Discerning a Vocation?

Frequently Asked Questions:

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 (also referred to as “sponsors”) have age limit requirements and not all sponsors will accept candidates who cannot be ordained by age 40, 50 or 55. However, 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.  If your diocese says you are not eligible due to age, don’t give up.  Give us a call and we might be able to connect you with sponsors accepting older men.

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. You might also want to watch some of the faith stories and testimonials on our Vocations page.

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

No one is automatically “worthy” to be 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.” (John 15:16) Also, God calls the sinner as well as the righteous, so if you are feeling unworthy, remember that Jesus did not pick the 12 most righteous disciples. He chose ordinary men from Galilee to be his disciples.

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

Discernment is a distinctively spiritual way of being open to the will of God in 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 good alternatives on how we are called to love and serve God and God’s 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. Discuss this with your pastor.  You may also ask your pastor to put you in touch with a spiritual director to guide you. Learn more on our Vocations section, which includes faith stories and testimonials.

How do you pray about God’s will?

Simply spend quiet moments with the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you as you explore the possibilities in your life.

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, and a realistic idea of what is required of a parish priest which is often demonstrated by a candidate’s involvement in a parish community. In some cases, age becomes an important factor. One’s desire for priesthood must be tested, taking into account these other factors as well as submitting to a process of discernment needed by both the individual and the sponsor. It is important that we provide the best possible priests to serve the needs of the Church.

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, Sacred Heart can provide a pre-theology program. We collaborate with a nearby Catholic college for those students who need to finish their undergraduate degree.  We also have a certificate program in lieu of a master’s, and language programs.

What if I have been married, am a widower, or divorced?

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.

Generally, it is advisable to wait one to 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.

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 some will; we can help navigate that.

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 at a seminary. Many of our students report that their adult children are some of their strongest supporters in the seminary.

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.

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.

What options in priesthood are available?

The needs of the Church are many. Depending on one’s background, training and previous employment, a great variety of pastoral opportunities are available.  This is something to explore with your sponsor. Factors that can influence options include 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 setting but one might also inquire about other options, such as working in hospitals, as a teacher, or specialized ministry.

All priests are called to share the Word of God.  Sacred Heart has a strong preaching program.

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.

Who pays 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 of the cost of the 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 another factor to discuss with the sponsor.

What options outside of priesthood are available?

The Church today has an enormous variety of ministries available, including as a lay person or 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.

Can I check out the seminary without making a commitment?

Yes, visiting the seminary, 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. Sacred Heart also has Meet & Greet’s via Zoom if you are not able to travel to us.  You can register here.

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.

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 Seminary and School of Theology. We work with dioceses and religious orders around the world. Our Director of Recruitment can help you explore the many alternatives available for sponsorship.

What’s it like to live at the seminary?

Life at the seminary is like going to graduate school 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 into life as a Catholic priest. This process encompasses four dimensions of formation: intellectual, pastoral, spiritual and human. Each seminarian works on all four dimensions simultaneously and the goal of every seminarian is to keep each of these four areas of formation in balance. You will have advisors that help you through this process.

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

Certainly not at Sacred Heart! Our seminary has more than 50 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. As an adult, you are treated as one.  Previous professional and academic backgrounds, as well as special needs, are taking into consideration by an experienced faculty and staff. At Sacred Heart, you will live with seminarians from around the world, from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. During the day, you will study with more seminarians who live nearby at religious formation houses or diocesan seminaries.

What is a typical day like at the seminary?

Most days start fairly early with morning prayer at 7 a.m. followed by mass at 7:30. Then breakfast, with classes starting at 9 a.m. Classes run throughout the day. We have a lunch break and some free time during the day to use at your discretion. Evening prayer is scheduled for 5:15 PM. There are also periodic times for Eucharistic Adoration in community. Dinner follows. After dinner, seminarians can study in the library, relax in the recreation lounge with TV’s and games, go to the fitness room to exercise, or get up a basketball or volleyball game in the gym.  There are also multiple chapels for prayer and reflection.

What is housing like at the seminary?

Our exciting news is that seminarian living spaces and classrooms were renovated in the spring of 2021! Enlarged bedrooms now have their own bathrooms.  Classrooms have upgraded technology.

We live in community. The seminary living spaces are on the third and fourth floors of our building. We eat most of our meals together in the dining room. Snacks and drinks are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The seminary is situated on 250 partially wooded acres, with walking trails.

Where is Hales Corners, Wisconsin?

Hales Corners is a suburb of Milwaukee just south of the city. It is a quick 15-minute drive to downtown Milwaukee, which has numerous cultural, sporting and entertainment venues (https://www.visitmilwaukee.org). We are five minutes from Whitnall Park (https://www.visitmilwaukee.org/partners/whitnall-park-3060/) and are on the shores of Lake Michigan, one of the Great Lakes.

What’s the next step?

Contact Us!

Deacon Steve Kramer, D. Min.
Director of Homiletics
Director of Recruitment
Associate Professor, Pastoral Studies
skramer@shsst.edu | 414-858-4767
An Apostolate of the Priests of the Sacred Heart

May God bless you in your journey!