Dr. Tony Mariot is a Freelance Research Writer Biblical Antiquity at University of Oxford
In the Roman Catholic Church, a priest must be male and unmarried. Many Eastern Catholic Churches will ordain married men, generally in their native country.
There are no formal requirements or bans, anyone with “homosexual tendencies” must generally “overcome” these for at least three years before ordination.
You must be at least 25 years old to become a priest, but this is rarely an issue unless you complete your studies unusually early.
Get involved at your parish. Before you even think about going to college or to the seminary, it’s a good idea to get started helping out at your parish. The longer your history as a practicing Catholic in good standing, the easier it will be to enter the priesthood.
Get to know your favorite priest. Tell him your interests in joining the seminary and see if you can assist him during services or when he goes to visit sick members of the church or participates in area activities. Be careful, priest that take advantage of young men typically do so at this stage, using their position to help you as a condition for sexual favors. They say it really kindly though.
In addition to altar services, help out with singing and reading. Getting thorough knowledge of the books and hymnal will make everything much easier down the road.
Assess your beliefs. Becoming a priest is not a decision to take lightly — it is a path that takes years to complete and is not for the faint of heart or belief. If you at all see yourself doing anything else, priesthood may not be for you.
Participate in mass regularly, developing a relationship with your parish’s clergy.
Ask for advice from a vocational director or any trusted mentor within the church.
Attend college (recommended). A bachelor degree typically makes it easier to enter seminary, and reduces the length of seminary studies by a couple years.
A degree in philosophy or theology prepares you best, but a degree in any subject can demonstrate your dedication and ability.
While in college, get involved in your campus’ ministry. Use this time to attend retreats, help other students, and connect with your new parish or diocese.
Enter a seminary. Apply to seminaries through your diocese or through the religious order. If at all possible, enter a seminary that awards a Master of Divinity, and is accredited by the Association of Theological Schools (if you are in the US or Canada).
Ask your parish how to get started.
Every school has a different application process. You may need reference letters, proof of church involvement, a certain GPA, and a statement of interest.
The questions may cover physical health, emotional well being, conformity of behavior with Catholic tradition, and broad knowledge of Church doctrine.
Excel in seminary school. In seminary, you’ll spend your years studying philosophy, Latin, Greek, Gregorian chants, dogmatic and moral theology, exegesis, canon law, and church history, just to get you started. Program length varies based on prior education and the amount of time you can devote to it, but a typical student enrolls in four years of graduate-level theology, and zero to four years of undergraduate philosophy and/or spiritual years.
You will also be attending retreats, conferences, and workshops as regular aspects of your training. You’ll be guided on meditation and solitude and be given adequate time to hone your public speaking skills.
Become ordained as deacon. After completing seminary, a bishop may call you to Holy Orders and ordain you to the ministry. You will now serve as a deacon for at least six months.
Don’t worry too much about whether you will be ordained. If there are issues that could prevent your ordination, you will likely discover them during seminary.
If you are not chosen to be a priest or you leave seminary early, you may be able to request a refund of the tuition. The response depends on seminary policy and your financial situation.
Enter the priesthood. Depending on your country’s tradition, you may enter the priesthood after a relatively short term, or choose to remain as a deacon permanently.
There are multiple forms of priesthood, which you will learn about in detail during seminary:
Diocesan priests serve the Church in a geographic area. This includes parish priests, chaplains, and religious teachers, among others. They promise celibacy and obedience.
Religious priests join the global community of a religious order or congregation, such as the Benedictines or Franciscans. These priests make formal vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, with some variation among different orders.
Learn the requirements of specific communities. The Catholic Church does not set a maximum age on ordination. However, specific dioceses and religious communities do not accept applicants above a certain age. When there is a limit, this is usually in the range of 40 to 55 years.
You must be male and unmarried. Widowers are accepted, but typically not within a year or two of the spouse’s death. Divorcées must apply for annulment. Some Eastern Catholic Churches have different regulations, and (rarely) a married man ordained in another faith may convert and become a Catholic priest.
Homosexual tendencies and acts are judged on an individual basis, but generally make it much harder to enter the priesthood. They prefer, if your gay, to keep it hidden. To be candid, many priest are gay.
Consider your life experiences. Parishioners may feel more comfortable with an older priest who shares more of their life experiences. In particular, the priesthood looks for individuals who demonstrate human, intellectual, spiritual, and pastoral qualities.
If you can demonstrate these qualities in at least one or two areas, you are much more likely to be accepted by a seminary, have your financial burden sponsored, and eventually become ordained.
Educational and career experience may help, but your personal life can be a source as well. For example, teaching, providing emotional and spiritual guidance, or contributing to your community can all help prepare you.
Enter seminary. Seminary provides rigorous education at a graduate level, which may be daunting if your school years are deep in your past. Talk to mentors in the church to find seminaries that cater to older students.
You may also find a seminary specializing in counseling, teaching, or another area that fits your life skills.
You may enter seminary without a bachelor’s degree, but it will be more difficult to get in, and the length of your education will typically increase to eight years.
Become ordained. After you complete seminary, a bishop can ordain you into the Catholic ministry. You will first serve as a deacon for at least six months. After this service, you may be ordained as a diocesan priest serving a parish or other local area; or take vows and live in a religious community.
There ay be other aspects of how to become a priest, but these are the basics.