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Become a Catholic Priest: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Research the requirements to become a Catholic priest. Learn about the job description and duties and read the step-by-step process to start a career in the priesthood.

Should I Become a Catholic Priest?

Catholic priests are charged with serving their dioceses, orders or local parishes. Duties may include celebrating Mass and performing rites such as marriage and funeral services. Counseling others to help achieve spiritual growth has its share of rewards, though hearing parishioners' confessions may cause certain levels of stress, in addition to the potential stress of a celibate lifestyle.

Priests must be Catholic and are required to meet several spiritual and education requirements in order to be qualified for their work. It is important to note that requirements to enter the priesthood vary from one branch of the Catholic faith to another.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree (standard), seminary program (generally required), master's degree (optional)
Degree Field Any field is acceptable; English, philosophy, religion, communications or history may be beneficial
Key Skills Strong verbal and listening skills, knowledge of the Bible, leadership skills, religious devotion, Catholicism, celibacy (depending on denomination); some churches only allow males to enter the priesthood
Salary $43,950 is the median annual wage for clergy members (2014)

Source: Albany Vocations, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Catholic priests are typically required to have a bachelor's degree. The degree may be in any field of study, though it may be beneficial to pursue degrees that can easily relate to religious studies and service, such as in English, philosophy, religion, communications or history. Some seminaries, which are schools that formally educate priests and prepare them for religious life, require that incoming seminarians have undergraduate coursework in philosophy or religious studies.

Success Tips

  • Obtain guidance from Catholic church leadership. Priests and those in leadership positions at churches can provide information about additional denomination-specific requirements for those who wish to enter the ministry. They can also provide spiritual counsel, as well as inform aspiring priests about related programs they can join while attending college.
  • Become active in the church. In addition to talking with religious leaders, aspiring priests may want to increase their involvement in their Catholic community. They may participate in services administered by the church, provide religious education instruction and participate in activities like singing in the choir.

Step 2: Become a Candidate

In some Catholic churches, additional contact with the priests and church leaders may lead to becoming a formal candidate for the priesthood. For others, candidacy is more of a time of discernment and reflection for the aspiring priests. It is during this time that prospective priests typically reflect on their calling to the priesthood and decide whether this lifestyle is right for them. They may also be more involved with services and the religious community at large.

Step 3: Go to Seminary or Complete Graduate Work

Aspiring Catholic priests may attend a seminary before ordination. Some churches, like the Roman Catholic Church, may require candidates to go to seminary for four years. A seminary program offers graduate-level coursework in subjects like Biblical studies, liturgy, ethics, pastoral studies, church history and preaching. Aspiring priests may obtain a Master of Divinity or another related degree. Other churches may not strictly require their priests to receive training at a seminary. Future priests may be required to earn a graduate degree in any field, though some churches prefer candidates with a degree related to theology or religious studies.

Step 4: Become Ordained

At the conclusion of seminary training or other guided preparation for the priesthood, a candidate is generally ordained, which is sometimes called receiving the sacrament of holy orders. This may be done during a Mass celebration or through some other kind of ceremony, depending on the Catholic denomination. A priest then receives an assignment or begins living a religious life along with fellow members of their order.

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