Archdiocesan vocation director Fr Valerian Cheong answers questions
about discernment, seminary requirements and other matters.
Seminarians enjoying community games in the compound of the Church of St Teresa where they are currently housed.
Q: How do I discern if I am being called to be a priest?
A: Usually it comes from an inner stirring, a little voice within an aspirant [a person hoping to join the seminary] that tells him maybe this is it. And this is where the seminary helps by asking, “Is this your imagination? Your ideal? Or something that you are serious about.” It really is a discerning process where we try to help the person hear what he thinks God is calling him to do.
Q: What’s the difference between an aspirant, candidate and seminarian?
A: Aspirants are still in the process of discerning whether they want to enter the seminary. Candidates are those waiting to enter the seminary during the annual January intake every year. Seminarians have already joined and started their priestly studies.
Q: Who should I consult if I wish to join the seminary?
A: Going to your parish priest would be a good starting point. Speak to him and share why you feel you are being called to the priesthood. He will then be able to help you discern and link you with the seminary should you still wish to find out more.
Fr Valerian Cheong said seminarians are expected to be open and transparent and ‘have a desire to be formed.’
Q: What are the guidelines and procedures if I want to apply to join the seminary?
A: There are two main stages to go through before an individual is accepted into the seminary.
The first stage sees the seminary recommend a list of about 10 priests to journey with the aspirant and act as his spiritual director for the next year or so. During this period, the priest will meet the aspirant about once a month and guide him in the discernment process.
After both the spiritual director and aspirant have mutually agreed that he is ready to take the next step, the priest will recommend him for the second stage in which the individual will meet and discern further with the priests overseeing the seminary.
This is where we get to know the aspirant on a deeper level. The second stage could take up to another year or so.
The process is stringent to a certain extent. In total, it could take an aspirant two to three years before he actually enters the seminary.
Other procedures that an aspirant would have to go through include a psychological test and medical check-up. He also requires a referral from his parish priest.
Q: I’m the only child in my family. If I’m accepted into the seminary, what sort of support will I receive should my parents fall sick or grow too old to look after themselves?
A: There are safety networks but we consider this matter on a case by case basis. For example, we have had cases before where seminarians take a semester break to spend time with their parents who are not in the best of health.
However, it is best to have such issues sorted out before approaching the seminary.
Seminarians having prayer time in the chapel.
Q: Is there an age requirement to enter the seminary? What sort of qualifications do I need to be accepted?
A: Preferably below the age of 35. But again, we will look at it from case to case. Regarding a minimum age, an individual would have to complete his National Service first.
For qualifications, either an A level certificate or diploma. The primary reason for these qualification requirements is so the individual can cope with the assigments and exams in the seminary.
Q: What should I do if I have a girlfriend but feel called to enter the seminary?
A: It would be good for you to decide on this for yourself. Here in the seminary, we do not make decisions for the aspirants, we just guide them along the way.
Q: What if my parents are against my decision to join the seminary?
A: If you’re below the age of 21, listen to your parents. However if an aspirant is in his mid to late 20s or even early 30s, he should be mature enough to make his own decisions provided they are honest and true. Also, pray for your parents to be supportive and open to your vocation.
Q: Can I leave the seminary if I feel, after a period of time, that it is not my calling?
A: Yes, certainly. No one is tied down or bonded to the seminary.
Seminarians having prayer time in the chapel.
Q: What is the life of a seminarian like? What is expected of him?
A: The day starts at 7am with morning prayer. If there are scheduled classes, they usually begin at 9am. There are structured times for daily meditations and Mass.
A typical day also includes time to work on assignments, study for exams, and community time with fellow seminarians through meals and games. There are also days of silence and monthly recollections.
Seminarians are expected to be open and transparent to the priests in the seminary, to have a desire to be formed and to have humility and the ability to take instructions.
Q: What are the topics covered in the eight years of seminary studies?
A: 1st year – Initiation Year.
2nd year – Philosophy Studies.
3rd year – Philosophy Studies.
4th year – Regency year (usually in the parish, but not necessarily).
5th-8th years – Theology Studies.
Q: What would you say to those who find the priestly life uninspiring?
A: If a person chooses to focus on his career, then it is ok because he is not being called to the priesthood. The person who finds fulfilment in his priestly call will really know that the priesthood is for him.
At the end of the day, what we want a priest to be is someone who can make a difference in someone else’s life in a spiritual context.
By Jared Ng