Sacred Heart School of Theology
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FAQ

Frequently asked questions about pursuing priesthood past age 30


There are wonderful opportunities available to men of deep conviction who decide later in life that they wish to become priests – to share their faith through their example, service and leadership.

Most men considering a journey of discernment start with some basic questions, which we do our best to answer here. This information applies specifically to the Sacred Heart School of Theology in suburban Milwaukee.



Does my age make a difference?

How do I know if I am being called to the priesthood?

What if I do not feel worthy to become a priest?

Will I be accepted simply because I want to be a priest?

What kind of education is needed?

What if I have been married and am widowed or divorced?

What if I have children?

What if I have made mistakes in life?

Who will pay for the seminary education?

Do I have to sell my house?

Can I check out the seminary without making a commitment?

How smart do I have to be for this?

How do I get started once I decide to enter the seminary?

What's it like to live at the seminary?

Will I be treated like a "20 something" in the seminary?

How important is my work background?

What options in priesthood are available?

What options outside of priesthood are available?

What is a typical day like at the seminary?

What's housing like at the seminary?

What’s the next step?


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 one’s 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 to top.

How do I know if I am being called to the priesthood?

God talks to all of us in many different ways. Do you love to serve the church? Have others encouraged you to pursue the priesthood? Do you enjoy serving others, especially the marginalized and needy among us? If so, then maybe God is talking to you through these people. Contact your pastor and discuss this with him and see what he says. He may also connect you with a spiritual director for some further discernment about your vocation.Back to top.

What if I do not feel worthy to become a priest?

It is natural to feel that you are not worthy to become a priest. Many who enter the seminary feel exactly the same way you do. Please remember what Jesus says: "It is not you that have chosen me, but rather, it is I that has chosen you." Also, God also calls the sinner as well as the righteous so if you are felling unworthy, remember that Jesus did not pick the 12 most righteous disciples, he chose ordinary men from Galilee to be his Disciples. Back to top.

What is discernment and why is it so important in the decision making process?

Discernment is a distinctively spiritual way of being open to receiving the will of God for our lives. It is not a process of verifying what one believes is their call, but rather, an emptying of oneself of all prior preconceived notions about our call to a specific vocation. It is a procedure and process whereby we strive to hear and respond to the Word of God, here and now. It is always concerned with alternatives that are good, it is never a question of discerning good from bad, but among god alternatives on how we are all called to love and serve God and his people. To go through the discernment process requires prayer, quiet time, freedom from prejudgment, indifference to all but God’s will and not your own, and listening to God talking to you about what his plan is for you. Discuss this with your pastor. You may also ask your pastor to put you in touch with a Spiritual Director to guide you. Back to top.

How do you pray about God's will?

Simply spend quiet moments with the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and ask for His Holy Spirit and then start looking at those possibilities in your life. Back to top.

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 candidate’s involvement in a parish community. In many cases age becomes an important factor, as noted above. One’s 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 to top.

What kind of education is needed?

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 life.

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 or two years of pre-theology to the program for a total of five-six years.

Ordinarily an undergraduate degree (B.A. or B.S.) is required to begin a master’s 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 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 or seven years. Back to top.

What if I have been married?

A previous marriage does not, by itself, present any problem. In fact, in many cases, one’s marriage experience can be a significant factor contributing to a grace-filled priestly ministry.

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.

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 others will.

What if I have children?

It is important that children be at least 18 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. Back to top.

What if I have made mistakes in life?

Priesthood is not just for saints. Actually, the ability to regularly seek forgiveness and guidance from God is an asset in one’s vocational discernment. It is important to fully disclose one’s 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 outside of marriage, 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 one’s readiness for seminary life. Back to top.

How important is my work background?

Generally, a sponsor will be looking for some stability or progress in one’s work record. Often a person’s 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 to top.

What options in priesthood are available?

The needs of the church today are many. Depending on one’s 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 to top.

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. Back to top.

Who will pay for the seminary education?

The answer to this 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 to top.

Do I have to sell my house?

In general, it is best not to sell anything initially, particularly a house, until one’s vocational decision is established. Diocesan priests are not required to take a vow of poverty while those in religious orders 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 keep a house for retirement. Back to top.

Can I check out the seminary without making a commitment?

Yes, visiting the seminary, being on a search-in, or requesting more information is part of the process of discovering God's will in your life. No commitment is required before visiting the seminary. Back to top.

How smart do I have to be for this?

A student who is willing to give his best in his formation and whose intelligence is being used to its fullest is most welcome in the seminary. Back to top.

How do I get started once I decide to enter the seminary?

Before entering the seminary, you will need to get a sponsoring diocese or religious order. The first step is to contact the vocations director in your diocese. Not all vocation directors will agree to sponsor every candidate – especially older men. Don’t be discouraged if your vocations director says no. Call or visit Sacred Heart School of Theology. The vocations director will help you explore the many alternatives available for sponsorship. Back to top.

What's it like to live at the seminary?

Life at the seminary is like going to college to get your degree and being on a retreat at the same time. We certainly do quite a bit of studying, but you come to the seminary to be formed from your present state in life into a Catholic priest. This process encompasses four pillars of formation: intellectual, pastoral, spiritual and human. Each seminarian works on all four pillars simultaneously and the goal of every seminarian is to keep each of these four areas of formation in balance. It may seem like a daunting task, but you have advisors that help you get through the process. Back to top.

Will I be treated like a "20 something" in the seminary?

Certainly not at Sacred Heart! Our seminary has more than 35 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 30 and 60, 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 staff. Back to top.

What is a typical day like at the seminary?

Most days start fairly early with Morning Prayer at 7:00 AM and then Mass at 7:30. Then breakfast, with classes starting at 9:00 AM. Classes run throughout the day. We have a lunch break and some free time during the day to use at your discretion. There is optional Eucharistic adoration for 30 minutes before evening prayer in community at 5:15 PM. Dinner follows. After dinner, most guys work on homework, while others play basketball or volleyball. Some watch TV or a movie. With this many guys, there is always someone available to participate in many diverse activities. You can spend time in the chapel . There are three chapels available to choose from. As with any group of guys, each has their own way of balancing their workload and managing their time. What has worked for you in your present employment will most likely work here as well. Back to top.

What is housing like at the seminary?

We live in community. We each have our own private room, albeit a fairly small one. Common bathroom and shower facilities are a few steps down the hall. We eat most of our meals together in the dining room. Snacks and drinks are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We have high speed Internet access in all our rooms. You may have a TV, microwave, minifridge, computer, and other amenities in your room. Back to top.

What’s the next step?

Because sponsorship is required for seminary admission, contacting one’s 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 individual’s 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 journey! Back to top.

For more information contact:

Fr. Javier Bustos, Director of Recruitment

Sacred Heart School of Theology; 7335 S. Hwy 100; P.O. Box 429; Hales Corners, WI 53130
phone: 414/529-6984 || e-mail:
jbustos@shsst.edu