NORTH MYRTLE BEACH—Not every man who goes to seminary ends up becoming a priest.
That simple fact might not occur to people when they think about vocations. Some men who begin studies at seminary end up leaving and choosing another path in life. That doesn’t mean they made the wrong choice; God simply had other plans for their lives.
Preparation for life
Tom Feldman, a member of Our Lady Star of the Sea Church in North Myrtle Beach, grew up in a strong Catholic household in Buffalo, N.Y., attended Catholic schools and after high school decided to go to a nearby seminary in 1962.
“The church was always a focal point for me and for my family, and I thought going to seminary made sense for me at the time,” he said in an interview with The Miscellany.
Feldman spent over a year at seminary and had many diverse experiences. He taught religious education classes at inner city parishes, served daily Mass for cloistered nuns at a nearby convent, and took a class on ecumenism with clergy from different denominations.
“I learned about so many things I had never experienced before, and that was all part of my formation,” he said. “This was also the era of Vatican II, and I began to learn the importance of the Bible, of gaining an understanding of Scripture as part of being a Catholic.”
With all he learned, Feldman said he eventually determined that the priesthood was not for him.
“I didn’t know if I was completely worthy of it, but I learned so much about the church, and it strengthened my belief in the church overall,” he said. “I simply told my adviser that it had
been a great experience, but I needed to leave.”
He earned degrees in health care management and worked in the field for 45 years, including stints as a hospital administrator in western New York and a traveling consultant based in South Carolina.
His time in seminary helped him develop the skills he needed to work in the field he likes to call the “health care ministry,” and said faith was always a part of his work, including developing chaplain programs and working to build chapels at the hospitals he served.
Feldman likes to say he learned everything he needed to know about life from the seminary, and the experience made him the husband and father he became and the Catholic he is today.
“I’m 67 years old, and everyone who knows me knows I attended seminary,” he said. “I don’t hide the fact. I accepted the fact that the priesthood wasn’t a good fit for me, and it’s OK. I have the satisfaction of knowing I went in and gave it a try, and I still continue to a live a very meaningful life in the church. Through the seminary, I learned what makes the Catholic church so unique. The knowledge of the Eucharist I gained was especially important.”
While Feldman realized he had a different calling early on, other men decide to take time away from seminary for further discernment.
Giving it a chance
Stephen Beach of Charleston recently requested and received permission for a leave of absence from his studies at St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston.
Beach, 23, decided to go to seminary right after high school and attended college seminary
at Seton Hall University in New Jersey.
“I felt very confident in college seminary, but as I began my studies at major seminary it was really a switch,” he said in a recent interview with The Miscellany. “I realized the priesthood was getting a lot closer, and I just started to have a few doubts. I wondered whether or not I was ready in certain areas of my discernment … I thought I needed some time to socialize more with friends my age, to possibly date. I entered seminary pretty early so I kind of missed that aspect of my life, of socializing and dating. I felt I needed to address that before I could move on.”
Beach said he may pursue graduate studies or look for a job during his leave of absence. In the meantime, his spiritual advisers and his family are supportive of his decision.
Feldman said it is always worth it for a man to give the discernment process a chance. If he doesn’t complete seminary, he will still learn important life lessons in the process.
“I would tell men to accept the fact they have a calling from God, and give that call their full attention,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions about having a vocation. Get good guidance from a spiritual director, from a priest they trust, or from someone who works with vocations. Men like that will be very honest about what a vocation means.
“If you decide the priesthood is not where you belong,” he said, “accept the fact that for whatever reason that light has gone off, don’t regret it, and move on.”