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How to Become a Catholic Priest

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Unlike other professions, the priesthood has requirements above and beyond those of education. You must be a Catholic male, have a vocation for the work and be willing to live a celibate life. Your age may be an issue depending on the diocese you choose. If you are entering the priesthood late in life, you must also consider such issues as whether you have been married, widowed or divorced and whether your children are independent.

Begin with a Bachelor's Degree

Catholic priests are trained in the seminary. Before you can enter the seminary, you must obtain a bachelor’s degree, according to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany. Any field of study is acceptable. You must be an average or above average student, according to the Albany diocese, as you will need to pass more complicated courses in the seminary. You are responsible for the cost of your undergraduate education. Some older candidates, or those who do not have a bachelor’s degree, may be able to enter a special program to become priests.

The Pre-Theology Program

In addition to your bachelor’s degree, you must complete a two-year pre-theology program. Although individual programs may vary slightly, the primary course work in this program centers on theology and philosophy. For example, at the Notre Dame Seminary Graduate School of Theology, the curriculum includes the history of philosophy, philosophical ethics and the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. You will also study prayer, the New Testament, Catholic catechism and ecclesiastical Latin. In the summer, you will spend time working in a parish ministry to gain insight into the life of a priest.

The Seminary and Parish Life

You must be sponsored by a diocese to enter the seminary, according to the Albany diocese. Once you have been accepted, the diocese typically pays for room, board, tuition and health insurance. It may also pay part of the cost for books, and some seminarians receive a stipend. In the seminary, you will continue your studies to obtain a master of divinity degree, which will take four years. Topics in your course work will include logic, metaphysics, anthropology, ethics, liturgy, sacraments and moral theology, as well as electives. In the summers you will be assigned to different parishes within the diocese to experience parish life. A pastoral year is available in some programs. The seminarian spends a full year in a parish to experience life as a priest.

Job Outlook and Salaries

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not report data specific to Catholic priests, but does note that demand for clergy in general is about average. The BLS projects a growth rate of 10 percent for clergy occupations from 2012 to 2022. That compares to a projected growth rate of 11 percent for all occupations. However, a May 2014 article on the website notes that one in five parishes does not have a resident priest, and the average age of American priests is 63, indicating many are near retirement. The BLS reports the average annual salary for members of the clergy was $47,450 in 2013. The Indeed job site reports the annual average salary for Roman Catholic priests in 2014 was $44,000.