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Men on a Mission: From the Port to the Pontifical Scots College

Earlier this year, a BBC documentary shone a light on the life of seminarians in the Pontifical Scots College in Rome, which was universally well received. The programme allowed the young men—who will form an important part of the future of the Scottish Church—to express themselves on camera, show their dedication to the faith and perhaps even dispel some myths about the priesthood along the way. Missio Scotland decided to delve a little deeper with some of them to find out why they’re embarking upon this very special personal mission.

Gerard Gough

IT’S perhaps not surprising that someone who hails from Port Glasgow—and who would no doubt have been able to see many magnificent examples of ships sailing up and down the Clyde—would have chosen to study Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering at University. However, it was the decision to answer God’s call that would see Ryan Black’s life steer a different course.

Making waves

Despite having a firm grounding in the faith from his mum Joan and dad Norrie—having gone to Mass and Confession with his brother Chris and been aware that the Church would always be a part of life—Ryan (above) never saw himself being ‘anywhere else other than the pews.’ Of course that would change, but for a time his life was all about the waves (above), in more ways than one.

“If I am honest, the reason I chose to study Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering was because the money was good and there were job prospects around the world,” Ryan admitted. “Having visited family in Hong Kong, I fell in love with the place; I wanted to move there, and there were plenty of job opportunities in the field.

“While I was at university studying, I also worked as a DJ and radio presenter. It was a commercial station called YOUR Radio, broadcasting in West Dunbartonshire, Helensburgh and Lomond, and Inverclyde. My love of music has never left me. I received three great gifts from my parents: life, faith and an appreciation for 80s pop!

“I would like to think that skills developed while working there have stood me in good stead as I prepare to be ordained a priest. It is fundamental that priests are good communicators, for example, so that they can proclaim the Gospel to the different people they will meet in their ministry.”

Parish priest paves the way

Proclaiming the Gospel to different people that a priest meets during the course of his ministry is something that Ryan had an excellent example of in his home parish, with his former parish priest having acted as a catalyst for him deciding to take up his vocation (above). He provided Ryan with a greater insight into the universal Church and always offered good counsel.

“The major catalysts for me deciding to take up my vocation, were my former parish priest and the mission trips to South Africa he organised,” he said. “Having experienced the daily life of some Mill Hill priests there, I started to think about what a life in the priesthood might look like. Until then, much of my experience of priesthood had been limited. On my return from South Africa, I began to consider the way in which my parish priest lived his life, and I had many questions about faith, the Church and the priesthood, such as the Divine Office and his obligations to it; celibacy; and how he had discerned his own vocation. Thank God, he answered them, and he also got me involved in the week-to-week life of the parish.”

Support, surprise and vocation

When Ryan eventually made the decision to study for the priesthood, he admits that everyone within his family (above) and circle of friends were supportive, but perhaps a little surprised at first. However, he can understand that initial emotion because, as he admits, deciding to follow his vocation brought its own surprises.

“The most obvious surprise was the realisation that there was such a thing as a call from God,” he said. “I had never believed in the idea of a call, thinking rather that the good priests I knew had simply chosen to be priests in the same way that people chose to be doctors and nurses, teachers and taxi drivers.

“However, after I returned from South Africa, I became aware of a niggling feeling, a random thought that would pop up every now and then: what about priesthood? This niggling feeling started popping up so frequently that I thought I would have been actively ignoring it if I did nothing about it. Then, with the help of the vocations director, I realised that this was indeed the way in which God had manifested His call to me.”

Once Ryan got over the initial surprise, his understanding of vocation began to grow and intensify and, making reference to the call made by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI during his visit to the UK in 2010 when he suggested that we can all be saints, he explained what the term now means to him, and its wider meaning.

“The word ‘vocation’ is huge,” he said. “In a broad sense, it refers to the way of life that God has created each of us for—we all have the vocation to holiness, we are all called to be saints. However, in a more particular way, it refers to the specific way in which God wants us to be holy. We all have a shared vocation, and we all have our individual vocations.

“Our shared vocation—the one given to each one of us—is to become saints. I once asked full classrooms of secondary school pupils to put their hands up if they wanted to be holy and, unsurprisingly, very few did. I then asked the same pupils to put their hands up if they wanted to go to heaven when they died and, unsurprisingly, they all put their hands up. It was wonderful to be able to explain to them that those two questions are in fact one question. Often, we can feel repelled by the idea of holiness. However, it is just another way of talking about being close to God— holiness, at least in this life, is not perfection, but rather it is being close to God even with our faults and failings.

“The individual vocation is the way in which God wants us to be holy and to help others to be holy. For some—and I would say for more than we might think—that vocation is to the priesthood, diaconate or religious life. If we are all called to be holy and to help others to be holy, then the special role of the clergy and religious is to help others to realise their full potential as disciples. As a priest, it will not be my job to save people; it will be my mission to show people how they themselves can come close to God in their own lives.”