Transferring from Religious to Diocesan formation


Greetings all,

I was just wondering if there was anyone on here who might have insights about the process of leaving the formation program/seminary of a religious community and moving into a diocese to prepare for the diocesan priesthood.

Has anyone on here ever been through this? What was the process like? Would appreciate thoughts also from anyone with knowledge or experience of this situation: vocation directors, spiritual directors, friends/family of seminarians, etc…

With gratitude,



It shouldn’t be too difficult.

The Bishop of my diocese was a Jesuit novice, but left and became a lawyer then later became a diocesan priest and later a bishop.


It can’t be terribly hard. I know of at least one person who keeps “hemming and hawing” with the Vincentians (the guys that run St. John’s, among other schools). In my mind, the real question is whether or not you’ve taken any vows yet.


So long as one is not under vows, this is no problem at all. Discernment is a process that continues throughout a postulancy and novitiate–which one can leave at any time. Even one who has taken temporary vows can choose not to renew them.

A change in course like so, though, ought to be discussed with one’s spiritual director. Hopefully also, one would realize that this isn’t like a transfer or anything of the like; one leaves to go back into the world, and then puts in an application elsewhere. Presuming that one is on good terms with the order one left, then a recommendation from the order, if they believe that your vocation is more authentically with a diocese, would likely go a long way with the bishop.

God bless.


Are you asking about ‘legalities’ – that is, about the nuts and bolts of the process itself?

Or, are you asking a question about formation and spirituality – that is, a question about the process of discerning a vocation to diocesan ministry on the heels of discerning a vocation to consecrated religious life?


Thank very kindly to all for the replies so far.

A little more information:

I am under temporary vows (coming to the end of second theology) but they expire in July. I could theoretically renew for another year, see how things continue, and then ask to be released mid-year, but that isn’t something I’m personally comfortable with. My words of commitment should mean something.

Many of the issues in my current circumstance relate to differences in pastoral and theological perspectives in my community. I’ve never self-described as liberal or conservative, but the bottom line is that faithfulness to the Church I serve is important to me. I wish I could say there was a greater diversity of perspectives among those I share this life and ministry with, but I’ve come to feel like dissent is the only way to get any real “cred” in the local community. I have exhausted myself spiritually and emotionally trying to be one of only a pocket full of guys who won’t compromise.

I have been working with my spiritual director on this; I am just beginning to take in some other thoughts and perspectives to enrich my discernment. I don’t feel a connection with other orders I’ve checked out, and honestly, it has been a bit of a tough decision between this community and my home diocese from the vocational discernment get-go. So going back to the diocese isn’t really a new idea for me in that sense.

Thanks again, and blessings to all.


Thank you for your question. I am more inquiring about the legalities. I wasn’t sure if generally a whole new application had to be started, or if it more just a matter of the diocese acquiring the file and recommendations of my current Formators and superiors. As mentioned in my reply post below, I have theological/ideological disagreements with members of my community, but my Formators have stated explicitly that they feel that I am called to be priest, and have the potential to be a good one. I am hopeful about having their support, despite our differences.


Dear Brother in Christ,
I am not in a religious community but I have been around the various christian denominations, churches etc. The fact I am a christian is a miracle. I am wondering if you are needing to take a break and spend some time in reflection and prayer.

I joined the Catholic church a few of years ago and after a few years, I had to take a break. (Long story that I will not get into on a public form but if you message me I will explain) I have learned that when we step away, it gives us time rediscover where is God leading, reaffirm some things and also re-energize our spirits, our minds and our bodies. It was just last night when I spoke to the minister from my church who said that it is normal for us to take a break. Breaks are important. It seems as if you have gone through alot and you are needing some time to regroup and reenergize.

I am wondering if it would not be beneficial if you did not renew your vows this summer and took some time off. I get the sense that you have a heavy heart and you are tired of the community dynamics. If you continue without a break, you will become overtired and it will become impossible to serve God to the fullest.

After a while, perhaps a few weeks, months or even a year, God will guide you on the duration, (if it is God’s will), you can always return to your present order or try another place. Sometimes it is absence from a situation when God will do his best work. Who knows, maybe God will open the doors to another vocation or simply a different order or a different diocese. Let’s face it, the world needs people to serve God in their communities and the possibilities are infinite.

I believe God is calling you to something great and although it is normal to face adversity, it is equally important to give our minds and bodies a break from it as well.

If I can help you in anyway, please message me,



Speak first to your spiritual director. That is who you really need to get your discernment advice from.

Your spiritual director will be able to help and guide you if you are open and transparent about your doubts and desires to pursue the diocesan priesthood.


Thanks for the additional information, Brother. Well I know that facing insurmountable opposition is often good cause for leaving an institute. It’s of course necessary to be obedient to your spiritual director, and to remember always that the devil continues to place obstacles in our path to spiritual perfection. I would advise taking your quandary now as an intention to every Mass, every office, every Rosary, every visit to the Blessed Sacrament. I would furthermore make this a prime issue to meditate upon on your next retreat or day of recollection. A lengthier retreat–always necessary, I understand, before any vows–might do well to lead you to a decision.

But let us assume for a moment that this is actually God calling you away from this order. I think that the biggest canonical question here is whether you’ve been tonsured a cleric yet or not. If you have, then the bishop of the diocese you hope to serve will have to incardinate you (and your order’s provincial consequently excardinate you). As I’m sure you’re aware, every cleric must be under a lawful superior, whether a bishop or a religious superior.

You’re also going to want to talk to the bishop about seminary. Will you be allowed to continue at your present seminary? If you must transfer, how would you go about that? Would you have to retake any classes due to differences in the curriculum (however modest these generally are)? Will there be any lapse of time of gap between finishing studies this year and resuming?

You’d also want to consider what you’d do if there is a lapse. However, if you contact the bishop soon enough, he or his staff might be able to find a place for you teaching at a diocesan school for a year while you’re waiting. In all, though, as your formators have an excellent opinion of you, I doubt you’d have much difficulty so long as you obey the promptings of the Spirit.

God bless you and guide you, Brother.


I have known people who have done this. It’s not all that difficult but it can be time consuming. Obviously you need to discuss this with not just your spiritual director but also your formators. Assuming you have a diocese in mind, you need also need to discuss your intentions with at least the vocations director if not the bishop. Two points I would make: first, the superior of your current community is required to provide a report to the diocese / seminary which you’re intending to join. The report has to include details about your reasons for leaving. Secondly, obtaining formal release (not sure if this is required if you’ve only taken temporary vows) can take a while although this probably shouldn’t be a problem until you get closer to ordination.


From that standpoint, a whole new application would have to be started. They will ALSO be acquiring files and recommendations from your current community.


A word of thanks to all for your input. kmuestwin: thank you for your comment. I am speaking to my spiritual director about the obvious discernment piece – I was just looking for some experience in terms of the logistics.

I really appreciate your comment SecretGarden, and right now that looks to be the direction I am headed. I had toyed with the idea of trying to make a change over the course of a summer (finish here in May, start in the diocese at the end of August), but I just don’t know that I’m ready to do that spiritually and emotionally. My experiences here haven’t hampered my sense of call to the priesthood, but it has been…difficult. A good retreat next month is the first order of business. I need some time to reflect, and just to be with God. Thank you very much for saying what you said; I think it hits what’s going on in my heart.

Thanks again. God’s peace to all.


Please keep us posted. Sometimes breaks help us to redirect or modify our calling a little. I took a break in October and I have learned so much that I am so happy that I did. You never know how God is going to use or teach. God is so wonderful and cool. I love serving him. If you need a friend during this time, message me. I am here.



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