Frequently Asked Questions
Address fears and questions about God’s call.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I know if I have a vocation as a priest or brother?
Discovering your vocation is rarely the work of waiting for one clear sign. Coming to an understanding of your vocation is a process that begins with growing in your relationship with God through prayer, reflection, and the Sacraments. Within the context of this growing relationship with God, one can then ask questions of God regarding his call.
While there is no one clear indicator of a vocation as a priest or brother, there are some signs that are good benchmarks. If you agree with most of the statements below, you should talk with a vocation director or otherwise pursue spiritual guidance.
- You are growing in your desire to attend Mass and the Sacraments more frequently.
- You find great satisfaction in service-related activities.
- You are progressing beyond the generic idea of being a priest and imagining yourself as active in specific ways — preaching, teaching, celebrating the Sacraments.
- You find yourself fighting the idea of a vocation but can’t get it out of your head.
- Other people tell you that you would make a good priest or brother.
- You have other good options but wonder if you will regret it someday if you don’t give the seminary a try.
You don’t have to be completely certain that you are called to be a priest or brother before entering the seminary. It is a step along the way in considering your call. If you seem to have a strong draw toward the priesthood or religious life, entering into formation becomes the next step in discovering if God is indeed calling you to a vocation as a priest or a brother.
Whom should I reach out to? When should I contact a Vocation Director?
It is difficult to realize God’s call on your own. Speaking with someone you trust who is firm in their own relationship with the Lord is an important way of making sure that you are on the right track. Those who know us can often see things in us that we do not see in ourselves. They can also help us to recognize when we are not being honest with ourselves.
As you consider your vocation, it is important not to look for someone who will tell you what to do, rather look for someone to help you consider God’s call through your own prayer and consideration of your skills and desires.
When you get to the point where you have questions about life as a priest or a brother or what life in the seminary is like, or when you cannot shake the feeling that you may be called to be a priest or a brother, it is time to contact a vocation director. The work of a vocation director is not to convince you that you have a vocation; rather, it is to work with you through your questions and help you consider the next step.
It is more than likely that if you are reading this page, it is time to talk with a vocation director. We can then directly answer the questions that you are wrestling with.
How do I talk about my vocation discernment with family and friends? What if they are not supportive?
It is often the case that your family is interested in making sure that you find a path in life that makes you happy and brings you closer to God. It is also often the case that your family knows you better than most other people. This is why it is important to draw them into your consideration of your vocation. Talk to them about what you are thinking and why you think that you may have a vocation. Listen to what they have to say and why they are saying it.
It can happen that your family may not be supportive of your consideration of a vocation as a priest or a brother. There may be good reasons for their lack of support and so it is important to hear them out. It may also be that they are not familiar with the life and ministry of a priest or a brother or that their concerns are based on misconceptions. This is where it can be helpful to talk with a vocation director or someone outside of your family as well. A vocation director can help to clear up any misconceptions or questions that you or your family might have.
In Holy Cross we are always happy to talk with parents or other family members who have questions. We realize that your family is an important part of your life, and we do not want to separate you from them as you consider your vocation.
How do I know if my vocation is to a diocese or a religious community?
Realizing that you might have a vocation is an important first step, yet there are further steps in discerning the many different ways of following that call to be a priest or brother. The first step in coming to an understanding of where you are being called is to learn about the different options and then consider which one connects best with your skills, abilities, and desires for service.
As you think about your vocation, consider what you envision yourself doing and where you see yourself doing it. If you feel drawn to serving close to home or in a particular area, especially in a parish setting, your call may be to service in a specific diocese. If you feel drawn less to a specific geographical area and more to a specific sort of work (e.g., education) with a particular draw toward community life, your vocation may be to a religious community.
Here again a conversation with a vocation director can be a helpful way to think through your gifts and interests and help send you in the right direction. It is even okay to talk with multiple vocation directors to see what life looks like in different dioceses and religious communities.
How do I know what community is right for me?
The difference among religious communities within the Catholic Church is often most easily identified by how they live and work (charism) and what they do (apostolate). Considering which community you may be called to is a matter of first reflecting on the sort of rhythm of life that would be best for you and the sort of work that you are suited for.
Once you have considered your own inclinations, search for a community that does the sort of work that you see yourself doing. Consider their life in common, their rhythm of prayer, and where they minister. Look to the community that will give you the sort of support and challenge that will help you to develop your potential for holiness and for service in the Church.
It is also worth paying attention to whether there is a community with which you have come into regular contact. Those discerning religious life can sometimes think that they have not searched enough if they go with the community that they know best. Yet God may have drawn you into regular contact with a specific community for a reason. If the community that you know seems to be a good fit, it may well be that it is the right one for you.
If you find yourself drawn to several different communities, take the time to visit each of them. A visit can help give you a sense of whether you can be at home among a specific religious community.
Recognize that no religious community is going to fit perfectly. But there should be a certain level of connection with their life and work, since your vocation will not call you to be a completely different person. Your vocation will draw you more fully into the potential that God has given you, and your religious community will be a part of helping this to happen.
What makes Holy Cross different from other religious communities?
The Congregation of Holy Cross is a vowed religious community of priests and brothers bound together in a communal life and in service to the Church and the world. What makes Holy Cross unique is our specific combination of apostolic ministry, common life, and spirituality.
The priests and brothers of Holy Cross are educators in the faith striving to educate the entire person. In the words of our founder, Blessed Basil Moreau, “We will not educate the mind at the expense of the heart.” This is done primarily in educational institutions, parishes, and missions.
Our common life and spirituality sustains and focuses the service that we give to the Church. Based on the example of the Holy Family, our common life consists of shared prayer, meals, and celebrations. Through this we are encouraged by the support and witness of one another. Together we proclaim the Cross of Christ as our one true hope: Ave Crux Spes Unica.
How long is the process leading to ordination or consecration?
Typically, it takes six years for a person entering the Postulant Program with a bachelor’s degree to complete formation and profess final (perpetual) vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
A full-year novitiate follows the postulant year. The completion of the novitiate is marked by the first profession of temporary vows and a return to Moreau Seminary and the University of Notre Dame for four years of theological course work. After four years in temporary vows (renewed for one year at a time), one would profess his final vows in Holy Cross.
A person entering the Old College Undergraduate Seminary as a freshman would add three years to the above time frame. He would enter into the Postulant Program as a senior in college and then follow the above progression.
A candidate for priesthood is usually ordained a transitional deacon the day after he professes his perpetual vows. Priestly ordination typically follows approximately seven months later, during Easter Week.
A more detailed overview of the formation process can be found in the Seminary Life section of this site.
What are the criteria for admission?
The following is a brief, but not exhaustive list:
- A baptized, confirmed, practicing Roman Catholic with a sustained prayer life and regular participation in the Sacraments.
- A demonstrated capacity to fulfill all requirements for an advanced degree.
- Free of psychological or medical conditions that would inhibit one from exercising a full life of ministry.
- Exhibits emotional maturity.
- A record of service and/or liturgical ministry suggesting serious interest in a consecrated vocation.
- Solid leadership qualities for exercising public ministry, proven through school and/or work experience.
- At least 17 years old if applying to Old College, and younger than 35 if applying to the Postulant Program.
- Free of all canonical impediments and other potential legal or moral grounds for disqualification (e.g., prior criminal record, personal or legal obligations, sexually inappropriate conduct).
- Demonstrated ability to live religious vows faithfully.
What is the application procedure?
Since the Old College Undergraduate Seminary and Postulant Programs follow the academic calendar, the standard starting point for anyone entering into formation with Holy Cross is in early August. Applications are then received on a rolling basis through the course of the previous academic year.
If interested in applying, please contact the Office of Vocations. Before beginning the formal application process, we will find an appropriate time for you to make an informal visit. The informal visit provides you an opportunity to experience the life of the community and gain a better sense of whether you feel called to this life. We schedule a number of visits throughout the year, ranging from a couple of hours to several days.
The formal interview process requires submission of an application, letters of recommendation, and transcripts, along with completion of a psychological assessment. Applicants will then attend a three-day formal visit to Moreau Seminary or Old College, which will include a variety of interviews. Individuals are normally informed of the results of their application within a month of their formal visit.
Parents of applicants are welcome to visit during the time of an informal or formal visit.
What are the deadlines for applying?
Our formation programs generally follow the academic calendars of the University of Notre Dame and of neighboring Holy Cross College. For this reason, the Old College Undergraduate Seminary and the Postulant Program at Moreau Seminary welcome admitted applicants to campus in early August.
To have sufficient time to complete the application and assemble relevant documentation, individuals interested in applying should contact the Office of Vocations several months or even a year before the admission date. This is particularly important for high school students interested in applying to Old College, as the University of Notre Dame and Holy Cross College have their own application deadlines for fall semester enrollment.
The Office of Vocations is privileged to accompany men in the discernment of God’s call. Reaching out to our office in a timely manner will allow for a more effective accompaniment and greater space for the work of God.
When is the right time to enter into the application process?
The right time to enter into the application process is when you have a strong enough sense that you may be called, and you are ready to discern this vocation more fully. You do not need to wait until you are positive that you are called to consider becoming a priest or a brother. Both the application process and seminary formation can help you come to a deeper understanding of God’s call.
There are a few steps that you should take before applying. Begin by making sure that you are taking time in prayer to reflect on your vocation and ask God for clarity regarding his call for you. The next step would be to contact a vocation director. Contacting us will allow us to talk about your vocation interest and about our life and ministry in Holy Cross.
If, through our conversations, it becomes clear that God may indeed be calling you to a vocation in Holy Cross, we would then find a time for you to visit us. Following that visit, if are ready to invest further in your discernment, then it is the right time to enter into the application process.
How do I deal with some of my doubts — not ready, not worthy, etc.?
Doubts are a normal part of the discernment process. This is because it is rare for someone to receive a clear, unmistakable sign from God that they are called to be a priest or a brother. More often, coming to this understanding of one’s vocation is a prayerful process of considering one’s skills, inclinations, and sense of God’s will.
A part of this process will always involve wrestling with doubts, fears, and questions that come up along the way. In doing so, it is important to make sure that you do not try to do this entirely on your own.
Take your fears and doubts to the Lord in prayer and ask for the grace to work through them. Find someone whom you trust and talk with them about your concerns. Bring up your questions in conversation with a vocation director or spiritual director. By bringing your concerns and fears out into the open, you can start to see whether they are legitimate barriers or something that you can work through.
An important thing to realize is that many of the fears and doubts that young men encounter when considering their vocation are not unique to them. Others may have struggled with the same questions and concerns. Of course you are also more than welcome to contact us to talk through any of the concerns that are weighing on you.
Will I have any choice in assignments once I profess final vows?
In Holy Cross we strive to help a person put his gifts to best use for the good of the Church by matching his interests with the needs and work of the Congregation.
Personal preference will be given serious consideration by superiors when assignments are made. For example, a man with the capacity for advanced studies and an interest in teaching will be encouraged to pursue those interests. It would also be appropriate for those who are interested in serving in the foreign missions to make their desires known.
A Holy Cross religious should always be open to go where he is called and do what he is asked by his superiors.
Is celibacy possible?
The vow of celibate chastity is a radical act of love and a gift of one’s life to the Lord for the sake of the Church and the world. Questions circle around this vow as to whether it is actually possible. Individuals ask themselves: Can I live out this vow? Will it leave me isolated and lonely in this world?
For thousands of years, men and women have consecrated themselves through a vow of celibate chastity and have lived joy-filled lives. Indeed all are called to live chastely, whether single, married, or celibate.
This call to chastity comes to us through the pure love of God, poured out not for his sake but for ours. This is the manner in which we are called to live: through lives poured out for others. This is the love that brings true joy and fullness of life. Rooted in Christ’s love, celibate chastity is not only possible for those who are called to it; it is the path into the heart of Christ and a powerful witness of his love to the world.
If called to the religious life and the vow of celibacy, the Lord will give you the grace and strength to live that vow well. Also, through the years of formation in the seminary, you will have the opportunity to grow in your understanding of the vow and receive direction and resources that will help you to live that vow before you make a final commitment to it.
In Holy Cross, our community life provides the companionship that makes sure that our life is not a lonely one. We take time on a daily basis to gather for prayer and meals. We also come together for major celebrations and anniversaries. Our common life, generously lived, brings us into contact with many students, families, and friends who invite us to share with them the joys and sorrows that life brings.
Is celibacy a healthy way to live?
All Christians are called to live a chaste life. For many, this will involve some measure of celibacy or abstinence from sexual activity. This is the case for anyone who is not married, as well as for those who are married but are away from their spouse for a time. This is a normal and healthy state of life.
It is true that many people struggle with living a chaste life, whether they are married or not. Part of this comes from the fact that we are naturally inclined to develop attractions, so living a chaste life requires a level of discipline over our natural desires. It is also true that there is a lot of material full of sexual content that we take in through music, TV, movies, and the Internet. Just as much as the type of food that we ingest affects our body, so too the type of images and sounds that we take in will affect how we see and think about the world around us. Living the chaste life to which we are called in our baptism will take discipline no matter what our state of life.
Priests and consecrated religious accept the vow of celibacy as a sign to our world and as a discipline that leads to a freedom to serve. It is a sign of the Kingdom of God of which Christ spoke, where we will not marry or be taken in marriage (Mark 12:25). It points to the reality that there are deeper joys in life than merely the joys of the flesh.
Celibacy is also a discipline that priests and religious take upon themselves such that they are then freed to give themselves completely in service to the Church and the proclamation of the Gospel. It is not an easy discipline, but the fact that it is not easy does not make it unnatural. Nor does it mean that they do not love. Those who profess the vow of chastity do so with the intent of entering into a single-hearted devotion to the Lord.
As part of the screening process for applicants to formation, we assist the candidate in considering whether he is suited for the vow of celibate chastity. A significant amount of time is dedicated in the seminary to help men prepare to live the vow faithfully and fruitfully.
Under the vow of poverty, will I have the basics of what I need?
The vow of poverty is an act of stepping away from the pursuit of material wealth, trusting that the Lord and our community will provide. There is a feeling of security that comes from wealth and ownership, and the thought of foregoing these may lead to uncertainty. Questions that often arise include: Will I have the things that I need? Will my family need to help support me? What if I get sick, will I have health care?
In the Congregation of Holy Cross, our vow of poverty invites us to live a simple life, detached from the blind pursuit of more. We recognize that to serve our mission well, we will need many of the tools and resources that the modern world provides, yet we recognize that in order to be detached from these possessions we must first root ourselves in a trusting dependence on the Lord. In this, too, we recognize that it is not the wealth of this world that will bring peace to our lives; Christ Jesus alone can do so.
Like the first Christians, we hold our resources in common. Any remuneration that we receive for the work we do is used for the needs of our community. We draw out what is needed to serve our mission and care for one another. This includes education for our men in formation and men in higher studies. This includes the support of our missions and our direct service to the poor. It also includes proper health care for all members, as well as a stipend for the personal needs of each.
We place our trust in one another to provide for the needs of all. We live simply so that we may not draw excessively from the common purse, and we strive to detach ourselves so that we may freely receive and just as freely give. Our shared provision for material needs is not meant to create a comfortable life but to support one another so that we may effectively pour out our lives in service to the Lord and his Church.
Under the vow of obedience, what if my superiors tell me to do something I don't want to do?
The vow of obedience is an act of turning over the free exercise of the will in imitation of Christ who was obedient to the Father. In our society where freedom and independence are greatly valued, many questions arise about what this “obedience” looks like. Included are questions about how this impacts the individual: Will I have any say in what I am doing? What if I am given an assignment that I don’t want? I have a specific sort of ministry in mind; will I be able to do it?
Professing the vow of obedience is not the same as renouncing all personal freedom. The vow engages the mystery of the obedience of Christ to the Father. The height of our use of free will is the free acceptance of the Divine Will. In this we accept the way marked out for us that truly sets us free and leads us to fullness of life and love.
To offer our will to the Father is not an act of bondage but an act of faith in the One who knows the fullness of who we were created to be and can draw us into it. In professing the vow of obedience, a religious places his individual pursuit of the Will of God in context of the communal pursuit of God’s will.
In practice, this vow of obedience connects with our life on the level of personal freedoms, communal discernment, and individual assignments. Each priest and brother is formed in the life and values of Holy Cross but is expected to exercise personal responsibility in living this out. The community gives support and structure, but each priest and brother is also responsible for his own life.
On the level of the broader community, we gather regularly as a Congregation, as Provinces, and as local houses to consider our common life and mission and plot our way ahead. When making assignments, religious superiors keep in mind the gifts and skills of the individual as well as the needs of the community’s mission. This requires an attentiveness of the community to the interests and skills of the individual, as well as a trust on the part of the individual religious that the community may see something in him that he does not see in himself.
History has shown that some of the most powerful and meaningful assignments are the ones that the individual religious would not have chosen for himself. We have come to recognize that the plans that God has in store for us are greater than any we could choose for ourselves. Thus we strive to open our lives to the will of God through obedience to our Congregation and to the Church.
Who am I to receive this call?
One of the great fears that holds some back from answering the call to the religious life and the priesthood is a sense of unworthiness. How could God call someone who struggles in his life of faith? How could God call someone who has messed up so many times? How could God call someone who has come from a complicated background?
The important truth is that God’s call comes not because of anything that you have done but rather because of the realization of who it is that God is calling you to be. In his call, God already has begun good work in you. As you open your life to God, he will bring that good work to completion.
For all disciples, the path to holiness is the work of a lifetime. We need to be willing to work with the grace of God as we progress along the path of holiness, yet one cannot expect to complete that path before entering the seminary or religious life. You must simply be willing to continue along the path and commit yourself to the work of growing in God’s grace.
Consider this: all of us lack the worthiness to receive the Eucharist. We recognize this several times in the Mass, most especially just before we move forward to receive. Along with the centurion from Scripture we say, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof…” Even when in a state of grace, we recognize that we are not worthy — who are we to present ourselves to receive the very Body and Blood of our Lord?
Yet we go forward in faith because we know that the Lord has invited us to do so. We trust in that invitation. We trust that he knows what is for our good. It is similar with regard to the invitation that God offers in our vocation. We receive the invitation not because of our worthiness but because Christ has called us. We then place our trust in him and respond.
Should I enter or wait a few more years? Will I miss out on something if I enter now?
To make a commitment one must choose one option and forego others. Entering the seminary often seems like a very big step, and it seems even bigger when weighed against other options that would be set aside. This often brings up questions regarding timing: Should I enter as a college student or wait until after college? Should I enter right after college or work for a few years? Should I enter now or wait until I am a little more confident in my call?
Two things are important to keep in mind when weighing the question of timing. The first is that entering into a religious community or the seminary does not mean that one is signing away the rest of his life. To enter the seminary means to begin a focused period of discernment and preparation; the long-term commitment does not come until several years later.
Many have entered, and after a period of time have come to understand that their vocation lies elsewhere. They are able to then set aside the question of call to the priesthood or religious life and choose another path. The time spent in formation is not wasted. It is a valuable opportunity to deepen one’s relationship with God, develop one’s life of prayer, and come to a better self-understanding.
The second thing to remember is that it is difficult to truly discern a path without first walking it. One does not learn whether he is meant to marry without first entering into a period of dating. One is not really able to discern the vocation to the religious life or priesthood without first entering formation for a period of time. Sooner or later you must live the life to find out if it is for you. It cannot be put off indefinitely.
With regard to the question of timing — during college, right after graduation, after working a few years — the truth is that there is no set time that is right for everyone. The timing is different for different people. Some need to experience a traditional college life; others may be ready to enter as undergraduates. Some may need a few years out of college; still others may be ready to enter straight away. One key to finding the right timing is to consider when you are ready to engage more deeply the question of a vocation to the religious life and the priesthood.
With some time in reflection you may be able to identify what the primary question on your mind is and where you can find the answer. If your main question is whether you are called to the religious life/priesthood, the best place to find the answer to that question is in the seminary.
Do I need to leave my family behind? Can I manage without a family of my own?
Entering religious life impacts family life. Not only does it require one to set aside the pursuit of marriage, but it has an effect on relationships with parents and siblings. Questions that are often raised include: Will I be lonely without my own family? Do I have to leave my own parents, family, and friends behind?
Entering into the religious life does mean that one is entering into a new family dynamic. The religious community becomes the primary community for the individual. Similarly, when a couple is married, their new family unit becomes their primary community and their relationships with parents and siblings shift. For Holy Cross, this does not mean that family and friends are completely left behind.
Our community was founded on the model of the Holy Family which draws us together as a family for one another. Parents and siblings of the individual priests and brothers are integrated into the larger Holy Cross family. They are welcome to visit the seminary and our religious houses. Priests and brothers in Holy Cross become familiar with each other’s families and will attend weddings, anniversaries, and funerals.
This familial nature of our community life is often felt when our mission carries us to new places. No matter where we are sent in ministry, we will be sent to a community house where our family is already present and ready to welcome us.
What should I be doing to grow in my sense of call?
There is not a set formula to discerning your vocation, so it is not possible to give you a checklist of things to do where, upon completion, you will know your vocation. But there are a few areas to focus on, as well as other resources on this site that can help you along your way.
Three things to make sure you are doing:
- Pray: Take time on a daily basis to spend time with the Lord. Make it a regular practice to ask the Lord to lead you according to his will. Also, make sure that you are regular in your attendance at Mass (every Sunday and as often as possible at daily Mass) and in your participation in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (once a month is a good start).
- Serve: Find some way to be involved in direct service to others, whether in your school or parish community. The priesthood and religious life are dedicated to the service of others. Spending time in service will help you to realize if you can give yourself over to such a life.
- Talk to Others: Talking with trusted family members, friends, or a spiritual director can help you to sort through your thoughts on your vocation, as well as to receive guidance on how to proceed. It is always good to contact a vocations director to talk through your thoughts, as well. The focus of a vocation director’s work is to help men such as you consider God’s call.
Other resources to look to on this website include:
- Discernment Tips that include stages of discernment, aids for discernment, and answers to some common fears and doubts.
- Prayer resources that you can use to enrich your time with the Lord.
- Reflection questions that can help guide your own reflection and conversations.
- The Constitutions of the Congregation of Holy Cross can help you learn more about Holy Cross and how we seek to live out Christ’s call to come and follow him. They include questions for your reflection.
If you have not done so already, it may be time to contact us so that we can talk with you about your personal discernment and give you specific direction for moving forward. It may also be time to attend one of the retreats that we offer.
There are many ways to continue to move forward in your consideration of your vocation. The key to it all is to place your trust in the Lord and know that you will not be led astray if the Lord is leading you.