The Process

How Does One Become a Priest?

A call to the Priesthood actually begins in the family, continues through the discernment process, is solidified during seminary years of study and pastoral experience, and is confirmed at ordination, where it becomes a lifetime of collaboration with God's grace and human effort.

Becoming a priest entails the realization that one’s life is not one’s own. We are not created for ourselves, but for others. And so, becoming a priest means cooperating with God’s grace so as to be transformed into an alter Christus – another Christ – thus, making a gift of oneself with Christ for the salvation of the world.

What are the General Qualifications for Acceptance to Priestly Formation?

Baptized, confirmed and practicing Roman Catholic men with a desire to serve God and His people as a priest must possess the following general qualifications:

  • Faith in, and love for, Christ and His Church.
  • Good moral character.
  • A high school diploma with favorable academic abilities.
  • Emotional balance and maturity.
  • Good physical health.
  • Psychological readiness and capacity to pursue a sustaining, life-long commitment.
  • A deepening habit of prayer and a balanced devotional life.
  • Maturity to recognize and the willingness to respond to the needs of others.
  • Readiness to serve in the manner to which he is called by God, through his Bishop.
  • A developing spirit of detachment that helps him be in the world but not of the world.
  • Freedom to enter this state in life.

In addition to the general qualifications above, a candidate for the Diocese of Albany must also meet the following criteria:

  • A man who has reached the minimum age of 21. (Exceptions are considered on a case by case basis)
  • Have a connection and familiarity with the Diocese of Albany and the people with whom the candidate feels called to serve here as a future priest, i.e. by living (past or present), working or studying within the diocese for at least two years. (In circumstances of military families exception can be made.)

What is the Assessment and Application Process?

Guided by our overall diocesan goal to nurture and develop holy and well-formed priests, great care is taken to ensure a careful and thorough assessment and application process for all potential seminarian candidates. These assessment and application processes generally encompass the following:

1. Initial Contact and inquiry

This can start as simply as asking a priest at your parish to give you some tips for developing your prayer life. As you grow closer to God, you may sense a call to offer more of yourself to Him, "Who did you create me to be Lord?" Sometimes a conversation can become an invitation, to pursue more deeply, attend a discernment event, bring it up with a priest, a trusted friend, or the Vocations Director. If you begin to feel a sense that God is calling you to be a priest, bring that up with a priest you know, or contact the Vocations Director directly to speak with him.

Once your discernment has reached the point of feeling a call to continue exploring your vocation more formally, the Vocations Team will speak with you about applying to the Diocese as a seminarian.

2. Formal Interview

Part of receiving the application is a formal interview between the Vocations Director and the potential candidate in which the following topics are discussed:

  • Personal health and well-being.
  • Family and employment history.
  • Religious and educational background.
  • Current service and volunteering
  • Scope of discernment of the priesthood and the diocese.
    • Questions include:
    • Where do you believe God is calling you?
    • Why do you feel called to be a priest?

3. Application Process

Acceptance into the diocesan priesthood formation program requires that a candidate demonstrate emotional maturity, academic ability, personal stability and consistent growth in the practice of the faith. If, after the formal interview, the director believes the individual possesses suitable psychological, intellectual and spiritual attributes, the candidate is then invited to begin the formal application process. The general components of the application encompass the following:

  • Completed Diocese of Albany Priestly Formation Application Form with photos.
  • Minimum of 4 Letters of Reference.
  • An interview with 2 members of the Clergy Formation Advisory Board.
  • Copies of Identification cards, driver's license, and/or passport.
  • Sacramental records and parents' marriage records.
  • All official transcripts.
  • Medical Physical Exam (Paid for by applicant and/or their medical insurance)
  • Psychological Assessment and Evaluation with IQ testing. (Paid for by the diocese)
  • A complete F.B.I./fingerprinting and state(s) sex offender and criminal, and financial history background checks. (Paid for by the diocese)
  • Completed various Release Forms.
  • Participation in the Catholic Mutual Group Safeguarding Program for Adults.
  • Read and Signed Universal Code of Conduct.
  • Autobiography (minimum of 4 pages).

4. Application Review

After the candidate submits all the information and necessary paperwork as outlined above, the Vocations Director recommends the candidate to the Bishop who always meets candidates personally. Once the Bishop approves, a review of the application is scheduled with the Clergy Formation Advisory Board. If the Board's vote is positive, the Bishop makes the decision, and discusses with the Vocations Director the next step. Once accepted by the Diocese the candidate will either continue their discernment at the St. Isaac Jogues House of Formation or begin the application process for the seminary to which he has been assigned to attend.  

Time Frame

Individual circumstances may adjust or vary the sequence of events outlined above. Applications may be submitted at any time of year. The general necessary time frame to compile and complete all required application material is between 2-3 months. Applicants normally receive word of acceptance or non-acceptance within two months of submitting a completed application.

What are the Stages of Priestly Formation?

Formation is first and foremost cooperation with the grace of God.

According to the latest Program of Priestly Formation, "The goal of priestly formation is to form missionary disciples so that they are ready for consecration as shepherds for God's People, sharing in the authority of Christ the Redeemer, who sent the Apostles to preach and to heal...The Gospel foundation of priestly formation precedes programs, structures and plans" (PPF6, #14-15).

That being said, once a seminarian is accepted by the diocese and accepted to a seminary, formation does begin in earnest. There are stages of formation as well as dimensions of formation at each stage. The stages are fleshed out below; the dimensions which the seminarian must form are summarized as:

“Through human formation the foundation is laid upon which the other dimensions can be received and lived.

Through spiritual formation, the seminarian learns to bring everything from the other dimensions into his relationship with Jesus Christ.

Through intellectual formation he comes to a deeper understanding of the truths of faith and the human person, enriching his relationship with God, his understanding of himself, and his service to others.

Through pastoral formation he learns how to apply and express the other three pillars of formation in pastoral charity, the overall goal of priestly formation.

It is through the integration of all four dimensions that the seminarian comes to the affective maturity and freedom needed for priestly service” (PPF6 #116).

The stages of formation are as follows:

Propaedeutic Stage: or preparatory stage. Aims to provide seminarians the foundation they need for a new way of life by developing habits of prayer, study, fraternity, trust and appropriate docility to formation.

Discipleship Stage: a systematic and rigorous formation that has at its core the goal of growing in an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ though a life of meditation and contemplation, as well as formation in virtue. The study of philosophy occurs during this stage.

Configuration Stage: in which the seminarian models his life on the self-donation of Jesus Christ, Shepherd and Servant, as he prepares more immediately for Holy Orders. It will include deeper contemplation of and a more intimate and personal relationship with the person of Christ with the aim of producing a greater priestly identity and spirituality. As he conforms himself more to the Shepherd, he grows in self-offering proper to the pastoral care of the sheep. The study of theology occurs during this stage.

Vocational Synthesis Stage: allows a deacon to enter into the life of a cleric, residing in a pastoral setting (usually a parish), incorporating the entirety of the formation he has received since his Baptism. It is no longer a stage of discernment or of determining suitability for holy orders (which have happened at earlier stages), or of acquiring new skills (though that will surely happen); rather it is about the deacon's readiness to assume the duties of full-time ministry once ordained a priest, which occurs at the completion of the vocational synthesis stage.

“Formation, as the Church understands it, is not equivalent to a secular sense of schooling or, even less, job training…While formation is a lifelong journey, the time spent preparing for ordained ministry is a privileged time of growth in self-knowledge and deepening intimacy with Jesus Christ” (Program of Priestly Formation 6, #114).

How Long Does Priestly Formation Generally Take?

There are two basic paths for formation as a priest: with or without a college degree. If you do not have a college degree, there are four years of College Seminary (encompassing the Propaedeutic and Discipleship stages) then four years of Major Seminary (incorporating the Configuration Stage and leading to the Vocational Synthesis Stage). Seminarians entering with a college degree start with the Propaedeutic year, then progress through the other stages for a total of seven to eight years of formation.  Taking a pastoral year can extend this timeline but is also very enriching for the future priest.

Major Seminaries we use: 

The Pontifical North American College, Rome, IT

St. Francis de Sales Seminary, Milwaukee, WI

St. Patrick’s Seminary, San Francisco, CA

St. Joseph’s Seminary and College (Dunwoodie), Yonkers, NY

St. John XIII National Seminary, Weston, MA

Mount St. Mary's Seminary, Emmitsburg, MD

What is Seminary Life Like?

Like a regular institution of higher learning, seminary life is academic and intellectual; there are classes, exams, papers and a whole lot of reading. However, seminary is not just about going to classes to learn theology and how to be a priest. Seminary is more about growing as a whole person. Therefore, time spent in prayer and in service to others, as well as social time is just as important as the courses taken by seminarians.

Seminary life is about growing in your prayer life. Building good habits of prayer is one of the principal goals in seminary, as it is only through prayer and the sacraments that we can enter into an intimate relationship with Christ and be conformed to His image as alter Christi (other Christs). And so, Mass and holy hours are built into the daily schedule in seminary, as well as communal morning prayer and evening prayer.

Seminary life is social and fraternal. A priest must be social; after all, he is ordained for the sake of the people he serves. It is important that he learns to be comfortable being himself around others. The brotherly fraternity at the seminary is one of the greatest graces of being there, knowing that every person there is at the seminary for the same singular purpose: to become a priest at the service of Christ and His Church.

Seminary life is challenging. It is meant to stretch and form each individual seminarian to be the best version of themselves for the sake of the people they will one day be called to serve.

The path to the priesthood may seem long and arduous, and so it is. Yet, it is only that which is attainable after much pain and effort that is truly worth it in the end. And there is nothing of more value in this world than the Sacred Priesthood. For it is through the priest that God ordinarily offers His salvation to the world. As the Dominican priest, Fr. J.B. Henri Lacordaire eloquently described in his poem on the life of a priest:

“To live in the midst of the world with
no desire for its pleasure...
To be a member of every family
yet belonging to none...
To share all sufferings; to penetrate
all secrets; to heal all wounds...
To daily go from men to God to
offer Him their petitions...
To return from God to men
to offer them His hope...
To have a heart of fire for charity
and a heart of bronze for chastity...
To bless and be blest forever.
O God, what a life, and it is yours,
O Priest of Jesus Christ!”

Yes, the path to the priesthood is long. It is arduous. But man is it worth it. Do not be afraid, then, to come and see!