How to Become A Priest

Some Christian religions and many non-Christian religions such as Hinduism, Shinto and Judaism have priests. This article provides information about how to become a priest in a Christian religion and focuses on information from three specific faiths - the Catholic Church, the Episcopal Church and the Orthodox Church of America. Most Christian religions in the U.S. have ministers rather than priests, but the process to become one is similar.

What does it take to become a priest?

In almost all major U.S. religions, a student has to obtain, attend, and participate in the following to become a priest:

  1. A bachelor's degree. Disciplines for this 4-year degree can include history, philosophy, communications, English, general studies and, of course, religious studies, but degrees in other disciplines may also be acceptable.
  2. A professional degree. Depending on the denomination, this 3-5 year graduate degree usually culminates in a degree such as Master of Divinity, Master of Theology, Master of Theological Studies, Master of Arts in Religion or Master of Sacred Theology.
  3. Seminary. Most students attend a seminary for graduate-level programs. The Orthodox Church of America also allows high school students to attend seminary concurrent with earning their bachelor's and master's degrees.
  4. Supervised ministry. Most graduate programs either include a supervised ministry component or else students are required to complete supervised ministry following graduation.
  5. Ordination. Through this process, the priest's church "invests the individual with pastoral authority" to perform ceremonies such as baptisms, marriages and to hear confessions, if appropriate.

 What kind of course work does a student who wants to become a priest take?

Course work can vary by program and school or seminary, but common themes run throughout most programs and generally include the following:

  • New and Old Testament
  • History of Christianity
  • American Christianity
  • Prophetic literature
  • God and creation
  • Singing the faith
  • Religion and politics
  • Religion and human sexuality
  • Jewish scripture
  • Introduction to Islam
  • Ethics and fundamental moral theology
  • Spirituality
  • Evangelism
  • Canon law
  • Pastoral ministry
  • Parish administration

Some Master of Divinity programs also have concentrations such as Biblical Interpretations, Youth and Student Ministries, Pastoral Studies, Biblical Counseling, and Worldview and Apologetics.

Are classes "one faith fits all"?

Differences in programs to become a priest depend on the Christian denomination and the requirements for its priests as well as the specific school or seminary. Seminaries are usually either nondenominational or aligned with a specific Christian denomination. Seminaries and schools that are supported by a specific faith offer course work that is in line with their beliefs, which may differ somewhat from others. Some schools require attendance at religious services as part of their curriculum, which could create problems for a student if he or she practices a different religion. A list of theological seminaries and their faith affiliations is available online.

There may be slight variations in the length of the professional degree programs and what course work is taught, but the important components that are uniformly stressed across all faiths are a willingness to offer your life in service to God, an understanding of your faith, and a desire to share it with others.


Course Listings for MDiv, Episcopal Divinity School http://www.eds.edu/course-listings
Frequently Asked Questions About Hinduism, Sri Siva Vishnu Temple http://www.ssvt.org/Education/Hinduism%20FAQ.asp# 
How to Become a Shinto Priest April 13, 2006 Encyclopedia of Shinto http://eos.kokugakuin.ac.jp/modules/xwords/entry.php?entryID=515
Joseph Kitagawa Excerpt: Priesthood in the History of Religions 2007 Catherine of Siena Virtual College http://www.catherinecollegelibrary.net/classic/kitagawa.asp
Master of Divinity 2013 Yale University Divinity School http://divinity.yale.edu/admissions/master-divinity
MDiv Degree Program Saint Tikhon's Orthodox Theological Seminary http://www.stots.edu/master_of_divinity.html
Procedure to Become a Priest 2013 Orthodox Church in America http://oca.org/questions/priesthoodmonasticism/procedure-to-become-a-priest
Program of Priestly Formation Seton Hall University http://www.shu.edu/academics/theology/priestly-formation/curriculum.cfm
National Religious Vocation Conference Sixteen Questions About Church Vocations 2013 Catholic Religious Vocation Network http://www.vocationnetwork.org/articles/show/131?m=6&sm=4
The Big List of Theological Seminaries 2013 http://churchrelevance.com/resources/theological-seminaries-list/