Fr. Chris Lemieux is the Director of the Vocations Office of the Archdiocese of Toronto. In light of the recent ordinations of two new priests in the Archdiocese of Toronto, we asked him about the steps men can take if they feel God might be calling them to the priesthood.
What are some qualities that you look for in a man thinking about the diocesan priesthood?
I would say, first and foremost, he should have a love for Jesus Christ and for the sacraments. He should want to be a disciple of Christ and to follow Him and have a desire especially to serve as the Master served. The priesthood should be attractive to him. The joy of serving others is also a key part, but this is something that also grows in time, and is fostered through seminary formation.
How do people usually contact the Vocations Office?
It’s split evenly between phone calls and emails. Also, people are starting to connect more through our website. Some people might also reach out to us through social media, and so we offer access through Twitter and Facebook. It’s all a part of the way things are changing and people are connecting, and we’re starting to adapt to respond to that change.
What do you say to someone who calls you and says "I'm not sure, but I think God might be calling me to the priesthood?"
I ask him to come in for a meeting so that I can talk to him in person. Sometimes I'll drive out to where he is. It takes a lot of courage for a man to contact me in the first place and to admit that God might be calling him to the priesthood. The meeting is to get an initial sense of whether or not this person is called to the priesthood. If he's not, that's okay.
In our first conversation, I ask him about his background. I like to get a sense of where he's coming from and what his family life is like. I also ask him to describe how he feels called and what sorts of things are taking place in his life. Our conversations usually require more than one meeting and, as time progresses, deeper conversations start to happen.
How does spiritual direction play a role?
Almost immediately after I speak with someone, I encourage him to seek spiritual direction. I give him suggestions based on his needs and his spirituality. So if I notice that he expresses himself and his relationship with God in a certain way, I encourage him to connect with someone who might help him “find God” in the most effective way. Discovering God and having a good relationship with Him comes before discovery of our vocation. Of course, it’s much more difficult if someone is in a remote part of the diocese. In those cases, I usually recommend that he attends spiritual direction with his parish priest.
How do you determine whether someone should enter St. Augustine's Seminary? What's the process?
As Director of Vocations, the most effective way I can ascertain a man’s vocation is by establishing a relationship with him through conversation. Even early in our vocational discernment, there are evident signs of where the Lord’s leading us. For priesthood I look for things like: does the man love God and others, does He have an innate desire to serve? Does he love the sacraments? Does he love his parish and being an active part in the community? Leadership is important. Of course, there are several years of formation, so he doesn’t need to have all the skills and qualities already, but there needs to be that potential and signs he can grow into the role of a priest. There are certain academic requirements, because studies are required. It doesn’t mean he has to be a stellar student, but he has to be able to keep up with his courses. I make sure the man is someone who strives for balance and has the desire to learn and grow spiritually. Also, I need to make sure that he’s entering of his own free will and not because of someone else’s pressure. He needs to respond freely to God’s call.
What do you want to say to those men who are on the fence about whether or not to call you?
It definitely takes a lot of courage to reach out to me. I've been putting a lot of focus on getting out to parishes and meeting people. When you can put a face to the name, it makes it easier to give me a call. Also, I'm not in the recruiting business. My role is to determine what the Lord's will is for that person's life. If it isn't the diocesan priesthood, I can help put them in touch with the vocation director at any of the religious orders. And if they aren't called to the priesthood at all, that's perfectly fine. But always take that first step and give me a call.
How can someone contact you?
The number at the Vocations Office is 416-968-0997 and the email address is email@example.com.