When a young man expresses his desire to enter seminary to his family it is a great blessing when his parents receive the news with joy.
It is not uncommon, however, for parents of a young man who is discerning a priestly vocation to harbor reservations. Parents who love their children want the best for them, they want them to be happy and successful in life. When a young man expresses a desire to study for the priesthood, it might catch his parents off guard and they might worry that such a life could not bring him happiness.
But hear the words of Christ who says to His followers: “Do not be afraid.” To have a priest in the family is a great blessing, but sometimes it takes time to realize that. If God is truly offering the priesthood to your son, He will provide for your son’s happiness.
As his parents, the main thing is to be understanding and encouraging of your son. Ask him how you might assist and support him. Just asking the question will mean a great deal to your son and will reveal your unconditional love to him as he strives to pursue the Lord’s will.
It is important that, as he tries to figure out whether he should apply to seminary, that his privacy be respected. Ask him whether you should keep his discernment confidential for the time being. In the meantime, take an interest in his vocation and learn more about it. There are many useful resources on this website to learn about discernment, life in the seminary, and the priesthood.
The most important thing, of course, is to pray for him. Give thanks to God for his life and ask the Lord to assist him with the grace of clarity and courage in following his vocation.
Depending on your son's age and educational background, it takes between four and eight years to become a priest. There are good reasons why the process takes as long as it does. The Diocese wants to ensure he receive an excellent education in philosophy so that he might have the necessary intellectual foundation to go on to study theology. The need for serious study is one reason for the length of the process.
But also, the priesthood is a serious commitment. It involves significant sacrifice and requires the making of public promises. Because of this, it is important that a man who is seeking Holy Orders has plenty of time to grow in knowledge of God and of himself, to develop a solid prayer life, and be able to grow in personal virtue. All of these things are necessary to be able to discern well the will of God for his life.
At the same time, the Church also has its role in the process of discernment. Over the course of the period of formation, the Church also discerns the suitability of a candidate for Holy Orders. The many years required for priestly formation are for the good of both the candidate and the Church.
The overwhelming majority of priests are extremely happy in their vocations. The reason for this remarkably high "job satisfaction" rate is that they are doing what the Lord intended for their lives. Most priests will cite the administration of the sacraments, preaching, teaching, and helping people and their families as sources of great joy for them.
But ultimately the source of happiness for any follower of Christ is his or her relationship with the Lord. In this regard, the priest is given the privilege of acting in the person of Christ at key moments in the life of the Church. Msgr. Stephen Rossetti has written about the positive experience of the priesthood in his exhaustive, yet very readable, study Why Priests are Happy: A Study of the Psychological and Spiritual Health of Priests.
With regard to the question of loneliness, it is important to distinguish it from aloneness. In the life of a priest, moments of solitude or aloneness are required for prayer, reflection, homily preparation, and rest. Many priests experience aloneness without feeling lonely. At the same time, the priest engaging in his ministry interacts with hundreds of people a week, and through these interactions many life-giving friendships develop.
Finally, it is important to acknowledge that no vocation - including marriage - is immune to loneliness. Therefore a priest must always be vigilant in maintaining healthy relationships with family, friends, other priests, as well as parishioners and members of religious communities of men and women.
If your son's discernment leads him to enter seminary, his departure will be similar to a son leaving home to attend college. The advantage of having the St. John Fisher Seminary program within the diocese, however, is that he will be living relatively nearby. A certain detachment is necessary to allow him to enter fully into the formation program, but there are many opportunities for him to make home visits over the course of the year.
The St. John Fisher program has built into its calendar on average a "free" weekend each month, during which he would be free to visit family. There are also times such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and summer vacation when the seminarian is encouraged to spend time with his family and friends.
Over the course of the year there are events to which the family and friends of seminarians are invited to visit St. John Fisher Seminary. It is important that a seminarian's parents become familiar with the place where their son lives and the community of which he is a part. The faculty and staff do their best to facilitate this, encouraging the seminarian to maintain and develop family relationships through visits and frequent communication. At the same time, they remain mindful of providing the seminarian with an environment in which he can engage fully his program of formation.
Because of the seriousness of the commitment of one's life to the priesthood, it is the intention of the Diocese of Bridgeport that, whenever possible, financial considerations would never prevent a man from pursuing a priestly vocation. For this reason, the Diocese pays the costs of seminary, room & board, tuition, books, and any required fees on behalf of each seminarian.
Debts incurred prior to entrance into the seminary program, including student loans, would continue to be the responsibility of the candidate who took on those loans. Since seminarians receive only a small monthly stipend for their day-to-day expenses, during time in seminary their student loans may be put into deferment. The salary he would receive as a parish priest would be used to pay off pre-existing liabilities.
It is through the great generosity of the people of the Diocese of Bridgeport that the seminary formation program costs the candidate nothing. This allows the young man discerning priesthood the freedom he needs to discern his vocation well. That is why the young men in seminary are urged to pray for their benefactors and to take their formation seriously so that they might be well-prepared to serve as priests those who made their formation possible.
It is possible that your son could spend as few as five days or as many as five years in seminary and discern that the priesthood is not for him. There is nothing shameful about withdrawing from a program for this reason. The time spent in formation should never be considered a waste. Through his experience of seminary formation your son will have grown in holiness, self-awareness, and in personal maturity through the entire process of discernment and his time in formation.