future priest

Patrick May is studying to become a Catholic priest. He is currently serving for a year at St. Francis Xavier Church in Brunswick.

Bobby Haven/The Brunswick News

Patrick May grew up in the Catholic church. He and his siblings attended Catholic school and the family rarely missed weekly Mass in Macon. Even so, he considered them to be average congregants.

Eventually, May went on to college, where he embraced normal student life.

“I went to Georgia Southern. You know, I went to football games and I was in a fraternity. It was a normal college life,” he recalled.

Even so, May felt unfulfilled. He transferred to Augusta State, where he began to focus more on his studies, as well as making his dream of becoming an attorney into a reality. It was there where he connected with a professor who would change the course of his life forever.

“I had a professor who taught political science and he was also a priest. He was young, much younger than most of the priests I’d known. That kind of shook me up because most priests I knew were older,” he said. “He really became a mentor to me, both in my studies as well as in my faith. He was a very faithful Catholic man and he really helped me grow as a student and as a disciple of Jesus.”

May started connecting with other young Catholics on campus, working with the youth group and helping spearhead various activities.

“It was really great ... they all had a deep faith and this sense of peace that I found very attractive,” he said.

But there was something more. May was starting to question his path, considering the priesthood himself. It was an entirely new thought, something he had never dreamed of before.

“I wasn’t one of those people who, as a child, just wanted to go into the priesthood. I had never thought about that before. I had always just assumed I’d grow up, go to law school and have a family,” he said.

God, however, had different plans. Over many months, May was unable to shake the idea of becoming a priest.

“My first reaction was ‘no way.’ But it was something that God seemed to really want me to do. I didn’t want to do it but I couldn’t really escape it,” he said. “I did take the LSAT (the law school admissions test) but I kept coming back to the priesthood. I decided that I better figure that out before I got to law school.”

After some sincere soul searching and prayer, May decided it was what he wanted to do with his life and he began the long road toward his fate.

“My family, at first, was certainly surprised. They were like me and did not know what all it entailed or what the process was like,” he said. “But they were very supportive.”

As one may rightly assume, the road to becoming a priest is no easy task. The first step is reaching out to the diocese, the regional body that governs a grouping of churches. From there, one begins the application process, which takes many months to complete.

“You meet with the bishop and he talks to you about why you want to be a priest and what is required of you. Then they do an extensive background check,” he said. “You have to get letters of recommendation from all sorts of people, from teachers to ex-girlfriends. They also review your grades.”

Potential priests also undergo a number of psychological tests during the application process.

“They give you all sorts of tests. One of the interviews with a psychologist lasted more than four hours,” he said.

Once that was completed, they determined May was mentally and emotionally fit to move forward. That meant going to seminary.

“There are 100 seminars in the country. For the Savannah diocese, you either go to Boyton Beach near Miami or you go to Maryland,” he explained. “Half go one place and the other half the other.”

May was sent to Mount Saint Mary’s in Emmitsberg, Maryland. He began there in the fall of 2012, when he was just 25. There he began the seven year journey toward ordination.

“There are 150 guys and all from different dioceses. You focus on the four pillars: the human pillar, the pastoral pillar, the intellectual pillar and the spiritual pillar,” he said. “They want you to become a good Christian who is able to serve. You have a master of theology degree when you finish too.”

They also study theology and philosophy while in seminary. Each year, the seminaries and their teachers evaluate their progress and decide if it is wise to continue.

“If you aren’t ready, they always tell you not to rush it ... it is not a race,” May noted.

For May, though, his progress was satisfactory and he became a transient deacon over the summer. It is a bit of a point of no return for a potential priest, a milestone that asks a seminarian to take serious vows, similar to those of a priest.

It also means he is sent to a church to observe and assist the priests for a year. May was sent to St. Francis Xavier in Brunswick, where he assists the Rev. Tim McKeown and Christopher Ortega in Mass, ceremonies like weddings or funerals and also teaches eighth-grade religion in the church’s school.

“I am really enjoying it here. I had never been to Brunswick before but it is great. I am learning a lot from Father Tim and Father Chris. Everyday is totally different,” he said.

It also brings him closer to receiving his full vows through ordination. That, he expects, will take place tentatively on June 19, 2019, in the cathedral in Savannah. There, he will take his vows to live in chastity, modesty and commitment to Christ.

“It is a really beautiful ceremony. It is similar to a wedding except you are committing your life to Christ and to the church,” he said.

While it wasn’t the initial plan he had for his life, May said now he could not see any other path. And he remains grateful for the light that showed him the way.

“You have to do what makes you happy in life and what fulfills you in life. That is what he calls you toward ... God wants you to be happy and fulfilled,” he said.