What we look for in a priest

Los Angeles vocation directors tell about screening process
Father Davoren

Father Davoren

The following comes from a July 23 story in the Angelus, online news source for the Los Angeles archdiocese. It  was written by Father Steve Davoren, director of the archdiocese office of Vocations, and his associate director, Father San Ward.

Something good is happening in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in the area of priestly vocations. In the Office of Vocations, we are continually receiving inquiries via telephone, email and social media from young men (and sometimes not so young men) every day. There is great reason to be optimistic and hopeful.

The challenge for us in the Office of Vocations is to be cognizant of an ever-present reality — the need for both quality and quantity of candidates for the priesthood. Certainly we have a great need in the archdiocese for many, many more priests.

But what the Church does not need is just anyone to become a priest. Rather, we need those who are truly called by God and recognized by the Church to have an authentic priestly vocation.

Our previous article, “Priestly Formation and the New Evangelization: The 4 Pillars of Formation” (July 4), dealt with the four essential dimensions of priestly formation in the seminary. We need well-rounded, holy men of prayer and study and learning who demonstrate the capacity to serve God’s people well as parish priests. Thus, while a great quantity of new seminarians is a primary goal, the quality of each candidate is also of supreme importance.

Therefore, not all the men who inquire about the priesthood make it to the seminary. Most who call us are men of deep faith and service in their parish and other archdiocesan ministries. Some who call us are sincere in their desire to be priests, but suffer from certain psychological pathologies or other character flaws that disqualify them as viable candidates.

Still others have canonical impediments, substantial personal debt, criminal records, significant health problems or other issues that also similarly disqualify them. These men are still called to be active members of the Catholic Church but unfortunately the painful lessons of the past 10 years have taught us valuable lessons of how to better prescreen candidates for the priesthood.

The current procedures and policies to evaluate candidates for the priesthood were in place long before the clergy abuse scandals of our recent past. We both applied to and were accepted as seminarians for the archdiocese years before the scandals and went through a very thorough and comprehensive application process and review, as intensive and comprehensive as any law enforcement agency in the country.

This process included a criminal and financial background check, fingerprinting, a psychological examination, a full physical exam, a pastor’s letter of recommendation, academic transcripts, a letter of release or recommendation from previous seminaries attended or the religious order(s) that one belonged to (if applicable), interviews and evaluations by the Office of Vocations’ assessment team, and finally interviews by the admissions committee of the seminary….

Questions that we ask include, but are not limited to, the following:

— How long and how seriously have you been discerning a vocation to the priesthood?

— What is your motivation to be a priest? Are you making this decision freely or are you being pressured in any way?

— What experiences do you have in serving God’s people in parish and/or Archdiocesan ministry?

— Tell us about your level of education. Are you ready for the study of philosophy and graduate-level theology studies?

— How is your physical health?

— What do your family and friends think about your vocation?

— In what ways do you feel ready to live a chaste and celibate priestly vocation? How do you understand celibacy?

— Tell us about your prayer life. How and when do you pray?

— Do you accept the magisterial teachings of the Catholic Church? Why or why not?

— Have you considered other vocations or careers? Religious life? …

To read the entire story, click here.



  1. J Klein says:

    I look for a man who sets a good example, does not get giddy when wearing the altar costumes, gives sermons regarding sin, and is proudly registered in a political party that is not the Democrat Party or the Green Party.,

    • I disagree. I don’t believe any of the political parties espouse our Catholic faith. I am particularly put off by the empty pro-life promises of the Republicans, who promised us support, but did very little when they had President Bush in the White House and control of both Houses. I used to be duped by them. No more. I now register undeclared, as the pro death stance of the Democrats (and the insignificant Greens) is abhorrent to me.

      • David, you can guarantee that 99.9% of Democrat politicians support the pro-death platform of the party. When it comes to Republicans, however, it is not so easy. Republican’s have their share of RINO’s, but they also have their share of pro-life constitutional conservatives, the latter being the minority in the Federal branches of government, not to mention the state legislators in California.

        Most of the pro-life laws which have succeeded in closing abortuaries, subsequently reducing abortions, have been won in various State legislators around our nation. These laws have been passed by Republican State assemblies.

        • And….the political party of any president elected to office will be either democrat or republican; at least for the foreseeable future. A democrat elected to the presidency will guarantee more pro-abortion judges on the supreme court. while it is not a guarantee if a republican is in office, it is at last possible!

    • Kenneth M. Fisher says:

      J Klein,

      “altar costumes”! How much do you know of the Faith? They are vestments, not costumes!

      The question on the accepting the Magisterial teachings of the covers the political questions only too well since the Demoncrat’s Platform in anti-Catholic!

      May God have mercy on an amoral Amerika and His Church!
      Viva Cristo Rey!
      Yours in Their Hearts,
      Kenneth M. Fisher, Founding Director
      Concerned Roman Catholics of America, Inc

  2. The director of vocations for the DC archdiocese also has a good article on the 4 pillars of formation. The seven to nine year formation process, after graduation from college with a BA/BS degree, involves more than sound bites about what makes a good priest. This is a good article. St. Francis said we must preach the Gospel every day, even using words if we must. That would be setting a good example. The Catholic Church no longer uses the sermon as the main preaching practice. It uses a homily which is to be developed around the readings for the day. Not all those readings refer to sin. Some even speak of joy. Imagine that! Except for a few fringe folks, the vestments for the NO are very simple, so as no to take away from what is happening on the altar. I find none of the political parties worthy of praise. Perhaps a pox on all their houses? 🙂

    • Canisius says:

      Look for holiness and someone who will reject modernism and the novelties of Vatican 2

    • Catherine says:

      “What we look for in a priest?”

      How about a masculine well-formed holy individual who after he is ordained will not be hamstrung and silenced by compromised men and be allowed to really teach the the Catholic Faith without fear of punishment or reprisal from a pastor, bishop or even a Cardinal? If you think that is not happening then examine why hundreds of faithful Catholics flee or have fled to Mexico to receive the sacraments in order to avoid rampant heterodoxy that is often allowed to be taught. Also the people who are fleeing are not fringe as Bob One would have others believe. The Servant of God Father John Hardon SJ was faithful.


      • Catherine says:

        continued fromAugust 1, 2014 at 10:49am

        Bob One writes, “Not all those readings refer to sin. Some even speak of joy. Imagine that! Except for a *few fringe folks*,

        You just couldn’t resist getting that little mean-spirited comment in could you Bob One. What are you trying to hide or what are you so afraid of Bob? Now Bob you cannot be that old where you do not remember your own dear mother’s advice. Even Our Lady of Akita said that many within the Church have accepted compromises. Just because everyone is doing the popular fun thing it does not always mean it is the right thing to do or the best thing to do. Our youth certainly are entitled to be taught the TRUTH but often they are not. Hiding knowledge is not very pleasing to God but today it is very popular with compromised men. Joy is a fruit of obedience to God. Jesus never warned that his people perished from lack of joy, Bob. Jesus said, “Therefore is my people led away captive, because they had not knowledge, and their nobles have perished with famine, and their multitude were dried up with thirst.” That certainly sounds familiar in the United States. It is interesting that you consistently defend those fleeing from Mexico and other countries to come into the United States while many faithful Catholics are having to flee to Mexico to joyfully receive the sacraments without fear of their children being tainted by heterodoxy taught in a Catholic school or terrible CCD programs


        • Catherine says:

          August 1, 2014 at 11:15 am

          Bob One, Something is very very wrong when our United States bishops are involved with receiving millions of dollars to help immigrants enter into the United States while their very own flocks of sheep are languishing from spiritual neglect in the United States. Yes, Catholics are having to flee to Mexico and other places to avoid being scandalized by the terrible influx of heterodoxy being allowed in their very own diocese. Priorities are disoriented and it does not take a “fringe group” to recognize this. What it takes to recognize this is HONESTY without compromise.

          • Catherine says:

            continued from August 1, 2014 at 11:38 am

            Bob One I am sure that these boys in the story below knew ONLY JOY when they schemed to violate their teacher. After all, joyful boys will be joyful boys and that’s it. Stop being incredibly selfish Bob One and please let all God’s little children be taught “all” of the teachings of the Catholic Faith without compromises.


            “Teacher sues Catholic school after students took UP-SKIRT pictures of her and shared them around classmates… while administration ignored it and said ‘boys will be boys”

            “Kimberly Bohnert, a teacher at the all-boys Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, California, says the administration twice said it would investigate and take action, but never did. She is suing the school, as well as the Archdiocese of San Francisco, which operates the Catholic school, for unspecified damages. School claims it has taken action and has disciplined students, as well as involved the police. The School has a number of famous athletes as alumni, including baseball player Barry Bonds and professional football quarterback Tom Brady” – By Jonathan Block

      • Anonymous says:

        how about a feminine woman?

    • Ann Malley says:

      Ornate traditional vestments are a visible sign of the priest being an alter Christus, Bob One. This is something that should be reinforced for both priest and people. That is not a distraction from the mass, but rather the proper understanding of what the priesthood is.

      That is why at consecration the priest doesn’t say, “This is Christ’s body,” but rather uses the words of Christ, “This is My Body.”

      If more priests were taught that vestments were the mark of dignity, in as much as they bear the seal of the priesthood and act in place of Christ on the altar, perhaps they would be girded up to stand strong like they should instead of feeling like they always need to recede to the background. Or perpetually innovate to supply for the hurt they must surely experience for being shunted off to the side as a mere presider when they have sacrificed wife/family for Our Lord.

      Such woeful lack of understanding and brushing aside the true meaning of things is so sad and has led to such a devastation in the vineyard.

      • Ann, I remember, when I was in grade school, the vestments were very ornate, especially for the high holydays. The chasuble was gold, real gold, with precious stones sewn in. They were quite splendid. Those of us who served at Mass most mornings and every Sunday were very familiar with the finery. For me, there was nothing wrong with it, or even now, but it was for another day. The world for good or not is much more informal now. Men don’t wear ties and jackets to work as much as they did at one time. On weekends cargo shorts and a good polo shirt is considered dressed up. A visit to one’s home doesn’t require a tie and blazer anymore. Some of us miss that, but time moves on. About the time of VII the vestments were becoming simpler. The fiddle stick was replaced by the flowing chasuble. The alb with lace on the bottom half was replaced with an all cotton version. The maniple was removed. When the NO came in, the cassock and surplice was replaced by the alb. The point, however, is that it doesn’t really matter. Either is good depending on one’s likes and dislikes. It has nothing to do with the validity of the Mass.

        • Ann Malley says:

          Yes, I hear you, Bob One. But the ‘casual’ style has done much to degrade culture as it erodes those differences that still exist and should exist. That is not to make one unwelcome at home. That is why it is so very necessary, in my view, that a return to the vestments that indicate that Christ is King, not just one of the guys, is very important. And that includes showing visibly that an ordained priest, despite being human, is not ‘just’ one of the guys either.

          It goes so far beyond preference or missing it or nostalgia. Perhaps that is how you view it, but that is not how it is viewed by all. And thank goodness. For that mentality of casual Friday has degraded the sensibilities of many for what mass actually is. And the reality that Christ is Our Father and our King – not just a Dad as one would get the idea from mass media. Christ is God Almighty and is deserving of our ultimate respect and the very best we can offer Him, not just what we have left over.

          Nobody is saying it involves the validity of the mass. But since Our Lord is present and the priest does have the mark of ordination in order to be the Alter Christus at mass, it would be well for all folks at mass, including the priest, to be reminded of that reality.

          Perhaps we can reassess when White House functions are all shorts and wife-beater tank tops. But I doubt that will ever happen.

      • Anonymous says:

        Ornate traditional vestments are a throwback to the days in Europe when only clergy and royalty were permitted to or could afford to wear certain fabrics such as ermine or lace and even certain colors of fabrics such as purple.
        For a brief history of vestments from a source written before Vatican II see New Advent”s Catholic Encyclopedia.
        Many priest prefer simple vestments as a reminder that Jesus Christ was poor and did not clothe himself in fine garb.
        I personally like the fancy vestments.

        • Ann Malley says:

          Priests can carry out the function of poverty in their every day dress, Anonymous. But when one is before the altar of God Almighty, in the most intimate of functions, one should dress the part. Dress for success as the saying goes. (Priests need to be reminded of this too. For it isn’t showing off to dress with ultimate dignity on the altar, but proper. Our Lord glowed resplendent on Mt. Tabor, didn’t He? Showing a bit of who and what He really is.)

          That said, good manners and grammar are often cast as throwbacks, too, but they are a critical part of the mentality of men (mankind). Signs and rituals matter.

  3. An honest,normal man that love’s the Traditional Latin Mass and wants to save souls doing his best for all he gave up in life to serve Christ Our Lord. It is a huge and very admirable thing to become a priest, they truly need our support and love for what they do for us!!

  4. Steve Phoenix says:

    “This process includes a criminal and financial background check, fingerprinting, a psychological examination, a full physical exam, a pastor’s letter of recommendation, academic transcripts, a letter of release or recommendation from previous seminaries attended or the religious order(s) that one belonged to (if applicable), interviews and evaluations by the Office of Vocations’ assessment team, and finally interviews by the admissions committee of the seminary.”

    Sounds good: candidates should meet a high bar before admission. A step in the right direction.

  5. Kenneth M. Fisher says:


    “a pastor’s letter of recommendation” when the pastor is a liberal and or a letter of release for recommendation from previous seminaries or religious order (s) that one belonged to could and in fact has destroyed good holy vocations. What is really needed is a personal interview with or without the other above mentioned things and perhaps a trial period. I told this to Archbishop Khai and he understood.

    May God have mercy on an amoral Amerika and His Church!
    Viva Cristo Rey!
    Yours in Their Hearts,
    Kenneth M. Fisher, Founding Director
    Concerned Roman Catholics of America, Inc

    • Steve Phoenix says:

      Good point, Mr. Kenneth. I was thinking of some of the “candidates” in the 70’s and 80’s in Phoenix diocese (now some of them evading extradition outside the country, or permanently suspended from orders) who would never have met the basic criterion of “a criminal and financial background check, fingerprinting, a psychological examination, a full physical exam, or academic transcripts.” Fr. Jorge Hume, for example, the associate of the late Bp Patrick Ziemann, would never have met these criteria (he flunked out of at least two prior seminaries before Ziemann ok’d him for Santa Rosa diocese), for example.

      But your point is valid. Some N.O. orders are putting it together (FSSP; IVE Fathers; Institute Christ the King); others (ahhh, who runs USF here in this fair city of San Francisco?),…..

    • Kenneth, I think the year spent in the field at a parish before the last year in the seminary is designed to be the trial period for both the candidate and the diocese. Who does the interview can be very important. Having spent years training people in how to interview candidates for jobs, I can assure you that most people don’t know how to conduct good interviews and get out the information you need so that you can make a good choice. There is a big difference between “are you a holy person?” and “tell me how you would describe a holy person, how you meet those standards and what do you need to do to become more holy? When it comes to holiness, are you more like your mother or your father? What were the strengths of each and how would you counsel each to gain in holiness? Tell me about a priest that you know who doesn’t seem very holy and why.” These are only suggested techniques, and are not meant to be inclusive of what could be asked. I think if you used these techniques for thirty or forty areas of concern as part of the initial screening, you could get a good idea about sending the candidate on to the next level of interviews. On the other hand, each diocese may have good interviewers

      • Steve Phoenix says:

        Yes, Bob One, but a lot of times during the “field year”, the candidate is evaluated on “people skills”, “not being rigid”, i.e., not ruffling feathers with statements about moral issues. “Not being rigid” really means not having a spine to stand up for any belief at all.

      • Your Fellow Catholic says:

        Can we sign you up, brother, to be on the vocations committee??

        AND what if – imagine – what if your questions were asked in a homily? Wow.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Rosemary Morse, I think you could have found a better term than ‘feel their way around the parish community.”

  7. How about priests that taught by the light of the Holy Spirit only instead of the gospel according to who ever is preaching it. In my parish we have been really lucky to have orthodox priests, but by listening to others I know that that isn’t always the case. I hope I am able to say this here. One thing that bothers me is when you get the same ten people commenting on every article posted personalities become the issue instead of the issue being the issue. I don’t comment very often but I feel like I know most of you.

  8. Father Karl says:

    A priest is a man who offers sacrifice, and therefore he must be a holy, and spiritual person, a man who has an intimacy with the divine.. Along with this attribute, a priest must be a father figure because he is a spiritual father to his parishioners, so he should possess manly characteristics such as courage and a willingness to stand up, defend and possibly even die for the faith. Today too many priests are showmen who think the Mass is an act (like the Tonight Show), or even a circus. Last week I visited a church in a nearly diocese, and there was a woman running around after a wedding. She introduced herself as the parish leader. I asked where the priest was, and she responded “The sacramental minister comes in once a week for liturgy”. Another time I was asked, during a priests meeting what the most important quality a priest should possess. I said HOLINESS, and the priest in charge replied that that was a silly, stupid and simple answer. The priesthood is greatly suffering because the priest has forgotten WHOM he is supposed top serve . In Canada I attempted to kiss an archbishop’s ring, and he said, DON’T DO THAT, YOU’LL GET SICK, AND DIE! I also called him YOUR GRACE (the Canadian version of YOUR EXCELLENCY) and he rudely and haughtily fired back WHAT’S THIS YOUR GRACE STUFF? Because so many clerics have no respect for their priestly dignity, in turn, the laity have lost all respect for the priesthood and the episcopacy.I have never missed a day offering Mass (except on Good Friday). I consider saying Mass a great honor, but many priests only say Mass on Sundays. Until priests realize what a privilege it is to be another Christ to all they encounter, the priesthood will continue to suffer from a lack of vocations.

    • Ann Malley says:

      Father Karl writes, “..Until priests realize what a privilege it is to be another Christ to all they encounter, the priesthood will continue to suffer from a lack of vocations.”

      I do not believe the reality of being ‘another Christ’ is taught anymore, Father. Let alone the privilege and dignity of such an honor. Pray God, it will be soon for we need good and holy priests!

      God bless you and thank you for offering mass as you should.

    • Anonymous says:

      Every young, practicing Catholic man who loves Jesus Christ and His Church should ask God to reveal His will for his life. That means that every young, practicing Catholic man should spend some time discerning priesthood – even if the end goal is to find that God is not calling you to be a priest!
      Just because you ‘like’ girls doesn’t mean God might not call you to be a priest. God calls healthy, properly ordered men to leave all and follow him. If you wouldn’t make a good husband and a good father, you wouldn’t make a good priest!
      BUT I AM UNWORTHY . . .
      Just because you ‘feel’ unworthy, doesn’t mean God might not be calling you.
      God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called!

    • Thank you, Fr. Karl. I agree with you, holiness is the most important attribute of all priests. We are very lucky to have a wonderful pastor for our parish. However, when I travel or attend funerals I’m often shocked by how beaten down the priests can be. It seems they lost their zeal by focusing on details of running a parish, or perhaps infighting of a parish council or lack of true faith in the people. We must pray for all those men, that the Holy Spirit reignites their hearts. You sound like the perfect teacher for a seminary. God bless you.

  9. juergensen says:

    Of utmost importance is to screen out the homosexuals. It was they, after all, who were responsible for 85% of the priest sex abuse.

  10. A Blessed Holy Priest has given himself totally to Our Lord. I know a few blessed holy Priests and feel so blessed when I witness their love and devotion to Our Lord……especially during the Mass……I’m talking about you young Father Joseph……May the Lord bless and keep you safe.

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