Mr. John O'Dowd

John O'Dowd
City
Tullamore, Co. Offaly
Country
Ireland
High School
St Kieran's College, Kilkenny City, Co. Kilkenny
College
University of Dublin
Graduate
Boston College School of Theology
Class Year
Second Theology

What are some of the factors that led to your decision to enter the seminary and discern the question of a vocation to the priesthood?
I received a significant number of signs over the course of about a year that I discerned as God inviting me to enter seminary formation to discern more clearly a possible calling to diocesan priesthood. I couldn't ignore these signs and be at peace with myself. The most significant of these signs occurred while attending the ordination of a friend to the priesthood in Ireland - now Fr. Damien Nejad of Diocese of Raphoe, Co. Donegal. It happened during the baptism of his two nieces directly after his first Mass. Completely taken by surprise, I felt a strong attraction and a calling to priestly life during the baptism ceremony. It rekindled a vague attraction to priesthood I sensed in my childhood years growing up in Ireland. Since this time up until my entrance into the seminary in 2017, God confirmed this heartfelt call with external signs.

Who are some of the people who influenced your decision to enter the seminary? What is it about them that assisted you?
About 9 months before returning to Ireland for Fr. Damien’s ordination, my Uncle Joe died. Monsignor Liam Bergin, an Irish priest teaching at Boston College, presided over Uncle Joe's funeral Mass and I delivered the eulogy, About 3 months after this, I attended Mass at St. Brigid's church in South Boston and Monsignor Liam met me after Mass and strongly encouraged me to consider the seminary. He had known me for about 3 years at that point and had never mentioned priesthood before. So I trusted the Holy Spirit was behind his words of encouragement. Many committed Catholic lay people who made the effort to get to know me and then later, inspired by the Holy Spirit, asked me if I had a vocation, confirmed this calling. The most important factor that assisted me is that all these people knew me well and so I trusted their judgment. - their suggestion of priesthood come out of a meaningful context and relationship and therefore made sense to me!

What would you say is the role of prayer in the life of a seminarian and what effect does it have on one's ability to see God's call?
The role of prayer in the life of any Christian is first and foremost to conform our whole life to God's will. Specifically, for the seminarian, this means trying to deepen his relationship with God, the Holy Trinity, through daily Mass, the liturgy of the hours, private prayer and prayerful reflection on everyday experiences in the seminary and parish life using a practice like the Ignatian Examen. Prayer helps us to open our hearts and see the movement of the Spirit in all these experiences and this helps us to discern more clearly if God is calling us to priesthood. The Spirit usually confirms a calling by giving a deeper sense of peace or enthusiasm at the prospects of living this priestly life.

What advice would you give to a man who thinking about his vocation and is considering that God may be calling him to be a priest
It's clear to me now that one can only really discern a priestly vocation by participating in a seminary formation program and a crucial part of this discernment is the pastoral assignments during the academic year and the parish experiences in the summer. Outside of the seminary formation program, you will not get these invaluable experiences and insights into a priestly life. I think a deterrent to entering the seminary for some can be the misconception that one needs to be 100% certain of one’s calling before entering the seminary. On the contrary, the seminary is a place to discern more deeply that initial call. So if priesthood has been on your mind for a while, don't be afraid to test it in the seminary, have an open mind and be willing to see where the Holy Spirit leads you whether to priesthood or to another beautiful plan God will unfold in due time. One priest wisely advised me that time in the seminary is never wasted time, no matter the final outcome of the discernment process.

What do you like most about being a seminarian?
I like most the sense of community here at Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary. Every seminarian here has worked many years in the real world and the normal challenges of life we’ve all been through brings a certain mature perspective and supportive presence to the whole community. We all enjoy a good laugh, some light bantering and don’t take ourselves too seriously and this is important especially to balance the serious work of formation and learning that happens in the seminary.

What do you think is the greatest challenge facing a man who is considering the seminary?
I think being afraid to cut ties with the comforts of a secure job, a steady income and a familiar way of life is one of the biggest challenges facing a man considering the seminary. Our culture and fallen human nature shapes us to be independent and to hold onto the familiar, but faith calls us to take risks for God and his kingdom. So entering the seminary takes an act of trust in God’s providence and this is a gift we can pray for - a prayer God certainly answers. I have found God is trustworthy, that God provides me with everything I need to be happy in the seminary and has helped me grow in ways I could never have imagined. If you discern priesthood is not for you a few years into the seminary, trust God will help you to re-establish yourself outside the seminary.

What are some of your hobbies or pastimes? What are some of the things you like to do in your "free" time?
I’m trying to learn icon painting in my free time. I took an icon painting class last year that was directed by one of our seminarians who is now a priest and enjoyed it. I also like to hike by myself and play softball and table tennis with the seminarians here.

What do you think is the best way to encourage vocations to the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Boston?
I think the priority of priests should always be to encourage all young people to be the best Catholic Christian as possible through promoting active participation in Mass and the sacraments, instruction on prayer, discernment and good Christian family life and finally participation in service projects in the church and wider community, especially serving the most vulnerable such as the poor and elderly. I think this authentic experience of Christian life tills the soil of people’s hearts for whatever vocation the Holy Spirit may plant within them. A vocation, which is a calling from God, needs to be heard within the heart of a person and this takes time and various life experiences to nurture and also external signs to confirm. Aggressively pursuing vocations works against the gentle and deeper way the Holy Spirit typically operates within our hearts and risks turning a potential candidate away from pursuing it. On the other hand, if a priest recognizes a potential priestly vocation after making the effort to build up a relationship of trust and observing in them a gift for ministry, then he should gently suggest priesthood, listen, affirm, encourage and pray for a good discernment, no matter the outcome. Of course, lay people, led by the Holy Spirit, too should suggest priesthood to men, but it only works if there is already a meaningful relationship established where the potential candidate can say - “this suggestion makes sense, because this person knows me and has seen something of a priestly vocation from my interactions with people”

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John O'Dowd
City
Tullamore, Co. Offaly
Country
Ireland
High School
St Kieran's College, Kilkenny City, Co. Kilkenny
College
University of Dublin
Graduate
Boston College School of Theology
Class Year
Second Theology