The Diocese of Charleston accepted three new seminarians into its formation program, each of whom will enter Holy Trinity Seminary in Dallas in the fall. They are Rhett Williams, Josh Joseph and Paul Lacombe.
Williams, 27, has served as vocations assistant, working closely with Father Jeffrey F. Kirby on the vocations campaign, for about a year.
A graduate of Bishop England High School in Charleston, Williams said he grew up practicing a non-denominational faith.
He first encountered Father Kirby at his school, where the priest taught New Testament and Christian morality classes. He also had many Catholic friends who engaged him in theological discussions.
By the time he was a sophomore at Furman University in Greenville, he was ready to convert, and Father Kirby served as his RCIA sponsor.
Williams said he opened his heart to religious discernment just before graduation, after other people told him he’d make a good priest.
“Sometimes it takes other people mentioning the obvious to get you to reflect on it,” he said.
Joseph, 23, had just started graduate school when he conceded he was following the wrong vocation.
“My yearning wasn’t being fulfilled. I was still reaching for something, and I knew what it was. The priesthood had always been on my mind, in the back of my mind, my whole life,” he said. “I just needed courage.”
A parishioner of St. John Neumann Church in Columbia, Joseph started attending the parish school in fourth grade. He felt an immediate connection to the openly religious atmosphere.
One of his first inspirations, he said, was Sister Canice Adams, a Sister of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, who was principal of the parish school when he attended.
When he graduated from the University of South Carolina, Joseph knew he wanted Jesus as his focus, and after a bit of cold feet, pursued the seminary.
Lacombe, 19, is currently a student at USC-Beaufort.
He remembers attending Mass when he was only 5, and when the priest elevated the host, he thought: That’s something I want to do.
Lacombe said he’s thought about the priesthood ever since, but wanted an extra year of discernment after high school just to make sure.
A parishioner of St. Peter in Beaufort, he’s the son of Deacon Bill and Wendy Lacombe. The teen said he visited the Dallas seminary earlier with Father Kirby and felt an amazing sense of belonging.
“There, you’re not the weird one,” he said, explaining that being Catholic in the South makes you stand out, like when he had ashes on his forehead and everyone gave him strange looks on campus.
When Lacombe was accepted into the seminary, his first emotion was “Whew!” he said with a laugh. “Hallelujah, the process is over!”
Father Kirby admits that the process of discernment and applying to be a seminarian with the diocese is an intense experience.
Joseph, who earned a degree in psychology from USC, said even that didn’t prepare him for the in-depth psychological testing.
“It’s a tough process,” Father Kirby said. “We need priests, but we’re not desperate. We’re looking for the three H’s: Healthy, Happy men who are seeking to be Holy.”
It starts with an initial inquiry, which includes a meeting with the vicar of vocations and discernment. Men must also meet with a spiritual advisor, pray the Liturgy of the Hours, and participate in church life. Next is the actual application, which requires an
autobiography, 20 letters of recommendation, a psychological and medical evaluation, and background screening.
Then the candidate meets with the Seminary Admissions Board, which is the last step before the Bishop of Charleston makes his decision.
Last year, Father Kirby said, only four out of 13 candidates made it before the board.
“The church is much more thorough than any other business you’ll ever apply to,” Williams said, adding that complete transparency for this role is a must.
His advice to men considering the priesthood is simple: “If there’s even a remote idea that God’s calling, why not go for it?