What made you decide to become a priest? Was it something you always wanted to do?
I didn’t always want to be a priest. In fact, I thought it was definitely not a vocation I would ever pursue! When I was teaching, I began to deepen my faith while helping out at my local parish.
I began to question whether teaching was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I was happy in my job, but it seemed as if something was missing. Around the same time, a priest randomly asked me if I had ever considered the priesthood. I laughed at the question and told him not to be so daft. His response was that every man should at least consider the option, even if it comes to nothing. A few days later, the thought was in my mind and it wouldn’t leave me. After a couple of months of this, I decided to discern whether this was God calling me to the priesthood. I had told myself that I am happy to follow God’s will, as long as I knew that He was definitely calling me. In the end, I decided I would at least give it a try. After all, I could leave at any time I wanted and return to teaching if it didn’t work out.
So once you’d decided, what were the next steps?
Once I realised I was being called to be a priest, I met with my Vocations Director and with my Bishop. After a period of discernment, we agreed that it would be a good idea for me to begin formation for the priesthood. Before this could happen, I had to formally apply to my Diocese (Leeds). The application process includes a rigorous psychological assessment, a medical, and interviews with the Bishop and a selection panel.
You came to Rome for training. How did that happen? Does training in Rome differ (being host to the Vatican) from anywhere else?
My Bishop made all the decisions regarding my formation. My first year of training was at the English College in Valladolid, Spain. Many new students are sent there for their first year of training. It is more of an introductory year, with plenty of time given to discernment and spirituality.
At the end of my first year, my Bishop informed me that he would like me to continue my studies at the Venerable English College in Rome.
Fundamentally, the training I received in Rome is no different to anywhere else in the world. At the end of the day, we all become priests, no matter where we have studied. However, there are opportunities in Rome which are not available in other countries. Being in Rome, I have experienced the universal Church. People of all nationalities come to Rome for their studies, meaning that there is an experience of so many cultures. It is amazing to see how people live out their faith in other parts of the world.
Of course, living in Rome also means being near the Pope. After a while, it is easy to take for granted how easy it is to see the Pope, especially at a Wednesday Audience or at the Sunday Angelus.
Compared to studying in England, Rome also offers the opportunity to study a licence, which is a specialisation in an area of theology.
What does the training involve and how long is it for?
In Rome, the training lasts for seven years.
A large aspect of the training is the academic studies. The first two years consist of studying philosophy. The following three years involve studying theology. The final two years are for the licence.
As well as the academic studies, there are three other areas of formation: spiritual, pastoral and human.
How is it funded?
Each diocese pays for the training of its students. This money comes from donations, fundraising, and occasional collections in the parishes.
You’ve been here for seven years. What’s been your best experience so far?
There are too many experiences to choose just one! Perhaps my biggest highlight was to be present during the conclave and the election of Pope Francis last year. The whole experience was unforgettable.
Other highlights include: meeting Pope Benedict in 2009; reading at Mass in St Peter’s Square on Easter Sunday in 2009; serving a Mass with Pope Benedict in 2010; being present at the beatification of Pope John Paul II, and at the canonisation of John XXIII and John Paul II; visiting many Italian towns, villages and cities; meeting so many wonderful people from around the world and making lasting friendships.
And what’s been the biggest challenge?
I have never been a fan of studying. I thought that my academic days had come to an end once I had finished my university studies in England. It was therefore a big challenge for me to embark on another eight years of study! It has required a lot of prayer, determination and perseverance. It has been worth it, nonetheless.
Now that you’re (almost!) a priest, what’s the next step?
I return to England and make the final preparations for my ordination at the end of this month. In September I will begin working as assistant priest in a parish in Leeds. Some of the roles I will be carrying out include: celebrating Mass everyday; visiting the sick; visiting people in their homes; helping to prepare people to receive the sacraments; visiting families to help plan a funeral; offering spiritual guidance; visiting the schools in the parish.
What skills are required to make a good priest?
The list is endless, and I have never met a priest who possesses every single one of these skills! Everyone has different strengths and charisms. Some of the skills required include: having a good grasp of theology and the Bible; being a man of prayer; being able to help people to develop their spiritual lives; being a good communicator; being able to relate to people; being a good listener; being able to show that all people are to be valued and that they each have dignity, since Jesus is present in every single person.
What do you look forward to most about the priesthood?
I’m really looking forward to simply starting work as a priest after eight years of preparation. I look forward to getting to know the people in the parish, and sharing in the highs and lows, the joys and the despairs of their lives. I also look forward to celebrating the sacraments, which include Mass, baptisms, weddings and funerals. It will be a powerful experience to be present with the sick and the dying, to offer comfort, as well as the Last Rites, to those who are suffering.
Above all, I look forward to showing the love of Christ to all I will meet, helping to share in a joyful way the Gospel message that Jesus came to teach us.
What would you advise others considering becoming a priest?
Speak to someone you can trust about your thoughts. When you feel ready, speak with a priest you know, possibly your parish priest. You diocese will have a designated vocations director – you will be able to find his details on the website. He would usually be the next person you speak with. There are also plenty of vocations websites which can offer guidance for those who are thinking about the priesthood.
Prayer is also important. It is only through regularly spending quiet time in prayer that you will be able to discern God’s will for you.
Finally, I would repeat the words that one priest said to me: “You might as well give it a try. You have nothing to lose!”
Marc was ordained deacon on 14th July 2013, and will be ordained a priest in Leeds, the UK, on Saturday July 26th.