Diocesan Priests

“Our decision for priesthood, our conviction that the Lord is calling me to serve him and his church forever as a priest, must be clear, enthusiastic, deliberate and free.”
(Cardinal Timothy Dolan)

A Diocesan priest is ordained to be a minister in the Church. He is not a member of a religious order but is ordained to serve in a specific geographical area called a/n (arch)diocese. He takes a vow of celibacy (that is, he is not married) and a vow of obedience to his Bishop and the Bishop’s successor in the (arch)diocese. He will generally minister in a parish.

A Diocesan priest is a man who:

  • is called to be open to God’s love, promises and will for him
  • is prayerful, desiring to love God and God’s people with his whole being
  • serves in the Sacramental ministry in the Church for which he is ordained: presiding at the celebration of Eucharist, administering the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Marriage and the Sacrament of the Sick
  • teaches and preaches the Gospel of Jesus and provides for and supports the spiritual formation of the people through the teachings of the Church
  • is available and involved in the day-to-day lives of the people he is privileged to serve
  • represents the presence of Christ and the Church – ever beside its members through the successes and struggles, joys and sorrows of life
  • provides practical pastoral ministry such as visits to parishioners especially those who are sick or dying, visits schools encouraging teachers and children in their living of the Christian faith
  • provides leadership with others, enhancing the role of the laity to make the parish a welcoming, active, participative, prayerful and inclusive place in which all know themselves to be loved by God and called to fulfill their personal vocations within the Church and beyond
  • is presence of the Church in the wider community
  • administers the parish, including financial oversight and integrity
  • takes responsibility for his personal spiritual development, continuing formation, ongoing education and emotional and physical health in order to fulfill his responsibilities well

(Click “Clouds of Witnesses” – Men of God)


First, a man who feels called to the vocation of a diocesan priest must be accepted by the Bishop of a particular (arch)diocese. He will have to make a formal application, meet with the bishop and participate in a vocational assessment process as directed by the (arch)diocese.

Formation for Priesthood:

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. There are four main elements in the process of formation, the academic, spiritual, pastoral and the personal.

Academic Formation:

Men preparing for priesthood generally study for six or seven years at tertiary level. The structure of the studies may vary from one seminary to another. Study usually involves two or three years of humanities with philosophy forming a key component. Philosophy is considered important both because it sharpens the mind, and because the language and concepts of philosophy form a good starting point for the study of theology. Students who have previously qualified in the areas of the arts, sciences or philosophy may not be required to complete the full programme in these areas. Four years of theology are required for the preparation of priests. Core areas of study in the field include Scripture, Moral and Systematic Theology, Liturgy, Canon Law and Church History.

Spiritual Formation:

To be a priest is to be a man of prayer and to be a leader with others in a community of faith. Faith is more than knowledge of doctrine; it is lived relationship with God. Men preparing for priesthood are helped to deepen that relationship through prayer and especially through praying with Scripture. Each student also has available to him a spiritual director whose responsibility is to meet with him regularly, to listen to the story of his faith journey, and to help him in his continuing discernment of the will of God in his life. Time for retreats is also an important part of spiritual formation.

Pastoral Formation:

During the years of preparation for priesthood, students are helped to develop the practical skills they will require for parish ministry. These are skills that will enable them to be good and compassionate listeners, leaders and teachers of the faith. Throughout formation, students will have pastoral placements so that they can learn through experience and example. It would be usual for students to have some preparation in areas such as school, hospital or prison chaplaincy, service of the poor and, particularly in the final year, regular parish ministry supported by experienced priests.

Personal Formation:

Personal formation is more difficult to define but it will include processes of reflection and interaction with others which enable the student to grow in their maturity, personal gifts, understanding of sexuality with respect to their celibate vocation, self-understanding, and relationship enabling them to work creatively and constructively with others.


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.