Vocations Corner: Why do priests wear black, collars?

Father Marty Goetz

By Father Marty Goetz

A little boy, not accustomed to seeing a priest in his “work uniform” went up to the priest and asked, “Why do you dress so funny?” The priest replied, “This is the uniform that I wear when I work.” 

The child, still staring at him, asked, “Do you have a boo boo?” The priest was somewhat puzzled, but quickly figured out that the child was looking at his white collar. The priest pulled out the white plastic insert and showed it to the child telling him that it was also part of his uniform. On the back side of the collar there was some writing: “Wash with warm soapy water.” The priest showed this to the little boy and then asked him, “Do you know what these words say?”

The little boy, obviously much too young to read, stated, “I sure do.” The priest was taken aback and then said, “OK then, tell me what it says.” The little boy looked at it for a few seconds and then replied, “Kills fleas and ticks for up to six months!”

 I think if you would ask anybody the question “Why do priests wear black?” you would get a multitude of different answers — some serious, some funny. For example, how many times have you heard the expression: “Why do priests wear their collar backwards?” There is a reason.


Over the centuries priests were required to wear distinctive garb to identify them as ordained clergy. Particular dioceses or national bishops’ conferences in various countries have established the norms for such clerical attire. Priests today wear the collar as a symbol of their obedience to the church and their bishop. We wear black as a symbol of dying to oneself and giving ourselves to others and to Jesus. Black is also a sign that we are to live simply in the world, living the values of the Gospel.

But more than that, wearing black is a sign to the world that we are called to live a life of service to the Lord, His people and the church. A priest in a Roman collar can also be a walking vocation message. The sight of a cheerful, happy priest confidently walking down the street can be a powerful sign and witness inviting young men to consider the possibility that God is calling them to the priesthood.

But an even greater sign of the dedication to God and the people of God is the example and faith, hope and love that is found in the man you know as a priest; the man who wears black and may wear a “turned around collar,” but is there to serve you and to bring you closer to the light and the love of God.

(Fr. Goetz is vocations director for the Davenport Diocese. Contact him with questions at (563) 324-1912 ext. 259, or by e-mail at goetz@davenportdiocese.org.)

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