Roman Catholic Priests


Education and Training Requirements

High School

Some high schools offer preparation for the priesthood that is similar to that of a college preparatory high school. High school seminary studies focus on English, speech, literature, and social studies. Latin may or may not be required; the study of other foreign languages, such as Spanish, is encouraged. Other recommended high school courses include typing, debating, and music.

Postsecondary Training

Eight years of post-high school study are usually required to become an ordained priest. Candidates for the priesthood often choose to enter at the college level or begin their studies in theological seminaries after college graduation. The liberal arts program offered by seminary colleges stresses philosophy, religion, the behavioral sciences, history, the natural sciences, and mathematics. Some priestly formation programs may insist on seminarians majoring in philosophy.

The additional four years of preparation for ordination are given over entirely to the study of theology, including studies in moral (ethics) and pastoral and dogmatic (doctrine) theology. Other areas of study include church history, scripture, homiletics (the art of preaching), liturgy (worship), and canon (church) law. In the third year of advanced training, candidates undertake fieldwork in parishes and the wider community. Because the work expected of secular and religious priests differs, they are trained in different major seminaries offering slightly varied programs.

Postgraduate work in theology and other fields is available and encouraged for priests, who may earn the master of divinity or master of arts degrees from American Roman Catholic universities, ecclesiastical universities in Rome, or other places around the world. Continuing education for ordained priests in the last several years has stressed sociology, psychology, and the natural sciences.

All Catholic seminaries offer scholarships and grants to qualified students; no one is denied the chance to study for the priesthood because he cannot afford it.

Other Education or Training

The National Federation of Priests' Councils, an organization for bishops, presbyterates, and priests, offers continuing education programs on leadership, conflict resolution, emotional intelligence, and other topics.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

There are no certification or licensing requirements for Roman Catholic priests.

Other Requirements

Only men may enter the Roman Catholic priesthood.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Roman Catholic priests obtain experience in the seminary and by working as an assistant pastor after they are ordained. 

Those interested in the priesthood should possess a strong religious faith, coupled with the belief that they have received a special call from God to serve and help others. All other interests and potential vocations should be considered secondary to this call. In addition to a strong desire for helping others, priests need to be able to communicate effectively and supervise others. They must have common sense, initiative, and self-confidence in order to be able to effectively oversee a parish or mission. They must also have compassion, humility, and integrity so as to be able to set an example for others. They must be open-minded and good listeners in order to successfully interact with and help those who seek their counsel.

A vow of celibacy is required, along with vows of poverty and obedience. Some orders take a special fourth vow, often related to their community, such as a vow of stability to stay in one place or a vow of silence.