The Ballincollig-based priest who has been entrusted with supporting people in the diocese who are thinking about joining the priesthood says God is doing the recruiting; the priest’s role is to help and listen.
Bandon native Fr Cian O’Sullivan was appointed as a diocesan director of vocation in January 2020 by Bishop of Cork and Ross, Fintan Gavin.
Fr O’Sullivan said the way a priest is trained has changed.
“In December 2016, the Congregation for the Clergy established a new path for formation for the priesthood,” Fr O’Sullivan said. “Right across the Church, there is a new way of forming priests. There are still some similarities, with God calling the person to be a priest and they, in turn, contact the vocational director in their diocese.
“The period of discernment is a longer period of time. This generally takes between one and two years. After that, you formally apply for the diocese.”
Following these initial steps, the person then proceeds to a propaedeutic year.
“You then go into a propaedeutic period, which really works out whether you are called to be a priest or not,” Fr O’Sullivan said. “It is the start of seminary. It takes place in Spain. The English College in Valladolid runs the propaedeutic from mid-September to the following summer every year.
“The Royal Scots College also runs a propaedeutic, from January to the summer. They are the closest English-speaking colleges that provide it. There are no formal academics during propaedeutics. Once they are formally accepted, they go into the seminary. Seminary has not changed. You have a primary degree that has to involve philosophy. Once this is done, you then do theology. This is great training in learning how to be there for people. You are then ordained, after six or seven years in the seminary,” he added.
Fr O’Sullivan, as a vocations director, accompanies the candidate not only through discernment and selection, but throughout priestly formation up to ordination.
The vocations director keeps all parties informed at the different stages. His duties include: Guiding people through the selection process, advising the bishop about the discernment journey, and co-ordinating each stage of the process.
Fr O’Sullivan said that “listening” and “patience” are vital in his role.
“My role is to support and promote priesthood. If somebody says to me they have been called by God, I would help them reach that potential. If they don’t feel that the priesthood is for them, it is not a waste of time.
“As a priest, I am respectful of everyone’s freedom and if they feel God is calling on them to be a priest, I am open to journeying with them.
“The one common thread, having met with people, is they are saying God might be calling them to be a priest,” Fr O’Sullivan said. “It is a huge step for people to come to me. It takes great trust and great courage to talk to me, because of my official role. I am very much aware that this calling from God may be going on for a long time.
“There are two key things that I think are important at this stage for both parties: Listening and patience. Listening is vital. When they come to me, they feel like they are ready to go now. We have to stick to the process. They are making a huge decision in their life, so they need to step back and not rush into things.”
Fr O’Sullivan was appointed as a curate in Ballincollig parish in October 2015. He said he knew he wanted to be a priest from the age of seven.
“I am delighted I joined. I walk through the village most days and people of all ages come up for a chat. I am so grateful, in my 18 years as a priest, that people have been so respectful,” Fr O’Sullivan said.
“Most people entering the priesthood nowadays are thinking about it later in life. People can have a simple conversation with me. The sooner people come to me the better, as I can give more support before that person gives a commitment.
“I am not in the recruitment process. It is God who is doing the recruiting. I support and listen. In regards to the qualities, the person has to have a relationship with God.
“My life makes no sense if I am doing good things for people without God being part of it. Otherwise, my skills would be in the line of pastoral or social work. We have a family of priests in the diocese. There is great support there.
“Priests live a very normal and fulfilling life. You can pursue your hobbies and interests while serving. I would be big into sport, while other priests have a huge interest in music, art, history, and photography. Most new priests are coming from a different experience of life. I support them as best I can and help them find their path,” he added.
The 44-year-old Cork priest, who was himself ordained in 2003, said priests in the diocese of Cork and Ross have to possess a number of characteristics.
“There is no age limit officially to begin training as a priest,” Fr O’Sullivan said. “75 is the retirement age. If you are a priest in Cork and Ross, you need to be in robust health, as we spend a lot of our days on our feet and a lot of things happen suddenly in our role. You could get a sick call, which means you hop into a car and away you go.
“Uncertainty is part of being a priest, but this mirrors real-life experiences. A big thing for a priest can often be where they will be based in a year’s time or five years’ time. If I was very certain of my own life and I was perfect, nobody would come to me.
“People reach out to a priest. We give them some hope, not false hope. People see us as being connected with God and that is why they come to us.”
The diocese of Cloyne has one student attending Maynooth University. Jackie Ó Luasa, from Clondrohid, is in his second year of studies. He said he is enjoying his time in Maynooth.
“I’m studying philosophy, politics, history, and international development,” Jackie said. “I completed the propaedeutic year in Valladolid, at the Royal English College. I found the year beneficial, as I had just completed my Leaving Certificate. The year away enabled me to learn more about the Church and to develop my prayer life, before coming to Maynooth.
“My first year has been difficult, due to the Covid restrictions and not being able to meet classmates. We are lucky in the seminary to still come together as a community for prayer, mass, meals, and events,” he said.