Fr Stephen Ortiger

Vocation Story

'My main interest is people so I’ve certainly been able to maintain that, thanks be to God.'

When did you first feel called to the priesthood or religious life? 

When I was at school. I was educated by Benedictine monks (Worth Preparatory School and  Downside) for 10-years; not every single one of them was inspirational but quite a few were; by ‘inspirational’ I mean intelligent, interesting and amusing; they were my Housemasters and Headmasters; they taught me A level History and A level English, they got me into Cambridge University, they were stimulating company and also kind.. They were potent role models and It was my association with them which first planted the idea of monastic life in me. 

 Were your friends and family supportive of your call? 

Yes, they were. My parents said they would support me in whatever I chose to do, this was wonderfully generous of them and also a great sacrifice because I was their only child and if I became a monk they would never, for example, see grandchildren. Whatever they may have thought privately they never put any obstacle in my way; I was greatly blessed to have such generous parents. My friends were similarly supportive; several of them had been to the same monastic schools I had attended and they were familiar with the people who had exercised such a creative influence on me.

Did you have any doubts? 

John Henry Newman said ‘ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt’; I’ve had difficulties in my time but I never doubted that I should try my vocation in the first place and, when the time came to make up my mind finally, I never thought ‘God doesn't want me in this place’. Why God has wanted me  to be a monk and a priest is a mystery but I’ve found it a joyful rather than a sorrowful one.

Have you been able to maintain the hobbies and interests you had before you became a priest or member of a religious community?

My main interest is people so I’ve certainly been able to maintain that, thanks be to God. With regard to hobbies I’ve been able to continue my interest in photography, P.G. Wodehouse, Winnie the Pooh, medieval history  and aviation.. . 

What brings you and most joy as a priest or religious

Two things: prayer and people, people and prayer; that combination. My monastic and priestly life has given me privileged access to Jesus Christ and also wonderful contact with people. It has been, and remains, a great privilege to be allowed to be alongside people in their good times and tough times; I’m hugely grateful to God for asking me to do this. For the record, if a priest is a shepherd, I’ve had the privilege of meeting some extremely impressive sheep, men and women whom I have found inspirational. It’s been a glorious two-way street. 

What would be your advice to someone trying to discern their vocation? 

First and foremost, follow your personal star; don’t live somebody else's life; it’s vital that you discover what God intends for the unique being who is you. Also, don't  think of vocation as God interrupting your life, cutting across your agenda from outside. I remember doing the wedding of a young woman who told me that when she was a teenager she used to pray every night: ‘dear Lord,  please don't ask me to be a nun’; her adolescent image was of vocation as an interruption from outside but in fact vocation is the gravitational pull from within, from the depth of our being, thus, discerning our vocation means discovering what we most want. The young woman’s vocation was to be a wife and mother; that desire had been put into her by God;  God knocked at the door of her heart from the inside, not the outside, and that’s how it is for all of us. 

To hear what God is saying to us from within we need to do three things: pray, think, and talk. We need to use our God-given brains, we need to bring our thoughts, feelings, fears, desires and questions to God in prayer, and we need to run everything that is in our minds and hearts past a wise old bird or bird-ess. Don't’ try to clap with one hand; two’s company; ask Yoda, listen to Gandalf. When you've done that, probably several times, you won't achieve 100% certainty but you'll know what you probably ought to do and you’ll also know that if you don;t do it you’ll regret it. That's enough information for taking the next step, so go with your holy hunch. You won't be sorry if you’re proved wrong and you’ll be delighted - and so will many other people - if you’re proved right.