By Corey Close
One of the most interesting aspects at any seminary is the men who make up its composition. We’ve all met priests and we may even think that our pastors have always been priests, but of course this is not true.
Once upon a time these were men who, through much prayer and discernment, decided to take a different course in their lives and follow the priesthood. Just who are the men who study to become priests? This week’s article is to help answer that question.
First, let’s take a quick look at the demographics of the seminary I attend here in Rome, the North American College (NAC). We have around 225 students and the seminary is growing each year. These men come from around 90 different dioceses throughout the United States. The East Coast has the largest contingent, with Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh having around a dozen men each while the Midwest is solidly represented, especially in places like Fargo, N.D., and Duluth, Minn. Mobile, Ala. sends around five men, and the West Coast is not forgotten either with men from Oakland and San Diego, Calif., and many places in between. Some dioceses send as many as 12 while other dioceses send one (as is the case with me, from the Davenport Diocese).
You might also be surprised to find the incredible diversity in our backgrounds. You’ll meet men from New York who never left the city limits before coming here, as well as farm boys now living in the “big city” for the first time in their lives. You’ll find men who went straight into college seminary after high school, while others had careers for many years before finally deciding to join. Some have been in Catholic school all of their lives; for others, seminary is the first time they’ve been in one. Some men are just turning 21; others celebrate their 40th or 60th birthdays. Some were philosophy majors, others studied computer science and still others were in engineering, communications or English. Some men are lifelong Catholics; others are new converts, perhaps not having been raised with any faith at all. And some have served our country in the Armed Forces, even seeing combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. Truly, the difference in backgrounds is incredible.
But the question still remains: why are these men studying to become priests? When one examines the specifics of the answer, diversity is found again. Some were inspired by a local pastor, others by the example of Pope John Paul II. For some the discernment process was long, drawn-out and hard and the discernment continues in seminary. For others, the moment was like a bolt of lightning, or a message as clear as day. Some didn’t know they were called, but hoped they were. Others knew they were called and bargained with God not to be. For me, ever since a friend told me in seventh grade I’d make a great priest, I knew I was called, but fought hard for 10 years hoping I wasn’t.
All in all, everyone’s story is different and unique, but the answer to the question posed earlier is the same for every man here: Because Jesus Christ has called us by name to the priesthood. Each one of us is here not because we chose it, but rather because God chose us. This is the single-most important reason that any of us study to become priests: to follow the will of God. It is not out of some numb obedience that we do this, but rather in a spirit of joy — having found so great a pearl! While this life certainly has sacrifices, the opportunity to grow close to the Lord and serve him and his people is something I am sure we all cherish.
So I wish all our readers a blessed month, and I ask all of you to reflect on what vocation the Lord is calling you to. Each one of us has our own story and our own vocation — whether it is marriage, consecrated or religious life, or the priesthood. What matters is what God wants, and whether we are willing to trust. If you let him take the reins of your life, there is no telling where he will bring you, but I do know that it will be beautiful.
(Corey Close is a third-year seminarian studying for the Diocese of Davenport at the North American College in Rome.)