Men on a Mission: Setting a course for the priesthood
Updated: Sep 21, 2020
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.
FROM broadcasting live over the airwaves, to crossing the waves during his time with the Merchant Navy, Bobby Taylor—from Galashiels in the St Andrews and Edinburgh Archdiocese—now finds himself navigating the waters of seminary, with the priesthood firmly on his radar.
Bobby’s grandfather’s uncle was a missionary priest who went from his native home in Ireland to set up a parish in Nebraska in the USA, so there was a history of service to the Church in his family, but as he admitted himself, he doesn’t come from what would be considered a typical or traditional Catholic family.
“My Mum, Helen, is Irish, she grew up in Dublin, but our family has roots that can be traced to Roscommon. She was the driving force in terms of our faith, she was very strong in that regard and ensured that myself and my sister Louise were brought up in the faith too,” Bobby explained. “She met my late father, Charles, in the Borders the 1970s. My dad wasn’t Catholic. He was brought up in the Church of Scotland but during his university years he fell away from the practise of his faith. He became—as described at his funeral—‘a taxi Catholic!’ He basically brought the family to church whenever it was needed!”
Bobby admits that his faith has always been a huge part of his life, especially during his high school days when he didn’t attend a Catholic school and so the parish community and weekly Mass were important. His faith remained strong when he began working as a Radio Station DJ and he was still involved in the parish. However, as happens to many people, he experienced a bit of a drifting away from the faith when he began attending college and then when he joined the Merchant Navy (above). Ironically, though, it was during his time working at sea that he eventually came onshore and decided to follow his vocation. Having travelled to places as far and wide as Norway, the Netherlands, Liberia, Ghana and South Africa during his five years at sea, it was in Australia that he was to experience an epiphany of sorts.
“I was in Melbourne and my captain had encouraged me to go and explore the city, which I did,” he recalled. “I ended up in the cathedral, where I went to Mass and then Confession, where the convinced me that there was something I needed to go away and think on and pray on and work with. I was missing something and that something was my connection with the faith.”
That being said, the seed of vocation was no doubt planted in Bobby long before that moment in the families that he previous mentioned—the loving one at home and the nurturing parish community in his hometown.
“I had a couple of parish priests—Canon John Creanor and Fr Basil Clark—who were very supportive of me and a source of inspiration in me discovering my vocation,” he said. “I eventually got to a point, as highlighted by the experience in Melbourne, where I realised I had changed and I couldn’t simply ignore it. I had to find out what I had felt called to. The gentle persistence of God’s call paid off.”
The veracity of vocation
However, as with many of the young men from Scotland who choose to enter seminary, that calling was not simply a mere notion that Bobby chose to act upon after a single powerful, faith-filled moment, his vocation was something that had been deeply ingrained into him from his teenage years, something that he had a really profound understanding of and something that is inextricably linked, for him, with diocesan priesthood.
“I’m reading a book just now which talks about the difference between vocation and career,” he said. “It talks about how the world has lost a concept of vocation and I agree—on reflection—vocation and career growing up were two synonymous terms in high school. Vocation, this book says, is ‘a call from the Divine Persons to a way of life.’ It also suggests that vocation is ‘an invitation to give… totally [of ourselves] to another person in accordance with the divine plan.
“Vocation means for me our place in the plan God has for us. It is, at its basic level, a call for us to love God and we can express that through our vocation, which is either to ordained ministry when we love God and the People of God, in single life when we live as an expression of love of God through daily actions in a secular world and through married life, when our love of God is shown through our love of our spouses and our family.
“For me, I’ve always known that my call is to the diocesan priesthood. Those priests who inspired me before going to Rome have always been priests working in parishes. Since I’ve been in Rome I’ve met some incredible religious who have provided me with new inspiration and guidance, but it has never altered my opinion that my call is to the diocesan priesthood where I can be of help to the People of God in offering them the sacraments, walking with them in their lives and supporting them when life gets difficult. The role of a priest in parishes is such a privileged one.”
Unity is strength in seminary
Prior to that though, is seminary life, something that Bobby described as a ‘shock to the system,’ in spite of some of the similarities with the regimented routine in the Merchant Navy and while he is honest about his early linguistic struggles and switching to studying philosophy when he was more used to making things happen when he ‘pushed a button or turned a wheel,’ he was able to draw strength and inspiration from the faith—in particular from his Confirmation Saint, St Andrew and St Robert Bellarmine—and the community within the seminary (above).
“First year was a very big challenge,” he said. “Despite that rocky road, I was convinced that this is what I was called to do. It was something that needed hard work so the only way to do that was to apply yourself, so that’s what I did.
“Times of prayer are essential, whether they are with scripture, praying the Rosary, praying the Mass or in front of the Blessed Sacrament, the chance they give me to reconnect with the Lord after a busy day or before a busy day or when on retreat are fundamental.
“The seminary is not very big—there’s maybe 20 seminarians—but the sense of community was a big first impression of mine and within that community, there’s a recognition that we’re all in it together and there’s a camaraderie that exists amongst us. Everyone wants everybody to get through it. Everyone wants everyone else to end up as priest back home in Scotland. It’s not for some people, some decide to leave, but that’s the success of seminary as well because we’re giving people time and a place to discern their call.”
Openness, devotion and prayer
Contrary to perhaps the popular misconception that seminary life leaves little time for relaxation, having that community within the college has been important for the latter, with Bobby having been able to showcase his cooking skills—including rustling up a mean Butter Chicken—and his goalkeeping prowess on the football pitch. However, faith is undoubtedly the main focus and being a student of the faith has given Bobby an insight into the qualities and characteristics that a seminarian should possess, the positives of seminary life and memories that will last long after he is eventually ordained a priest.
“Being in seminary has confirmed to me that a seminarian has to be open to the voice of God so that he can make his way known,” he said. “Being open in general is a good though, the seminary is a place of formation and so we have to be open to the different ways we will encounter from staff and seminarians alike. Cultivating a life of prayer and of devotion to Church and the God is equally important.
“The chance to grow in a relationship with Our Saviour has been such a big positive for me in seminary, as has meeting people from all over the world, learning more about the faith than you ever thought possible and having the Scriptures opened up to us.”
“There’s been so many standout memories during my time in seminary too,” he added. “Meeting the Holy Father on three occasions would be up there. My favourite one would be serving the Easter Vigil in St Peters in 2017. I was the thurifer so led the procession into St Peter’s Basilica and seeing it with minimal lighting and the incense creeping along the aisle in front of us was just spectacular and will always live with me.”
Man on a mission
Being part of these men on a mission at the college, it’s no surprise that Bobby (above)—like his fellow seminarians—has a very good handle on mission, its importance, the universality of the Church and the need to support the work of Missio Scotland and the Pontifical Mission Societies in order to share faith and love worldwide with our brothers and sisters.
“Our mission as Catholics is to continue on the mission left to the Church by Jesus Christ,” Bobby explained, “It is how we carry out the vocation of the Church, but also our own personal vocation as given by God and the mission of every Catholic is about sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. By sharing that Good News both verbally and by our personal witness, we can share Christ with others and make him present in others lives.”
“One of the great thing about studying in Rome has been the opportunity to meet many priests and religious from all over the world—Latin America, South America, Africa and Asia,” he continued. “They all bring such a rich understanding of their faith and their experience in the Church and were I to get the opportunity to travel and experience the Church in other parts of the world I would take the opportunity happily, whilst also remembering that I believe my mission, my vocation, is to serve the Church in Scotland.
“That said, I think it is important to support Missio Scotland in their work because their mission is every Catholic’s mission and while it may be difficult for parishioners and priests in parishes across the country to reach beyond our borders, Missio Scotland is the way in which we can collectively travel to those places and support the mission of Jesus Christ in the world through the sharing of faith, caring for people and looking for justice for all of creation.”
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