My Vocational Story

I was born and raised in Carlisle with my brother Matthew; my Dad brought both my brother and myself through the Sacraments.  I was baptised in St. Michael & St. John’s Church, Clitheroe, Lancashire, at double baptism with my cousin Sonia.  My family parish is St. Edmund’s, Carlisle.  Canon Dewhurst was parish priest at that time, and he asked me if I was interested in serving on the Altar.  I was shown the ropes and started serving for many years before I moved to University.  During my time at St. Edmund’s I helped with Benedictions and Funerals.  One of my highlights was Altar serving with the late Bishop John Brewer on his parish visits.  I remember one Sunday we were waiting in the sacristy just before Mass and he asked me if I ever considered joining the priesthood.  Without thinking, I quickly answered “No”, shy that the Bishop was actually talking to me.  This was the first seed being planted in my heart.  Bishop Brewer smiled at me and said “Trust in the Lord, as you do not know what he has planned for you”.  Bishop Brewer was correct in his statement, I didn’t think my life would turn around like this.  I believe this seed has grown within me, and reminded me of my trust in Jesus.

fIn Newcastle I was finishing off my last year, of a three year H.N.D course at Northumbria University (Years 1 & 2 were in Carlisle), then I stayed an extra year, to top it up to a degree studying B.Sc. Applied Business Computing.  I continued with my faith and started going to a nearby Catholic Church – St. Andrew’s parish.  After I graduated from University I was offered a job at Dumfries Royal Infirmary as a Technical Support Officer.  I met lots of good friends, especially Dr John Rutherford an Anaesthetics Consultant who taught martial arts in Aikido, so I started going for lessons with him and passed many examinations.

I moved to Lancashire Teaching Hospitals in Preston with a job promotion.  My Grandparents and cousins lived around the area so I didn’t feel too far from home and this gave me the opportunity to visit them more regularly.  I started going to English Martyrs church and enjoyed the whole atmosphere; the sermons from Fr. Singleton (who was P.P at the time) opened up the Gospel message, and explained it easier for me to understand.  I was asked to join the church choir as there were a limited number of male singers, so I agreed and started singing with them on the following Sunday.

I started thinking more deeply about my life’s direction, praying to Jesus for His guidance and grace, trying to determine whether a vocation to the Priesthood was my calling.  I felt a desire in my heart to start going to Mass more often, because I felt one Mass on Sunday’s wasn’t adequate.  I started going to a few daily Masses and I restarted my Altar serving duties.  I loved getting more involved and becoming an active member of the Parish – Chair of the Liturgy sub-committee group, Altar serving, Sacristan, Reader and Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.  Taking Communion to a nursing home “Kenmure Lodge” every Sunday and seeing their faces light up was a real privilege.

I have been on five diocesan pilgrimages to Lourdes, and on my last trip I helped as a Brancardier.  I met so many new friends on these pilgrimages, assisting the VIP’s either by pushing them in their wheelchairs, or spending time with them at their hotels.  The schedule is busy and requires early starts when working on the rota, but it is very rewarding seeing everyone enjoying themselves.

After two unsuccessful attempts getting through the interview stages for the priesthood, I was looking into the Benedictines at Belmont Abbey, then I had news about a placement opportunity with the Lancaster Diocese, so I had to pray and decide which path to explore.  My commitment has always been with the Diocese, so I accepted a ten month pastoral placement with the Lancaster Diocese, in order to develop my Human Formation.  I was sent to the parish of “Christ the Good Shepherd” in Workington, with Canon Paul Swarbrick, Fr Paul Harrison and Sister Eleanor Gilligan.  During my time in Workington, I have been visiting and working closely with three primary schools (St. Gregory’s, St. Mary’s, St. Patrick’s), and St. Joseph’s Catholic High School.  Spending time with the children in the playground and classrooms was really enjoyable which I wasn’t expecting.  Seeing the pupils on a weekly basis over seven months made me relate with them on a more personal level.  My other activities were to help train the junior Altar servers, and becoming a Catechist for both the Confirmation and the First Holy Communion programs, visiting the sick and housebound and giving them Communion.  I really enjoyed my time in Workington and it came as a surprise to be given a second placement opportunity to assist Fr Philip Conner at St. Joseph’s parish, Lancaster.  Saying goodbye to everyone in Workington, especially the children was the hardest part of the placement.  I arrived at St. Joseph’s Lancaster after Easter (2016), and I am currently enjoying my time here.  I have been introduced to my new parishioners at the church and visiting the housebound.  I had an interview on 5th May with Bishop Michael Campbell, including six people on his Advisory panel.  I was told shortly afterwards that I was accepted for priestly formation and that I would be joining Oscott Seminary College in September 2016.  Until then I will be based at St. Joseph’s Parish, Lancaster gaining as much experience as I can.  I am really looking forward to see what the future holds, and the vocational path Jesus has in store for me.  I can guarantee it will involve a lot of studying.

Please continue to pray for vocations, and especially our current Seminarians.

God Bless.

Additional information

My 12 month pastoral placement before joining Oscott College.

I remember back in February 2015 been given the news that there was an opportunity to undertake a pastoral placement with the Diocese.  The offer of the placement was unexpected and therefore was a time great joy and at the same time a period of being unsettled of what the future may hold.  For me to accept this placement would mean that I would have to give up my home, and also my job.  I soon realised that this was the time that I had to use my faith to trust in God, and his plan for my life.  After a period of intense prayer and contemplation, I found that any of the initial worries faded away, and I became at peace with where the Lord was leading me.

Being a naturally shy person, one of my fears was how easy it would be for me to interact with people of all ages.  I then remembered how much I had already undertaken, in the year prior to the placement.  Two things really prepared me too able to deal with my shyness more easily.  First was the visiting the sick I had been doing in my parish, and secondly was the volunteer work that I had done with the youth group at St Clare’s.  I knew that the skills I had learnt in these two areas would be invaluable in supporting me during this placement.

My first placement which started in September was at Christ the Good Shepherd, Workington; my home parish of St. John XXIII in Preston is similar to this parish in respect of its size and the number of churches, and everything else that goes with running a big parish.  It is only when you become part of the pastoral team in a parish that you really begin to realise the enormity of the task in hand, in running parishes of the future.

I was given a number of tasks to assist in the parish, first was to work in the three primary schools.  During my time in the primary schools I was tasked with assisting teachers in the class room, with the lessons and also with times of prayer and reflection with regard to the scriptures.  This was a great experience as it taught me how much you have to change, to be able to deliver the same thing to all the different age ranges in a primary school.  My main aim was to help the children to have an encounter with Jesus Christ, I believe this was achieved, not through all my own efforts, but allowing the Holy Spirit to work through me.  At first I found my interaction with the children difficult, but once I was comfortable to the new surroundings I was at easy and began to really enjoy the time I spent in these primary schools.

I was also sent into St. Joseph’s high school, Workington, I helped assist the school chaplain, Daniel Harris, especially during the Advent services and Friday afternoon school Masses.  It is amazing how different the environment is between the primary and the high school.  I found working with Daniel very fruitful in that it gave me a better understanding of the role of the lay chaplain in a high school.  It also opened my eyes to how far away from the church people can be, in the sense that in primary school, faith and Jesus and talked about a lot more, but in the high school it’s almost as though Jesus is less important.  This is not a bad reflection on school, but an observation with regard to the young people it is almost as if they no longer believe.  Both of these school placements have help me to understand how much Jesus Christ need to be the centre of everything that we do and say.  Even if at times we do not feel that the message is getting across we should never give up.

Also while on placement at the high school I joined the year 11’s on their week retreat at Savio house, I joined in with their guided group’s discussion and was able to share with them some of my life experiences, especially with regard to my faith and the church.  It amazing to listen to these young people, just when we think that all is lost with faith one of them would make a profound statement of their understanding of God.  Of course there was a lot that they did not understand, which gave me the opportunity to again share my faith and understanding with them.

The experience in both of these schools has helped me to understand more fully how important the presence of a priest is for these schools.  We know that so many demands are placed on priests today, and that schools can be an area that is overlooked.  With some many of these children no longer going to Mass, the school is often the only place that they have an opportunity to have an encounter with Jesus Christ.

With regard to the parish there was many things that I became involved in, one of which was visiting the sick another important ministry of the priest and those who assist him.  Spending time with these people, and especially with those who were nearing the end of their life was a humbling experience.  To hear the faith that is present in these people, makes you really think about your own faith, and how often it can be put to the test.  It times like these that I know how close a really need to be with the Lord.  I remember one lady that I was able to spend some time with before they passed away.  I was present at the bedside with the family either quietly praying, or leading the family in the rosary.  Who else is invited into these moments apart from the priest, and those who assist him, to be there to offer support and comfort is another truly humbling experience for me.  What a privilege it truly is to bring Christ and his church, to this family in their hour of need, giving them comfort and peace.  How important the priest is to these families, made me realise how Christ becomes truly present in these times of distress and pain.

There were many other people that I visited at home to bring them the Blessed Sacrament, I realised for some of these people you may be the only contact that they have that day and therefore I would spend time talking with them. I found it was also important to make sure that the people at home still felt part of the parish community and therefore I would give them the weekly newsletter and keep then up to date with parish news and events. Of course I also spent time listening to their fascinating life and faith stories.

Within the parish I was also tasks to help the Altar server, by way of encouragement and training especially to two young Altar servers who felt out of place serving on the Altar and were thinking about quitting.  I helped them gain confidence in their abilities, and I believe they went on to finally receiving their medal for the Guild of St. Stephen’s Guild.  I also helped in the choir on Sundays at “Our Lady’s & St. Michaels” church, and assisted the Catechist for Confirmation and First Holy Communion programme, teaching the children about the faith and using my knowledge gained from the Catechism course helped me to explain the faith more clearly.  I tried my best to get to know as many parishioners as I could during my time on placement, and I have made many new friends.

My placement has given me invaluable time to focus on God’s plan in my life, in daily prayer especially in front of the Blessed Sacrament.  Also having a specific time slot for morning and evening prayer of the Divine Office with Canon Swarbrick, which makes me appreciate the Office in communion with the whole Church around the world singing praise and Glory to God.   This experience has changed my life in so many ways.  I have grown in self-confidence, not worried about making the first move in my interactions with others, speaking to new people and being open with them.  My love and compassion has increased substantially for the young, the old, the sick, and housebound.  Spending so much time with them at school, in their homes or hospitals, has given me a great sense of God’s loving grace for His people in different stages of their lives.

Spending time assisting the Catechist and listening to the Catechists explaining the faith, made me understand more clearly the teaching of the church.

Just after Easter I started my second placement at St. Joseph’s Lancaster, I am looking forward to receiving more confidence and knowledge at this new parish.  I will be visiting Lancaster University spending time with the students and working in the Chaplaincy team.  Our Lady’s Catholic College meeting with the pupils, helping out with “Year of Mercy” assembles and classroom activities.  St. Joseph’s Primary school, helping out with their lessons and prayer time.  It will give me the opportunity to visit many new house bound parishioners, to spend time with them and give them Holy Communion.

These placement opportunities has helped me enter a more deeply personal relationship with Jesus Christ, I feel closer to Jesus more than ever before. Throughout these placements I have been able to discern more clearly God’s will for my life and a truly believe that God is calling me to serve him and his people as a priest. Of course there is always room to grow and I know that through the power of the Holy Spirit I will continue to grow and develop in to the person that God calls me to be.  I feel so privileged receiving these placement opportunities, to increase my personal development.  I know this experience will be of great benefit to me whatever the future holds.

 

God bless, in your vocation.