When did you first feel called to the priesthood?
I think I may have been about 13 when I first thought about the Priesthood but it wasn’t until the 6th Form at Ampleforth before I took it seriously.
Were your friends and family supportive of your call?
My parents were the first to know. I got two separate replies from them by post expressing their joy. Ever since, they have always given me good advice and their full support. My brother Patrick, closest to me in age, has always been a loyal supporter. I was reluctant to tell many people but my housemaster, Fr Dunstan, who was to become a mentor and close friend, arranged that I meet Abbot Basil Hume. The latter, having listened to my story, encouraged me to get a 9-5 job for at least a year before making any big decisions. Following his sound advice, I spent the next year in London working first in a restaurant and later in an insurance office, before making my application to Bishop Michael Bowen.
Did you have any doubts?
No doubts about the priesthood, but over the years I have sometimes wondered whether I would have been better off in a monastery. I should add that these doubts only came at stressful times and never lasted very long.
Have you been able to maintain the hobbies and interests you had before you became a priest?
Coming from an artistic family, I used to enjoy painting with watercolours, but I knew it would be too time consuming as soon as I entered Wonersh. This was the only hobby I have given up and I was only O level standard anyway. Otherwise I love to walk out in the country. I am sure this will always remain an essential part of my life.
What brings you most joy as a priest?
Relaxing with brother priests, over a good meal, after celebrating a well-attended reconciliation service with parishioners brings me great joy. Like every career or way of life the Diocesan priesthood involves a certain amount of routine and unwelcome chores. It is when I am doing something really priestly that I feel most fulfilled: especially celebrating Mass offering the Sacraments, preaching and visiting. These have all grown on me over the years. Just occasionally, when praying before the Blessed Sacrament, I do experience profound peace and closeness to God, but not very often I’m afraid. I hasten to add, real joy for me is also to relax with my family over a good meal, and to spend an evening with priest friends wining and dining, and enjoying a good movie. I have come to realise that the Lord is equally present on these occasions.
What would be your advice to someone trying to discern their vocation?
Be generous in your prayer time but make sure you don’t fill it with your own thoughts and plans. Hand the agenda over to God. Learn to be attentive to Him and to ‘listen with your heart’.
If you can, try to make a habit of praying before the Blessed Sacrament, ideally every day. Grow in your relationship with Mary, especially through the Rosary.
Seek advice from your parish priest. He might be an ideal spiritual director for you, or he might be able to recommend somebody else. It is important to meet regularly with your spiritual director at least once a month. In discerning your vocation, always keep your options open. There will always be an element of uncertainty; do not be afraid to ‘step out into the deep’.
Trust in the Lord and Trust in our Mother Mary.