Frequently Asked Questions

About Priesthood  •   About Religious Life   About Seminary   For Parents

FAQ about Priesthood 

Priest Celebrating Mass

Fr. Bede Kim celebrating his first Mass

What is a Priest?
A priest is an ordained minister in service to God and the Church. His primary duties involve preaching the Word of God in and through the administration of the Sacraments (Baptism, Eucharist, Reconciliation, etc.) More often than not, a priest works in a parish environment but, at the direction of the bishop, some also work in specialized ministries such as hospitals, schools, prisons and other diocesan ministries.

What vows do diocesan priests make?
Diocesan priests do not make vows. For ordination, they freely make promises of celibacy and obedience to their Bishop.

What is ordination?
Ordination is the sacramental ceremony in which a man becomes a deacon, priest, or bishop and enabled to minister in Christ's name and that of the Church. There are three ordinations in the Sacrament of Holy Orders: Diaconate, Priesthood and Episcopal. The ordination ceremony includes various rituals, rich in meaning and history, e.g., prostration, laying on of hands, anointing of hands, giving of the chalice and paten, sign of peace, etc.

What do you do all day?
What a priest does with his day is so varied that only a sampling can be given here. Prayer, work, and leisure are all necessary for a healthy life. We try to have a balance of all these, but we don't always succeed.

In the area of work or ministry, many priests have one main occupation, such as teaching, parish ministry, social work, or hospital work, all of which have somewhat regular hours and predictable demands. Those of us who are contemplative spend our day at prayer and at some kind of labor to sustain us.

The unpredictables are also interesting and challenging. They center on meeting the needs of people: the sick, elderly, angry, hurt, hungry, imprisoned, excited, and/or happy. We share with them our understanding, encouragement and support. We rejoice, cry, and experience with them.

How often does a priest have to pray?
Because we have chosen a way of life which says by its very nature that God is most important, prayer has a central role in our lives. Prayer is communication with the Lord whom we love -- and it is as necessary for us as communication as for any two persons who expect their relationship to continue. Can you imagine having a best friend or spouse to whom you never spoke?

Since prayer is so important, most priests and religious spend approximately one or two hours a day in prayer -- with others, at Mass, and in common oral prayer; part alone, in reading and quiet attentiveness. Probably the main benefit of prayer is that it makes us more sensitive to God's activity in the people, events, and circumstances of daily life.

Is prayer always easy?
Definitely not! There are lots of times we don't feel like doing things that are basically important to us. For example, an athlete doesn't always feel like practicing, a student doesn't always feel like studying, a wage earner doesn't always feel like working. However, in all these cases, because the activity in which we participate is important, we act on motives deeper than feelings and do what we know needs to be done.

Fr. Jack, Fr. Bede, and Fr. Keith golfing

Fr. Jack O'Kane, Fr. Bede Kim, and Fr. Keith Cervine play golf on days off.

Do you get time off? If so, what do you do?
Priests have approximately the same amount of leisure time as most adults. In this time we are free to do whatever is legal, moral, and reasonable for adults in our situation. Obviously, since priests are unique individuals, we will not all choose the same types of recreation, and no one chooses the same activity every time. Common choices are sports, movies, TV, reading, sharing with friends, and enjoying the outdoors.

Does a priest earn any money?
Diocesan priests receive a modest salary from the parish (or other Catholic institution) they serve. Ordinarily, priests receive room and board, limited professional expense reimbursement, and health care insurance. Thus, their modest salary is more than sufficient for their personal expenses. Out of it they buy their clothes, automobile, vacation costs, taxes, and charitable contributions.

Diocesan priests do not take a vow of poverty like religious order priests. Nevertheless, they are encouraged to live a simple lifestyle and be generous to the poor. The black clerical clothes typically worn by a priest are an outward sign of the modest standard of living that is proper to priestly life and ministry.

How long does it take to become a diocesan priest?
Generally, it takes four to six years after college or about eight years after high school to become a diocesan priest, the same as for many professions.

How does a person become a priest?
Men thinking about the possibility of a vocation in the diocesan priesthood, whether they are sure of this calling or not, should contact their parish priest or if they wish they may contact Diocesan Director of Vocations directly. Initially, there are a flexible series of formal and informal meetings both individually with the Director of Vocations and within group discernment gatherings. The sole focus of the meetings is a preliminary discernment of God’s will for the individual – a time of getting to know more about each other and answering whatever questions may arise. This time of discernment varies for each individual from just a month or so to many months – even a year or so.

Once the individual is more certain of the potential of a call to priesthood, he would begin the application process. While this is still a period of ongoing discernment, it is more serious in nature. Included in this process is the gathering of biographical and other information through an application, personal references, school transcripts, sacramental records (baptism, 1st communion, confirmation, etc.), medical and psychological evaluations, interviews with members of the clergy and laity involved in vocations, etc. Once this material is complete, a review process by the Seminary Education Board is begun and makes a recommendation to the Bishop. This process can take a few months to complete.

If the Bishop accepts the individual for studies, the individual is now considered a seminarian for the diocese and, at a seminary determined by the bishop, formal academic studies and the formation process will begin. The duration of formal studies and formation will vary based upon the individual’s previous academic background. It takes about the same amount of preparation to be a priest as any professional person, four years after college or eight years after high school.

Approximately one year prior to the end of the formal studies in a seminary, the seminarian is ordained to the Transitional Diaconate (this is because the seminarian is in transition to the priesthood, and to differentiate from the Permanent Diaconate). The man makes promises of celibacy and obedience to his Bishop at this time.

After the 4th year of Theological Studies and Formation, the seminarian is ordained to the Priesthood.

Will I have to live far from my family?
Generally speaking, a diocesan priest will remain in the diocese for which he is ordained so he should always be in close proximity to his family in the area. It is possible that, as a seminarian, he will be outside the diocese but this would only be for the academic year.

Are there restrictions on family contact?
A person preparing for religious life or priesthood is encouraged to maintain healthy relationships with family members and friends and generally there are no restrictions.

Isn’t this life lonely?
Truthfully speaking, as in any way of life, there are times of loneliness for priests but typically this is not so much the problem as is finding a quiet moment! As in all things, one should strive for proper balance in life no matter what vocation one is called to be. Formation directors in the seminary and in religious life assist the candidate with this aspect of life.

FAQ about Religious Life 

Sr. Rose Bernadette Mulligan picture

Yes, you can still drink coffee and learn Spanish as a religious

What is Religious Life? 
Religious life is a term the Church uses to describe the lifestyle of women and men who join a religious community. There are religious communities of women and men and each community was founded for a particular purpose. Some religious communities are involved in only one or two specific works, such as teaching, health care, pastoral or missionary work. Other religious communities are involved in a variety of works but may choose their ministries based on the mission or spirit of the community.

Women who join religious communities are usually called sisters while men who join religious communities are called brothers, unless they have been ordained to the priesthood.

All religious (sisters, brothers and priests) dedicate their lives to serve God and the Church through the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Prayer, community and service are important aspects of their lives.

What is the difference between a Religious Order Priest and a Diocesan Priest?
A religious priest (a member of a religious order or society) takes the vow of poverty as well as vows of celibacy and obedience. Usually, he lives with a number of other priests or brothers of his religious community. His service to the Church may extend beyond a local geographic area (Diocese): he can expect to be sent anywhere in the world where his community is working.

A diocesan priest, on the other hand, ordinarily serves within the diocese for which he is ordained and makes promises of celibacy and obedience to his Bishop. A diocesan priest does not take a vow of poverty and therefore he receives a personal salary commensurate with the local standard of living enabling him to pay for personal expenses (e.g. automobile, books, entertainment, vacation, etc.) Basic necessities such as food, lodging, and medical insurance are provided by the parish where he serves.

What distinguishes a brother from a priest?
A brother commits himself to Christ by vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience, lives in religious community, and works in many types of jobs conducive to the particular religious order: teacher, cook, Lawyer, and so on. Brothers are not ordained sacramental ministers.

What is a religious vow?
A vow is a solemn promise made freely as one gives his or her life to God. Many religious communities make vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

How do congregations or orders differ?
Most groups of religious were founded at the time in history when travel and communication were very limited. Many congregations were founded at the same time for the same purpose, but at different places by people who didn't know each other.

Founders had a specific spirit or charism they wanted to develop in their community (such as hospitality, simplicity, or unity). The charism, the community's specific ministries, and varying emphases on prayer and community life are the basic differences among religious communities. All are alike in their primary concern: to spread the gospel message.

How do you become a religious priest?
Men considering the Religious Order Priesthood, while having similar educational requirements, would also have periods of time interspersed within the academic years to familiarize themselves with the particular order and this portion of formation varies within the different religious orders. The schedule of when the ordinations occur would also be different between religious and diocesan.

FAQ about Seminary 

How old must one be to enter the seminary?
There is no certain age to start preparing for the priesthood. Some men attend high school seminaries; others enter the seminary after high school, after college, or after working for a number of years. The Diocese of Metuchen accepts men ages 18-50.

MIES Seminary Entrance

In Colombia, our seminarians attend MIES

Where does the Diocese of Metuchen send its seminarians to study?
While this decision is always at the discretion of the Bishop and, as such, is not a firm policy. The Diocese of Metuchen currently sends its seminarians to: St. Mary's Seminary, Baltimore, MD, and Immaculate Conception Seminary, South Orange, NJ. For advanced studies we send to The Pontifical North American College, Vatican City. Generally, the diocese uses St. Andrew Seminary/Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ; and St. John Neumann Residence and Hall in Dunwoodie, NY for minor or college seminarians.

What does one do in the seminary?
Since a seminary is a place of formation for the every facet of the seminarians life, the schedule includes many things. First and foremost is prayer. The seminarian spends time in the morning and afternoon praying the Liturgy of the Hours (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liturgy_of_the_Hours), as well as going to daily Mass and holy hour with the Blessed Sacrament.

The seminarian also spends plenty of time forming his intellectual side. This is done through classes in subjects such as philosophy, theology, history, and languages. Towards the end of his formation, the seminarian also learns practical aspects of the priesthood such as how to celebrate Holy Mass. 

Community is also a major part of formation. In order to foster this aspect of formation, the seminarian spends plenty of time with his brother seminarians in various activities. Some seminaries also require meals together in order to build community.

Pastorally, the seminarian is formed through ministry in local institutions (apostolate) and summer assignments. Normally, throughout the year, a seminarian is assigned to a particular apostolate where he will work one day a week. Examples include soup kitchens, nursing homes, prisons, school, etc.

Who pays for everything?
In the Diocese of Metuchen the seminarian and/or his family is responsible for the expenses related to his undergraduate degree. Substantial, discounts on tuition are offered from the seminary as well as the availability of financial aid, grants, and scholarships. Once the individual completes his undergraduate degree and enters the seminary for his Theological training, the diocese will pay for the tuition, room & board, medical insurance and offer a small stipend to assist with personal expenses.

Each Religious order has its own financial policy and should be contacted directly for any specifics but most require the individual to pay for tuition, room and board and other related expenses.

What if I change my mind?
Above and beyond the educational segment of seminary training, a major focus of seminary is ongoing discernment and formation. Therefore if during this period a person decides this is not what God is calling them to be, then their decision to leave is completely understood and supported by the seminary and diocese.

For Parents 

It's natural for a parent to want what's best for their child. Encouraging a child in their life choices is an integral part of a parent's job.

How would you react if your child showed an interest in the priesthood or religious life? Would you be able to respond positively? You will if you remember one thing: It's not your choice, but God's choice whether or not your son or daughter considers a vocation to priesthood or religious life. 

Below please find some pointers that can help you to respond positively:

  • Remember we are all called by baptism to encourage, invite and respond positively to those considering a church vocation.
  • Pray for your children and for the ability to be open to all possibilities.
  • Be open to what is the will of God. It is God who gives us our vocation along with the gifts and talents we will need to accomplish His will in our lives.
  • Be open to what your child wants, and not simply what you want for your child. Our God-given gifts and talents lead us to what God desires for us. A child naturally feels drawn to God’s will and, if encouraged, will speak openly about what he or she believes they are being called to be in their lives whether or not they realize that it is God who is prompting them.
  • Encourage your children to talk about their ideas and to speak to a priest, sister or brother about their thoughts.

Also below are some pointers to help you to nurture vocations within your family:

  • Witness love for your spouse, your children, your neighbors and the world.
  • Talk freely about the presence of God in the joys and sorrows of their lives.
  • Remind your children that they are loved by God and have been given a gift to serve others.
  • Lead your family in prayers.
  • Speak positively about priests, sisters, brothers and deacons.
  • Participate in the lay ministries and activities of your parish and community.
  • Invite a priest, sister or brother into your home.
  • Encourage your children to consider priesthood and religious life as well as marriage.