I want to leave the Seminary, and I haven't even started yet

You’ll forgive me if I’m asking for advice in the wrong place, but frankly, I am afraid and unsure and the only people I feel comfortable talking to this about are not knowledgeable in the subject, and those that are, I am unsure if I am ready to have this conversation yet.

For years, three or four, all I ever really wanted was to be a priest. I am not certain as to where the idea entered into my head, or when, but it did. I was so certain in this desire that it seemed somewhat unnatural to me - most others, obviously, acted with scorn and derision. Despite this desire, I must admit that I still acted in a way that did not behoove the vocation I believed I possessed, but I went to confession and struggled and tried to defeat the sins that I struggled with, and always, I felt called to be a priest.

I went through the entire process - and, for those of you who have undergone it, you know well that the application process can be a long one - without a single reservation. I did it all and I was happy to do it - the only fear that I had was that I would be rejected. And then I was accepted. And I felt exuberant, and excited, and eager, and glad.

And then, a gathering, three days long, of myself and all my diocesan brothers was held at the seminary, where we gathered in fellowship and prayer and filled out lots of business forms. It was wonderful and I loved it - I loved being able to go to mass each day, to say the Liturgy of the Hours. But then, suddenly - and I truly wish that I had never had this thought, or that it had come earlier - I somehow decided that I did not want to be a priest. I tried to force the thought back throughout the weekend and through the following week - it just kept resurfacing, each time stronger than the last. I very strongly want to be married and I likewise feel like there are other things I’d rather do with my live - namely, archaeology - than pastoral work or anything else.

I am very sad, because I have long thought that I had a vocation to the priesthood. But more than that, I feel guilty, because I am moving into the seminary within the week! I do not think that this is my vocation. Some have suggested, and I am considering, just ‘giving it a semester’, and to see if I still feel this way. Is this a good idea? Or am I being dishonest with myself and with the seminary in sticking around any longer than I need to discern my vocation? Keep in mind that the Diocese is paying for my enrollment, and it’s quite a heavy tuition because the seminary is attached to a college.

Please, pray for me, and give me whatever advice you can spare.

Hey there!

My only advice is to tell someone about the situation, if you truly feel this way. The worst that they can say is, “We don’t want to pay for you to come into the Seminary” and in that case, it’s part of what you wanted, anyway. The conversation with a vocation director, to me, seems inevitable. They’re going to ask questions, ponder into how you’re feeling, etc etc. If it’s something you don’t want to do, then they can’t force this onto you. But you shouldn’t force it onto yourself either.

My best advice besides talking to someone is to talk to the best Giver of Advice - God. He’ll help you through this, no matter what.

I’m praying for you!

You’ve wanted to be a priest for years. Despite all the obstacles, the way was cleared for you to enter the Seminary and begin the process. Have you ever thought that the stray thoughts and feelings coming your way are simply a temptation against your vocation? If you felt that strongly about marriage, archaeology, or anything else of your own accord, you probably wouldn’t be in the Seminary right now to begin with. Since you’re having sudden and strong temptations to leave, it could very well be just that: temptations.

If you have a true vocation to the priesthood, then you’ll go through the process and be ordained. If not, you’ll find out soon enough. But if you succumb to stray thoughts and leave, you’re refusing your vocation. Let God decide, and you’ll never have to second guess yourself.

I think many who enter either the convent or seminary feel the same way. I was so certain of my desire to become a sister until me ride to the convent. The whole time I was thinking that I was just kidding myself, lying to others, and that I do not have a vocation to religious life. After a day, I felt so at home and happy to be around the sisters. I told my vocation director about the ride to the convent (a 13 hr drive) and the despair I felt inside. She told me “you better believe the evil one is going to do his best to keep you from going in.” That is probably what you are experiencing. Do not quit before you get there. Remember you are in discernment up to the point of being ordained a Deacon. Give it time, after a while you will feel that desire to be a priest again. Think about it this way, compare how long you have desired to be a priest with your desire to be married. The devil may be just trying to fool you. Enter as planned and take it one day at a time, things will work out and God’s will shall prevail. I will keep you in prayer.


Some additional thoughts to perhaps consider…

St Therese had doubts after entering, before her Profession, but she spoke honestly to her superior and the doubts disappeared.
Honesty to yourself and the vocation director is important.
It is of course natural that if one intends to give up something, what one is likely to miss suddenly can becomes almost an obsession!
That could be what is happening.

On the other hand St Therese’s father wanted to be a priest, and I’m sure his family and the Church are grateful that he was not chosen to be. He is beatified by the Church, as it happens and his wife is beatified, aside from having a daughter who is a Doctor of the Church!
My middle son wanted to be a priest from 11 years old. He was heartbroken when told during his noviciate that he didn’t have a vocation.

I’ll share this event regarding a priest whose vocation, by some great grace of God, I was actually used as instrument to ‘save’. Aside from much prayer, I shocked him into the realization that though marriage, like the priesthood, can be wonderful, either can also at times be lonely and even miserable

I began praying for Priests and Religious primarily through daily Mass, in Lent 1980. Around that time, when I entered into the church to pray, I repeatedly found a priest’s 10-year-old ordination card. Eventually I said, “Okay, I’ll pray for him, Lord”. After a year, wondering if he had remained faithful to his vocation and was all right, I phoned the Diocese for a contact number. When I phoned, he had the grace to know I was not just crazy and talked to me comfortably. I did not expect to hear from him again, but about two weeks later, he phoned to say, “Trish, will you please pray for me. I am thin, but getting thinner. I have been given a variety of tests, but the hospital cannot determine what is wrong.”

We communicated by phone during the next eighteen months. There was neither improvement in his spirits or health nor any clear diagnosis of his condition. Although he had not met me, he trusted me and spoke honestly regarding his difficulties.Finally, he phoned to say that he was seriously considering abandoning his vocation in favour of marriage and companionship. “You are the only one who argues for me to remain a priest”, he told me. “My fellow religious say that if it is making me ill, I should leave.”

I energetically defended the priesthood—yet in vain, as he departed unconvinced. All those months of prayer for him seemed ‘useless’. I used the only card I had left. Some painful things were happening in my life and marriage, many difficult things characterised it from the beginning. I wrote him several pages, full of the pain, stress and loneliness. I do not think a letter like that could convince anyone that marriage cannot be beautiful, and might not be for him personally. Because I had listened with understanding, it seemed that his perception of me gave my words power. “I read your letter two or three times”, he said over the phone, “and I have been able to recommit myself to Christ; this time with realism. I had been trying to ‘do’ too much for God.” God often uses the human in others to speak to those who need God’s guidance. I never phoned him again, nor he, me. I have met him twice by chance. He was happy, and spoke with lilt and sparkle that was first evident in that phone call where he spoke of his re-commitment to Christ.

The miracle is worked at the human level, with the ‘emet’, the choice of patience kindness, and loyalty. For over a year, I had listened, giving gentle encouragement but hearing again the same flat, sad refrain. He was a sincere and righteous person, but worn out with trying so hard to do everything for God. Suddenly, in the face of human reality, he realised that he needed to leave more to God.

Once in a while I remember that one less priest abandoned the priesthood in a desire to marry because I came into his life.

I think that you should try it. Many people get cold feet before making the big leap–classically this is before you marry. If you aren’t nervous and having second thoughts about taking any Big Step, then you don’t realize the gravity of what you’re doing. You can always leave later.

If you leave before entering, later you may regret it and wish, possibly for the rest of your life, that you had given it a try. There are a lot of ex-seminarians out there, and I suspect that they are glad that they at least tried it. I believe that Jerry Brown, the former governor of California, is a former Jesuit seminarian (Sacred Heart Jesuit novitiate in Los Gatos, CA–from Google).

Let us know what you decide.

You’ve gone this far so I’d recommend trying it for atleast a semester. You’ll either choose or be assigned a spiritual director while in seminary and you can discuss this matter with him. Worse comes to worst and you’ll have wasted a few months of your time.

Talk it over with your spiritual director. I’ve a friend, who, two years in, had doubts and temptations.

He got permission to exit the seminary. He had a really hard time getting permission to go back when he realized leaving had been a huge mistake. As in, the archbishop said, “Absolutely not.”

Fortunately for him, and his parishioners, the bishop of Juneau gave him a second chance… on his own dime, but still, a second chance. Rev. Fr. Ed is quite happy now.

You’ll have a year or more before minor orders, and at least another year prior to deaconal ordination. You’ll have plenty of time to work out and pray out whether you’re supposed to be a priest. Be patient, prayerful, and attentive, and honest with your spiritual director.

After all, the bishop thinks it likely you’ve a true vocation or he wouldn’t send you to seminary.

My advice may conflict with that of many, but here it is. If you really want marriage and a family, and a career in archeology, pursue that. There is no finer way to serve God and humankind than by being a loving husband and a great dad. And archeology needs devoted workers, too.

One story from my own experience.

I became a rather close acquaintance with a former priest. He was a good priest, and tried so hard to serve God and his parish well. After a few years, however, he began to lose some of the enthusiasm that g=had led him to the priesthood. He even began to have some doubts about specific doctrines that he was expected to believe, preach and teach. He was a keen intellectual and gradually began to question whether he belonged in the priesthood.

Anyway, along the way he had reason to counsel a woman who was going through very difficult times in her personal life. Both resisted it, but in time their mutual attraction culminated in love. The priest was, of course, deeply conflicted. After all, hadn't he taken vows, etc.? He eventually decided to take a leave of absence to sort out his mind. 

 Away from the parish, he finally concluded that he was going to get married and pursue a career in teaching - teaching English and Spanish on the high school level. When he told his bishop he was severely scolded and made to feel that he was violating his vows, weakminded, influenced by low carnal desires, interested in making money, and much else. The priest was deeply offended, but instead of turning him back toward the church it helped him decide not only to marry, but also to leave the church.

 I have followed the couple though they moved a distance away. He now teaches in a high school. They have two children, about 10 and 12, which make them very happy. His wife has gone back to work as a part-time legal secretary. They have ended up in a large Presbyterian Church where the whole family is active. They see themselves as Christians without strong denominational ties, respectful of the Catholic Church but happy in their present affiliation.

 Perhaps you should try a semester in seminary. Perhaps not. May God bless and guide you whatever you do.

I’m moving forward with it - at the very least, I want to give it a chance, be it a semester’s chance or a week’s chance. I feel somewhat certain that it isn’t what I want to do, but then again, I felt fairly certain a few weeks ago that it was! Oh, the joys of indecisiveness. I spoke with my vocations director about my doubts and he more or less told me that he thinks that, as I’ve gotten this far, I should probably give it a try - but he wouldn’t think any less of me if I decided to leave, which was comforting in and of itself. I half expected an angry rebuke! At the very least, now, I’ve been honest with all parties going in - I flat out told him that I thought it possible I leave within the semester. He was fine with it, and thanks be to God for that!

My nervousness is really unwarranted - I must simply let God lead the way. Thank you very much, all of you, for your words of support. Please pray not only for me, but for all my brother seminarians who likely struggle with the same sorts of things that I do!

As a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Hartford, I will be entering my first year for my undergrad in Philosophy at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, in Philadelphia. I start next Wednesday.

Now, you mentioned you wanted to leave, before you really even started. Wanting to leave, and feeling the desire to leave, is completely normal. My friend, who is also a seminarian (Now studying for his Masters in Rome) went to St. Charles also, and emailed me this about a year ago when I applied to become a seminarian. I sent him an email asking how seminary life is, and I specifically asked him “What if I ever feel like leaving?” Here is his response, which really defeated my early fears:

Wanting to Leave

*** Not to alarm you but it is very normal for everybody to want to leave at some point during his first, second, third, and maybe even fourth year. **

** *** The most important thing is to stay calm.

** * **In these times of trial God is testing us, as he did Job, and asking us to commit even more to following him when it isn’t easy.
*** **Be open with your spiritual director
***** A mental temptation may creep in that you need to leave right away or you will fall behind in life, this is a lie.
** * **When you leave St. Charles, you will be a better person, either as a seminarian or a Catholic gentleman.
*** **Commit to giving the program one full year. The year itself has highs and lows and it is only after a full year that you have a good idea what’s going on.
*** **Always enter fully into the community, through sports, games, music, whatever when you want to leave. Usually among brothers and friends we recognize that we were just in a bad mood and not having a crisis of vocation.

*** **If after discernment and patience you realize you are not called, it is ok. 

** * **Story: My best friend from St. Charles, a guy named Dan was a model seminarian. He was more spiritually developed and smarter than all of the rest of our class. If I had to pick one guy who would never leave the seminary it would be him, everything came so easily to him. He ended up leaving at the end of last year, when we graduated. When he explained it to me he simply said that he had had such and easy time over four years he never discerned. He was just going along because it was easy for him. The struggle helps us to recommit and be strengthened in our vocation.

The devil can ruin a perfectly good man’s vocation by flooding his mind with tempting thoughts of leaving, before really discerning. Remember, you are entering the seminary to DISCERN for the priesthood, not to automatically BECOME one. What better place to discern a possible call, than the seminary itself?

Believe me, as a 17 year old (turning 18 in September) entering the seminary, you can bet I’m a bit apprehensive. I mean, after attending public school my entire life, making non-religious friends, and having a clear shot at becoming a music major, becoming a seminarian was not the only path I could have chosen. However, I feel that God is calling me to become a priest, or let alone, discern first. I feel your anxiety, but remember, God is testing our faith, as He did with Job.

Overall, I would say give it a full year, because only then will you really understand what seminary life is like. I would like to talk to you further, so feel free to message me, or add me on Facebook/Twitter

Facebook- facebook.com/FrJohnMonaco (yeah, don’t laugh at the URL lol. I made this years ago)

Twitter- twitter.com/John_Monaco

My dear Brother in Christ

I would say that it would be better to at least try your vocation in the seminary and to do so whole heartedly, I believe it was St Thoms who said that he would rather a young man or woman tried their vocation and left rather than never enter at all and wonder many years later of what might have been

Also to quote Fr Barrille (CVC) author of “Do You have a Vocation?” " How many young people have entered the Seminary or the Convent and (we do not speak here of the soft souls) have lawfully left? Not only have they no need to be ashamed, but on the Day of Judgment they will be astonished at the eternal and extraordinary recompense that they will then receive for having, one day when they were young, made this gesture of willingness to leave all for Christ. It is a gesture with which the Master is content"

My advice is to be generous with God, you are in my prayers

I agree with others that say you should stay, if only for a little while. Speak to a spiritual director and tell him what you are thinking.

The other thing that you could think about (but I would not worry about it for at least a little while) is that sometimes God calls people just to the seminary. I went on a retreat once with some religious and someone told us that for example God might just call people to the novitiate. Sometimes people are called to this experience to deepen their relationship with God without necessarily being called to the priesthood.

Well,the other line of work is studing dead things,and Christianity is hardly that! It will take immense courage to follow your original intention…to serve God 24/7 instead of at lunch breaks and company picnics…(only kidding) I wanted to be a teacher and did not become one till age 40!.I had to attend college evenings for years to make up for lost time etc etc.but guess what…I feel I was a very good educator because I did start so late in life…I knew more then the ‘how to teach’ authors I had to study in college years later!..Pray for an answer,one can find and do Gods will in many ways.Several of my students died on 9/11 as ‘just’ firemen ,policemen etc…and to me they are magnificent human beings who will live in my heart and soul forever,as much as any hero or martyr…all the best…

I would strongly advise you to get a good faithful spiritual director if you don’t already have one, and confide in him. It’s really important if you’re having doubts, temptations, struggles of any kind, to TELL YOUR DIRECTOR. Doubts often come from the devil, who keeps us from seeing clearly, and an outside perspective is needed. I’m not saying your doubts are definitely just a temptation, but it’s a possibility.

St. Ignatius said the devil is like a sleazy man trying to seduce an innocent girl-- he whispers suggestions in her ear, tries to confuse her and turn her mind, and she doesn’t understand what he’s up to. But if she happens to tell her father about it, her father will know right away what’s going on, and he’ll make sure the sleazy guy doesn’t come around again. The point is, the devil is defeated when you’re open and honest with your director about the doubts going through your mind.

You keep saying “I want to give it a chance, be it a semester’s chance or a week’s chance. I feel somewhat certain that it isn’t what I want to do, but then again, I felt fairly certain a few weeks ago that it was!”

**A vocation is not about what “I” want, it is about God created me to do.

"And he said to all, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (LK 9:23)**

Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, Ora Pro Nobis Peccatoribus!


That’s not really the best attitude to have. You shouldn’t say “Oh, I’ll give it a semester”; go into it like you would go into any commitment; full force. If you attended a regular college, would you say “Well, I’ll see if it’s right for me after this semester”? No, you wouldn’t. My priest told me that I should go into the seminary giving it everything I had. Have confidence in your vocation. God will let us know what is right for us, through His will, not ours.

That being said, I’ll pray for you. I enter Wednesday, so we’ll keep in touch.

The great temptation, when discerning a true calling to the priesthood, is to be influenced by ‘emotions’. Emotions are sometimes good and sometimes bad. They are not reliable, though, when deciding whether you are called to the priesthood or not. God can use emotions as a tool…but so can the devil; and what better time for the devil to use the emotion of doubt or distraction on you – then when you’re about to give your life to Jesus as one of His priests?

Any vocations director will tell you that the discernment process for the priesthood goes all through your years in the seminary…and it does not stop until the bishop lays his hands upon you and pronounces you a priest forever according to the Order of Melchisadech. At that very moment – and ONLY at that very moment – is it certain that you are meant to be a priest. God doesn’t make priests by accident.

Now, from what you’ve wrote, it sounds almost like you have decided to put aside a priestly calling in favor of one for marriage and archeology because you feel that you want to do it. Where in your flip/flop decision-making process did you consider what Our Lord wants? Did I miss that somewhere?

Perhaps, until (and if) you finally decide what God wants, you’d best put off entering the seminary. At best, you could spend a semester and re-find your desire to enter the priestly life; at worst, you’ll decide to leave the seminary and then be stuck paying back the $9 - $11k that that semester cost the diocese.

The No.1 thought in your mind should always be…“What does Jesus want?”…not “What do I want?” Until you’re ready to adopt that as your life’s goal…(you know the rest).

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