On Friday I went back to St. John’s Seminary, Wonersh, near Guildford for a Mass to mark the closing of the Seminary after 132 years of forming men for the priesthood. Archbishop John Wilson was main celebrant with Cardinal Vincent Nichols in attendance.
In the year before I ordained priest, 1974, we had a photo taken of the staff and students in front of the building. That day there were 56 students. The last photo taken on the steps of the seminary this summer was of 17 students. Two of these have since been ordained priest. As far as I know there were no students for Southwark diocese starting their formation this September. Those still in formation are finishing their studies at Allan Hall Seminary, Chelsea.
As we begin the process of preparation for the Synod in 2023 I want to listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying us about the priesthood. Why are so few men putting themselves forward for the priesthood? Is God still calling young men to follow him as priests but are they not in a listening mode? Is the voice of God not being heard above the noise and distraction that inhabits and fills our world. Are we serious about praying for vocations to the priesthood and the religious life?
Pope Francis wrote in his document QUERIDA AMAZONIA, after the Synod on the Amazon that the priest shortage must be seen as an opportunity for the Catholic Church to
“awaken new life in communities….We need to promote an encounter with God’s word and growth in holiness through various kinds of lay service that call for a process of education — biblical, doctrinal, spiritual and practical — and a variety of programs of ongoing formation.”