Vocations surging in Great Britain

Some happy news from across the pond:

A few years ago he was a roadie with a band, living what he admits was a rock’n’roll lifestyle. Today, 42-year-old Rob Hunt is training for the Catholic priesthood in a seminary in central London. It’s a very different way of life from what he’s been used to.

Having been raised a Catholic, he stopped going to Mass for a long time. There were, he says, “a few relationships”, including one with a married woman. It was what changed his life. “I was stung back into belief,” he says. “It was as though someone said to me: you’ve got to think about how you’re living your life.”

The rethink that followed brought Mr Hunt to Allen Hall in London’s Chelsea, one of the four remaining Catholic seminaries in Britain, where he is one of 51 men studying for the priesthood. His story features in Catholics, a new BBC series starting this week, which lifts the lid on how priests are trained. In the film, Mr Hunt’s room in the seminary is shown, its walls covered with pictures of St Thérèse of Lisieux and the Virgin Mary. “In the past, you would have found slightly different women on the wall,” he says.

The documentary paints a picture of a life that borders on monastic. But another of those featured in the film, 26-year-old Mark Walker, who’s in his fifth year at the seminary and who expects to be ordained in summer next year, says it’s not all it seems. “You’re living in a mostly male environment, but there’s plenty of freedom to come and go,” he says.

Mr Walker says that, though the celibacy he must embrace as a priest seems strange to many, it’s not too difficult to accept. “There’s a belief that a good sex life is essential, that it’s what you need to make you happy,” he says. “But it’s not that your sexuality is turned off once you’re ordained, but you learn to fold it into the rest of your life.”

Mr Walker says he “always had a nagging thought” that the priesthood would be the right path for him. He was raised a Catholic, and it was on the day of his first communion, at the age of seven, that a priest suggested that he might have a vocation. “It planted an idea in my mind that never quite went away,” he says.

Father Christopher Jamison, director of the Catholic Church’s National Office for Vocation in London, says that although the number of men enrolling in seminaries hit an all-time low at the start of the 21st century, it is now significantly on the rise.

“In 2001, the number of men joining seminaries in England and Wales was 26, the lowest in living memory,” he says. “But from 2006 onwards the figure started to go up, and in 2010 there were 56 new recruits.”

The rise in seminarian numbers has been due in part to the setting up of “discernment groups” for Catholic men and women, Fr Jamison says. “It’s not about straightforward recruitment into the religious life. It’s about helping both men and women work out what’s right for them in their lives.”

Read the rest.


  1. Happy to hear that the testing to get into the training is very rigorous. One can hope the possibility of a man who has tendencies to “play with children” will be found and not allowed into training. I do have doubts that that will eliminate all possible problems in that area, but at least something is being done to lessen it considerably. Wonder what the drop out rate is in the training? It would seem reasonable to me that some men would find this not for them after all.

  2. Matthew the Wayfarer says:

    Hope springs eternal even in Jolly Old England

  3. Deacon Norb says:

    Pagansister: Couple of things:

    –Since the Vatican’s “visitation” of the seminaries about ten years ago or so, the psychological testing of applicants/candidates for BOTH the diaconate and the priesthood is pretty thorough. It has been widely reported that — somewhere here in the Midwest — one seminarian studying for the priesthood and already ordained a “transitional” deacon was removed literally the day before he was scheduled to be ordained as a priest.

    –I have no idea about a widely accepted “drop-out rate.” I do know of a cohort of candidates for for the diaconate in one area diocese started their first day of formation at 22 and is now — some two years later — sitting at 19. To my knowledge, only one MIGHT have been for cause. The other two dropped out due to totally understandable personal issues — neither of which would prevent them from re-entering without penalty in a later cohort.

  4. This is good, albeit surprising in a way, news.

  5. Deacon Norb says:

    Couple of things to consider on this “side of the pond.”

    –Some diocese and religious orders here in the United States are closing seminaries but the cause is NOT lack of applicants but lack of qualified faculty. The “visitation” that occurred about ten years ago forced seminaries to tighten the degree requirements for their faculty thus some of the smaller diocesan seminaries could not meet those new standards and shut their doors.

    –The same is true of diaconal formation programs. Many diocese which had “rolling” admissions and thus would have three classes going-on simultaneously, have moved over to a “cohort” system and thus only have one class going on at any one given time. The cause is NOT lack of vocations to the diaconate but the issue of qualified faculty.

    –Those priestly seminaries that remain open here in the United States are experiencing very sharp enrollment increases. I have good friends who are priests on the staff of three major seminaries that attract applicants across the country. Are three are either now at capacity (for school year 2011-12) or expect to be at capacity in 2012-13.

    The same is true for the Diaconate. My diocese will not start it’s next cohort until this one is ordained (September 2013). It plans to start recruiting this Fall — less than six months away — and some of us experienced deacons have suggested to our Vicar of Deacon to expect an applicant pool which will be double that of the past several years. His reply is to look back at us in panic.

    No one seems to want to talk about that: The applicants are there; it is the qualified formation faculty and staff that are not.

  6. This is great news. There such positive signs out there.

    I did do a little head shake when I read this:

    Mr Walker says that, though the celibacy he must embrace as a priest seems strange to many, it’s not too difficult to accept. “There’s a belief that a good sex life is essential, that it’s what you need to make you happy,” he says. “But it’s not that your sexuality is turned off once you’re ordained, but you learn to fold it into the rest of your life.”

    What exactly does he mean he folds his sexuality into the rest of you his life? In a sense a priest does turn off (or at least attempt to) his sexuality. Doesn’t he?

  7. Manny:

    To answer your question bluntly: No.

  8. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    Manny, to echo what Dcn. Norb said: here’s a brief snippet from the catechism…

    2394 Christ is the model of chastity. Every baptized person is called to lead a chaste life, each according to his particular state of life.

    2395 Chastity means the integration of sexuality within the person. It includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery.

    Timothy Dolan has an excellent chapter on chastity and celibacy in his book “Priests for the Third Millennium,” in which he speaks frankly and very positively about integrity and the celibate life — that is, integrating celibacy into the priestly vocation.

    Dcn. G.

  9. Thank you to you both. I guess it’s more or less semantics. One might define chastity as turning off sexuality. I don’t think I’m thinking differently from the Catechism, just articulating it differently. If Mr. Walker means the same thing, then I understand.

  10. Fiergenholt says:


    I do not think it is “semantics” at all.

    If you define “chastity as turning off sexuality,” you are absolutely not on the same page as responsible psychologists and moral theologians — particularly those working with priestly and diaconal candidates for Holy Orders.

    What Cardinal Dolan is apparently trying to do, in that book Dcn Greg mentions, is defining what celibate masculinity really means. Might not hurt for you to find it and read what the “American Pope” has to say on the topic.

  11. Deacon Norb says:


    One book that helped me cross this divide is now out-of-print but you may still be able to find it in some libraries of Catholic universities and seminaries:

    Polcino, Anna. “Intimacy.” (Whitinsville, Mass: Affirmation Books, c1978 — ISBN: 089571003X)

    One of my most favorite and most profound passages is in the third chapter and is loosely entitled” The Name by which God knows us.”

  12. pagansister says:

    Thank you Deacon Norb, for letting me know that the Church here in the US is also doing it’s best to eliminate any possible future problems in it’s candidates. Excellent news. IMO there is no such thing as too much checking/testing etc. on those who apply to be priests. I’m sure the drop-out rate varies just like the number of applicants, from year to year.

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