About Older Priestly Vocations
Responses prepared by faculty of Sacred
Heart School of Theology,
Hales Corners, Wisconsin
1. Does my age make
2. Will I be accepted
simply because I want to be a priest?
3. Will I be treated like
a "20 something" in the seminary?
4. What kind of education
5. What if I have been
6. What if I have made
mistakes in life?
7. Who will pay for the
8. Do I have to sell my
9. How important is my
10. What options in
priesthood are available?
11. What options outside
of priesthood are available?
12. Whatís the next
1. Does my age make a difference?
Yes, it does. Sacred Heart believes that
adult candidates can become some of the best priests and we believe that
God can call a person at any age. Many dioceses and religious communities
have age limit requirements, however, and not all sponsors will accept
candidates who cannot be ordained by age 40, 50 or 55. One must check in
each case. Nevertheless, many factors besides oneís age are considered
and many sponsors judge each case on an individual basis. The older a
person the more concern a sponsor will have about overall health, ability
to support oneself and contribute financially to seminary education,
medical/health insurance coverage, retirement benefits, and length of
expected ministry. These issues will be addressed by potential sponsors. Back
2. Will I be accepted simply
because I want to be a priest?
As with any candidate, younger or older, a desire or
sense that one is called is only one of many significant factors in
accepting a candidate for the seminary. The church has many requirements,
e.g. academic ability, physical health, mental and spiritual health,
evidence of an ability to live a celibate life, realistic idea of what is
required of a parish priest which is often demonstrated by a candidateís
involvement in a parish community. In many cases age becomes an important
factor, as noted above. Oneís desire for priesthood must be tested,
taking into account these other factors as well as submitting to a process
of discernment needed both by the individual and the sponsor. It is
important that we provide the best possible priests to serve the needs of
the Church. Back
3. Will I be treated like a
"20 something" in the seminary?
Certainly not at Sacred Heart! Our seminary has over
twenty-five years of experience in preparing the adult candidate for
priestly ministry. The academic, spiritual and pastoral programs, as well
as the living situation, are dedicated to providing a challenging seminary
environment where the adult candidate is the norm, not the exception.
Sacred Heart provides a peer atmosphere for approximately 100 seminarians
who are, in general, between the ages of thirty and sixty, with an average
age of 44. Previous professional and academic backgrounds, as well as
special needs, are taken into consideration by an experienced faculty and
4. What kind of education is
The full program of preparation for priesthood has
been established by the Church in various official documents. Requirements
include a theological education, as well as an intensive program of
spiritual formation and pastoral preparation. This comprehensive
priesthood program is generally four years in length, but Sacred
Heart has the capacity to adjust preparation programs according to the
background of the applicant. For example, adjustments may be possible for
candidates over 60, permanent deacons or those who have been in religious
Prerequisite courses in philosophy and
undergraduate religious studies are required to take the four year
theology program at Sacred Heart. If these courses have not been taken
previous to entry, this requirement may add one year of
pre-theology to the program for a total of five years.
Ordinarily an undergraduate degree (B.A. or B.S.) is
required to begin a masterís level (M.DIV.) program in a seminary.
However, Sacred Heart is authorized to admit candidates over 30 years of
age into its theology program with a minimum of sixty (60) college
credits. Candidates with fewer college credits can enter the seminary
program at Sacred Heart while attending college at nearby Cardinal Stritch
University. Once the individual has obtained the required credits, he can
begin the theology program at Sacred Heart.
Unless the candidate is much older, e.g. around 60,
we recommend working toward the B.A. through Cardinal Stritch. This
usually will require a maximum of two years in the Cardinal Stritch
program with additional college credits granted by Cardinal Stritch for
courses taken at Sacred Heart, e.g. philosophy, basic religious studies,
modern languages, and pastoral field education. The candidate completes
these requirements for the B.A. in Religious Studies while beginning
theology studies at Sacred Heart. A candidate in this situation is able to
earn a combined B.A./M.DIV degree in a maximum of six years.
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5. What if I have been married?
A previous marriage does not, by itself, present any
problem. In fact, in many cases, oneís marriage can be a significant
factor contributing to a grace-filled priestly ministry.
a) What if I am a widower?
Generally it is advisable to wait one or two years
after the death of a spouse before entering the seminary. This provides
opportunity for grieving, transition and preparing oneself to enter a new,
celibate state of life.
b) What if I am divorced?
In itself, a divorce is not an impediment to
priesthood. If the former partner is living, an annulment must be granted
before admission to the seminary. Some dioceses and religious communities
will not accept divorced candidates, but, after careful examination, many
c) What if I have children?
It is important that children be at least eighteen
years of age and financially independent of their father before entrance
to a seminary. Many of our students report that their adult children are
some of their strongest supporters in the seminary.
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6. What if I have made mistakes in
Priesthood is not just for saints. Actually, the
ability to regularly seek forgiveness and guidance from God is an asset in
oneís vocational discernment. It is important to fully disclose oneís
history in the application process so that those assisting in your
discernment can be most helpful. Some actions, however, are impediments to
acceptance into a seminary and ordination, for example, voluntary
homicide, procuring an effective abortion or positive cooperation in
either. The same would be true for one who has been guilty of apostasy,
heresy or schism. There are other crimes or activities which will prompt
hesitancy on the part of any potential sponsor. In addition, if one has
had some other seriously detrimental behavioral pattern, e.g. alcoholism
or sexual activity, a suitable period of probation must be demonstrated to
assure than one can successfully live a sober and celibate life. A
spiritual director is often of significant help in discerning oneís
readiness for seminary life. Back
7. Who will pay for the seminary
The answer to this basically depends on the
agreement between the candidate and the sponsor. The older the candidate
and the shorter the projected service in ministry, the more will be the
expectation that the candidate pay for some, if not all, of the cost of
seminary education. In any case, each sponsor has policies relative to how
much of the cost they will pay and how they will support the candidate.
For some it will be a loan; for others all room, board and tuition is
paid, plus required books. Health insurance is also a factor to be
negotiated with the sponsor. Back
8. Do I have to sell my house?
In general, it is best not to sell anything
initially, particularly a house, until oneís vocational decision is
established. Diocesan priests are not required to take a vow of poverty
while religious are. Nonetheless, each case is different. Some diocesan
candidates have kept their house and used it as a place to go during
seminary vacations or for taking a day off, once they are ordained. Some
also intend to keep it for retirement purposes.
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9. How important is my work
Generally, a sponsor will be looking for some
stability or progress in oneís work record. Often a personís past
experience can become a strong asset after ordination, e.g. experience in
a helping or teaching profession, or financial/administrative experience.
On the other hand, if a person has not been successful at other jobs, it
does not present much promise that one will be able to deal successfully
with the challenges of priesthood and parish ministry. Back
10. What options in priesthood
The needs of the church today are many. Depending on
oneís background, training and previous employment, a great variety of
pastoral opportunities are available. Sponsorship implies that one will be
serving as a priest in that diocese or religious community. It is
important that both the candidate and the sponsor see this as possible.
Important factors might be the area of the country (climate, topography,
etc.), the particular nature or charism of the sponsor (e.g. rural or
urban; ethnic or language needs; unique ministries; and theological
orientation). Most older candidates work in a parish settings but one
might also inquire about other options, e.g. working with the elderly or
in some other specialized ministry. Back
11. What options outside of
priesthood are available?
The church today has an enormous variety of
ministries available, both as a lay person and as a permanent deacon. Your
local vocation director can help you discern whether your call is to
priesthood, or another form of church service, such as catechist,
Eucharistic minister, reader, or parish committee membership. In fact,
such parish involvement is generally expected of any serious candidate for
priesthood before being accepted by a sponsor.
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12. Whatís the next step?
Because sponsorship is required for seminary
admission, contacting oneís diocesan or religious community vocation
director is the place to begin. Often your local pastor can be of help in
learning who to contact and how to do it. If the religious community or
local diocese has age limits for ordination or accepting candidates, one
can inquire about sponsors that would at least consider an older
candidate. It is usually more difficult to obtain a sponsor that is too
far from the area in which one is known, but depending on an
individualís interests, Sacred Heart can help you find potential
sponsors that currently accept older candidates. After that, the person
must make his own contacts and present his case. After sponsorship is
attained, the seminary experience can begin. May God bless you in your
For more information contact:
Tom Knoebel, Director of
Heart School of Theology; 7335 S.
Hwy 100; P.O. Box 429; Hales Corners, WI 53130
phone: 414/529-6984 || e-mail: email@example.com
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