QUAERITUR: older men and priesthood

From a reader:

Father, I was in the seminary 14 years ago and completed first
theology. I so badly want to return to the priesthood. I wrote my bishop and
vocation director 10 times and NEVER received an answer.
What does the church have about older candidates?
I believe they have more experiences that those men just graduating from high school
Please comment.

I don’t know the circumstances of your diocese or your time in seminary.  Provided that you have a clean record, are able intellectually to do the work, can live in the state of grace for extended periods of time, are free to be ordained without anything to make you irregular for orders, and that your time in seminary back then and after seminary wasn’t fraught with grave problems, I would say keep trying until you either get in or get a reason why not.

You are going to have to adopt the attitude of the the old woman in the Lord’s parable.  She beat upon the judge’s door asking for her judgment until she got an answer.  Similarly, in the Gospel reading for Mass in the Ordinary Form yesterday, the Canaanite woman persisted in her cries for mercy, even taking on herself in ultimately winning humility the hard word the Lord used, “dog” (actually in Greek it was softer, more like “puppy” or “pet dog”, but do nonetheless).  Their persistence paid off in both cases, one a parable one an actual encounter.

Older men can bring great life experience to the priesthood.  I don’t know many dioceses which can afford to reject willing, able and acceptable candidates.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. ghp95134 says:

    Our associate pastor, a widower, was ordained at age 70 by the IVE. One news article headlined, “Father for the Eleventh Time” — he has 10 children.

    From the IVE website’s FAQs:
    25. What is the cut-off age for acceptance into the IVE?

    There isn’t one, as such. We make a determination on an individual basis of whether we think someone is called to the priesthood and would be a good fit with the charism of our Institute, and then give it a shot. Certainly older vocations need to have great humility to work on an equal footing with much younger men, and to embrace the challenging way of life that our seminarians and priests live, but all things are possible with God…

    IVE Vocations Director
    Fr. Mariano Vicchi, IVE
    3706 Rhode Island Ave
    Mt. Rainier
    E-mail: marianovicchi@ive.org This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
    Mobile Phone Number: 301-741-0490

  2. ghp95134 says:

    By the way …. Fr. Leonard is now 77 years old. His story is here:


  3. Ulsterian says:

    Unfortunately, some bishops who tend to administer their dioceses on the model a CEO manages his business corporation tend to admit older candidates into formation if, after ordination, they will be in active ministry long enough to qualify for the diocesan pension plan and retired priests healthcare benefits. Unless he is independently wealthy and can assure his local ordinary he can look after all his own expenses, an older candidate might have to search for a benevolent bishop who is not distracted by the stock market too much and is more willing to consider the wise and prudent investment (for the salvation of souls) of an older candidate.

  4. Fr_Sotelo says:

    Question for the inquirer. Did you leave the seminary with a squeaky clean record or were you noted officially as being a “problem child?” That would make a big difference, especially if you made the fatal error of some exiting seminarians who threaten former teachers or students or in other ways burn their bridges. I remember a seminarian who, on departing, threatened to sue the rector if his evaluations were divulged or shared with others. He will forever remain in the lay state.

    As far as older vocations vs. the youngins coming out of high school. I would counsel people in general to be careful about making comments which in any way denigrate the lack of experience of high school graduates going to the seminary. Their ignorance, naivate, etc. is precisely what endears them to the Church. The don’t think they know it all, or give lectures about what they know. Most of all, they are making the greater sacrifice, precisely because they give their lives to the Church before having experienced anything else in life.

    One Italian cardinal was told by an older seminarian how valuable his previous life experiences were, as opposed to the seminarians who were in their early 20’s. The cardinal replied, very curtly, “Don’t criticize them. You are giving to the Church your autumn. They are giving to the Church their springtime. That is the reason John the Apostle was the Beloved of the Lord.” Ouch. That may be too strong. But there is truth in those words.

  5. Philmont237 says:

    We have an older priest (in his 80s) that has been out of seminary for just a few years. His diocese would not approve him to go to seminary but the Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama was more than happy to take him.

  6. benedetta says:

    A later vocation can be a great witness and encouragement to many. The Church needs vocations. So long as things are in order as Fr. Z says I can’t see how realizing the call later in life should exclude. I should think that whether young or old, whatever one’s gifts, the Church can make beautiful use of them in service to the faithful.

  7. Bender says:

    Is persistent asking really a “calling” or is it indicative of a self-oriented personal desire or, worse, an entitlement mentality?

  8. everett says:

    As a note, many dioceses avoid older seminary candidates for largely financial reasons. They’ll have to pay for 3-4 years worth of essentially graduate school, and then you’ll retire after a much shorter period than other younger candidates, and they’ll have to cover retirement. Its unfortunate that this occurs, but it does.

  9. Gail F says:

    Why not just call and ask?

  10. Luke Whittaker says:

    Best of luck with your calling!

  11. Jack Hughes says:

    My two-cents

    St Francis Borgia of the Society of Jesus was ordained after he was widowed -he performed exoricisms and is thought to have been the greatest Superior General of the society after St Ignatius .

    Enough Said

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