Exploring their calling to the priesthood

By Patrick Hart

‘Change a life’ was the slogan of a recent poster campaign by the National Office for Vocation, and Liverpool Archdiocese's vocations director Father James Preston – one of the priests featured in the advertisement – is encouraging this transformational process from his presbytery at St Charles Borromeo.

Father James’s Aigburth residence has become a house of discernment for men considering a vocation, with a day retreat organised each month in addition to the opportunity to gain longer-term exposure to different aspects of the priesthood.

It is from St Charles’s that Joshua Dixon (top right) has just set out to begin his priestly training at the Venerable English College, Rome. The 22-year-old from St Agnes and St Aidan’s, Huyton spent six months there after completing his theology degree at St Benet’s Hall, Oxford. "It’s given me an opportunity to see what the life of a priest can be in practice," said Joshua, whose work alongside Father James included visiting schools, hospitals and care homes. "I really felt at home and a sense of peace – that this is the way the Lord wants me to go. I don’t think I would have had that, or could have appreciated what a priest does, without this privileged time and space for prayer and reflection at St Charles’s."

It helps too to encounter like-minded individuals. Joseph Champion-Williams, a 20-year-old politics and international relations student at Liverpool Hope University, highlights the "real blessing" of meeting fellow discerners for the priesthood. "It’s not the done thing in terms of young lads – you’re very alone in this process, so for me to get in touch with Father James and come along to these monthly vocation meetings is a real network of support and prayer," said Joe, who is spending 12 months based at St Charles's, not far from his home parish of St Francis of Assisi, Garston.

Joe and Joshua have much in common. Baptised in the Church of England, Joshua converted to Catholicism as a sixth-former at the Blue Coat School while Joe's faith was rekindled during his own A level years at Calderstones. "When my granddad got ill, I went back to church to start praying for him," he explained. "He told me the true way to happiness was through the Lord." Joe subsequently experienced the clerical call during his first term at university. "You realise later that the call was always there, but I got my real moment when I was trekking in Nepal – I just remember being so overcome by the beauty of the world and feeling a strong sense of Jesus asking me to be a priest in His Church."

Joshua, meanwhile, had first "thought maybe God wants something more of me" when he was 18. Now he "can't wait" to begin his training in Rome – "not just academically or intellectually but also spiritually and pastorally". He expanded: "For me, the priest is a man for others. Love must be the heart of it – it's about gently, though sometimes firmly, presenting all the beauty of the Faith with a loving heart." For Joe, seminary may loom in autumn 2016 but the present moment is about "the totally unique opportunity of real hands-on experience of parish life. I feel truly supported here."

For more information about the St Charles Borromeo House of Discernment, contact Father James Preston via frjamespreston@gmail.com.