in alphabetical order.
  • of 30 – 45 minutes duration.
  • applicants are invited to respond to questions from each of the panellists.
  • applicants invited to add any further information or ask any questions they wish to do so.
  • applicants are informed that they will be contacted by the Bishop to meet him privately and receive his decision on their application.

The Panel then deliberate on their recommendations, which are then sent to the Bishop, who will make his final decision.

This will be arranged by the Bishop directly or via the Director of Vocations.

Bishop informs applicant of his decision.

Bishop makes arrangements for further interim preparation for suitable candidates whose acceptance is deferred.

Bishop initiates arrangements for appropriate (pre) seminary formation.

In our diocese accepted applicants would normally be requested to do a pre-seminary year abroad in Spain at Valladolid. To understand why, and what the year offers see

Sometimes promising applicants are deferred for a time to equip them with opportunities/experience/skills/in service training, which is meant to enable them to enter seminary training in a confident, capable way without which they might feel disadvantaged or unprepared. Every encouragement and help will be given and recommended to such a person so that they may follow their vocation.

In our Diocese accepted applicants would normally be requested to do a pre-seminary year abroad in Spain at Valladolid. To understand why, and what the year offers see

When a person is accepted by the Bishop for seminary formation and training it is really the beginning of the journey, whereby an applicant and the Church together, begin to discover in practise whether or not that person could/should be a priest.

Normally, that journey will take six years of formation and training in seminary.



National Office for Vocation links

UK Vocation

Find out more about the vocation of the Priesthood. Maintained by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales

UK Priest

Find out more about what it is like to live the life of a priest.

Created by the National Office of Vocations

God Calls Vocations App

Use this app and help God lead you on a journey of discovery.

Contact us

Diocesan Director of Priestly Vocations:

Fr John Bagnall is Director of Priestly Vocations for the Diocese. His work involves promoting priestly vocations working together with individuals who have declared an interest to train as a priest, helping and supporting them through the process of application and interviews. He will continue to support the candidate through seminary and to the point of Ordination.

Let's talk

Fr John Bagnall

St Patrick’s Presbytery, Victoria Road, Consett, Co. Durham DH8 5AX.

Tel: 01207 502196


Diocesan Promoters of Vocations to the Priesthood:

Fr Shaun is promoter of vocations to the priesthood in the Diocese. Along with Fr John he will liaise with schools, universities, the YMT and parishes in providing opportunities for interested individuals to come together for support, prayer, social interaction, reflection and discernment.

Let's talk

Fr Shaun Purdy

St Joseph, Thorneyhome Terrace, Stanley DH9 0BL

Tel: 01207 299012.