The BBC documentary, Priest School, shone a light on the lives of seminarians in the Pontifical Scots College in Rome. The programme, which was universally well received, followed the young men who will form an important part of the future of the Scottish Church. It allowed them 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.
IN OUR lives, while we are certain that God has a plan for us, we are not often sure how that will manifest itself or where it will take us. It was the famous musician and Beatles’ star John Lennon who famously quipped that: “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans” and the same can be true of God—He often intervenes when we are making what we think are the right plans for us.
This was certainly the case for Patryk Solik, a seminarian at the Pontifical Scots College in Rome. Born into a Catholic family in Silesia in Poland, where their Faith played a big part in their everyday lives. He had an early notion of becoming a priest, but as he entered his teenage years, while his commitment to his Faith never wavered, his desire to enter the priesthood faded somewhat. Instead, he had his sights set on becoming an aeronautical engineer and so headed to Scotland to begin his studies at Glasgow University. However, the irony was that it was at university that the seeds of his vocation were sewn. Patryk knew that a good priest is someone who loves, cares for and is close to their flock and he was, in actual fact, showing these qualities while he was a student.
“During my time at university, I had chances to lead various projects and help some friends or other students with their studies or with other life situations,” he said. “After reflecting on these situations you sometimes get this feeling that it wasn’t only me doing this good work, but it was the Holy Spirit working in me and you want to be more open to this work and do it all the time.
“Living in student halls was a great experience, because it offered me the chance to help students with all possible sorts of problems—some trivial like fixing a fuse in someone’s kitchen and some more serious like helping someone who felt homesick or broken-hearted.
“I could be tutoring someone, for example, and I didn’t just see it as talking about mathematics because I was being paid to do so, but I was there because I wanted to meet the student as a person and let them know I cared about them as a person.”
Strong influences Patryk has spoken of having many strong influences within the priesthood whose behaviour at university he was actually mirroring. One such priest was Fr Ross Campbell, the chaplain at the university during his time there, who he credits as the catalyst in deciding to follow his vocation.
“I really appreciated him for his work with the students, organising wonderful talks which intellectually engaged the students at the University’s Catholic Association, being diocesan Vocations Director and for his care about the quality of the Liturgy in the chaplaincy,” he said.
“And despite all this he always had time for the students, which is a great example of priesthood.”
Describing himself as someone who ‘loves to plan ahead’ and comparing himself to the Biblical figure of Jonah in terms of pursuing his own plans initially, at all costs, before God intervened, Patryk understands that his vocation is very much a calling and part of God’s plan for him, which trumps his own.
“Vocation means to be called and please note the passive voice,” he said. “I am not the one calling. It is not up to me to decide whether or not I am called. I am just responding to the call. It shows that God has a plan and I can work within the plan. I also have the freedom to tell God that I do not like the plan. What I cannot do is to tell Him what His plan should be. This teaches me humility and the realisation that I am not doing things for myself. There are many other things more enjoyable than a cold and rainy Rome in January, but if this is part of His plan, I’m all in.”
Prior to those cold and rainy Rome days in January—with some better weather hopefully having featured throughout term time—Patryk spent time at the Royal Scots College in Salamanca and spoke very highly of Fr Tom Kilbride and Fr Stuart Chalmers for being great examples of living what you preach. Those good examples have continued in Rome with the likes of Fr Mark Cassidy, Fr Rogi Thomas and Fr Nick Welsh, who he feels embody the love and care that are the markings of excellent priests. And while he has just completed his first year of formation, he has learned another quality—openness—that he feels will not only help him on his journey to priesthood, but could also help people in their everyday lives too.
“It is crucial to be open to change,” Patryk said. “If someone is close-minded it will be difficult for God to act and mould them into a priest but if someone is open to change, then all other traits can be fixed. God leads me, pushes me to do new things, to change me and to teach me.
“In the secular world, people are lost and crying out for God, even if they refuse to admit it. Being willing to respond to that cry is a major part of my vocation.”
Growth Despite joking that he has grown physically since entering the Pontifical Scots College due to an increased consumption of pasta, Patryk has grown spiritually and in a social sense too, describing the seminary community as being one of ‘friendship,’ and with a focus on a dedication to a life of service.
“The biggest positive about seminary life is the closeness to God,” he said. “The spiritual opportunities provided such as daily Mass, communal prayer of the Divine Office, retreats and so on are a great tool in developing a good spiritual life. Having access to Pontifical universities, but also all the basilicas, churches and historic places is excellent too. Rome is just a place of extraordinary multi-dimensional formation.
“I catch myself sometimes taking for granted that I can just show up for morning Mass at St Peter’s Basilica as if it was a local parish or just popping in for confession in Santa Maria Maggiore, a church that has so much history relating to the Popes and art for instance. And there are many other churches where I just go to spend some time before the classes and, as well as meeting with Jesus there, I can see the artworks of Caravaggio, Bernini, Michelangelo and many more!”
“Seminary life has helped me greatly,” he added. “ I am a naturally quiet introvert, but now, through grace, I find it much easier to speak to people, spend time with them and simply be there for them. Another area of growth for me has been learning to accept what I am given and using it to the best of my abilities. I know that God will provide the necessary means to execute whatever plans He has for me and I just need to humbly cooperate.”
Man on a mission Given that Patryk originally hails from Poland, has studied in Salamanca and Rome with the intention of settling in Scotland—something he said he would never have envisaged as a teenager—he considers himself on a ‘sort of mission’ already and so was keen to share his thoughts on mission with us.
“Mission comes from Latin meaning ‘to be sent out,’ so it means to be sent out by the Lord to do His will and it starts with me,” he said. “To be able to ‘sell’ holiness to the modern world I need to live it and strive for it myself, and holiness is the primary and ultimate goal. Mission can be undertaken in many ways, it’s not specific, but in my case if I follow the Lord, He will show me the way.
"Getting back to holiness though, that should be everybody’s mission and to be a witness to that holiness. These days we often speak too much and do too little. It is not enough to just talk about Jesus, we need to give an example. It was the example of holy priests that attracted me to priesthood and it will be the example of holy Catholics, lay and religious, that will bring people back to God and to the Church.
“The work of Missio Scotland, for example, helps us to become more sensitive to the needs of different Churches and different people. Helping the Church in other parts of the world by prayer, fasting and almsgiving makes us more open to be missionaries at home. And the Church in Scotland needs all the Catholics to become true missionaries in their local communities. Not all of us need to go to abroad to be missionaries. Our neighbour may be our mission.”
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