From 6 years old through my childhood and into my teenage life, serving at Mass kept me focused. It was good to be involved and Church was a good place to be. When Fr Newsham moved to another parish, a new priest arrived – he was a bit younger, really outgoing, down to earth and friendly – Fr Ted Byron. Without him even knowing, he was a great influence on me. I became more and more interested in, and familiar with what a priest did; he not only celebrated the Mass, but he would visit people, listen to people’s problems, he was good to be around. We enjoyed having him as our parish priest.
When I was 15 years old, Fr Ted died, very suddenly. And that was the time I began seriously considering the idea of becoming a priest. I wanted to be like Fr Ted, I wanted to help people in this particular way, I wanted to do the things a priest could do at Mass. But was I ready? More importantly, would I be able to do it? Did God want me to do it? All these things were buzzing through my mind for ages. I spoke to the Bishop’s secretary who had come to supply for us in the parish whilst we were waiting for a new priest – and very quickly, one thing led to another and on the day of my ‘O’ level Biology exam, I had an interview with the bishop. He accepted me as a Church Student and after two years studying ‘A’ levels in Art, Scripture and English Literature, I was asked to go to St Mary’s Seminary Oscott, Birmingham. I spent 6 years training for the Priesthood – studying Theology, Philosophy, Church History, Ethics….the list went on! But the more I studied and the more I prayed about my future and God’s desire for me, the more I knew that a priest was what I was called to be.
In 1989 I was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Nottingham – it was a beautiful July day at Mount St Bernard Abbey, and with family and friends around me, I felt the Lord very close to me. I, Paul Newman was ordained a priest!
And I have had the most wonderful 29 years since! I would never have guessed what being a priest would mean! The variety of work that day in and day out we’re faced with. The rich blessings that come with working with people, the joy of leading people in prayer and helping them to know God’s love in their lives, helping people realise they are special and important and that they belong to a great Church.
God is still calling people to be priests. And sometimes (like me) it can be the most unlikely of people! I think the Lord has a purpose for all of us, and if we keep looking for it, if we are open to what it might be, then we might be surprised. If you have even a flicker of a thought about becoming a priest, talk to your parish priest about it. Tell him how you’re feeling. Have a word with a good friend, someone you can trust. Keep asking yourself why the thought of being a priest is in your mind. And then leave the rest to God! If he wants you to be a priest, He’ll do all he can to help you become a priest – and the blessings you’ll receive are more than you can ever imagine!
Fr Paul Newman
I had a great childhood! Growing up in the town of Eastwood, on the borders of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, I was really fortunate to have a great group of friends.
We were always outside over the fields playing, building dens, having fun, getting up to mischief (and perfecting the skill of not getting caught!) It was a good time. Some of my friends from school were the same friends I’d meet up with at Church. At the age of 6 (!) two of us decided we wanted to become altar servers and our priest at the time, Fr Jack Newsham, supported us all the way. We hadn’t even made our First Holy Communion when we started serving, but that didn’t matter to Fr Newsham; he encouraged us and supported us. He was a great man – great fun, great sense of humour, and with a sparkle in his eye he’d wave his walking stick and shout at us if we over stepped the mark.
When I went to boarding school, I was part of the Chaplaincy Team. Being in the Church before and after services, I became increasingly aware of God’s presence in the Church, and in particular Jesus’ presence in the Tabernacle. Quiet moments of prayer, when my friends weren’t looking [!], gradually attracted me to the possibility of being a priest.
I began to notice what priests did and the sort of people they were. They were friendly towards me and I enjoyed their company. When I confided with my friends about my interest in priesthood, they didn’t laugh but said they could see me as a priest. This encouraged me. In my teens, I went on a few Vocations Retreats and found them fun and informative. I was encouraged in my prayer life, scripture reading and reading the novels about the saints.
Through all this time, I kept my options open [social worker, acting, teacher, writer???]. But, at the end of my schooling, the desire to be a priest remained uppermost. So, I approached my headteacher who contacted my parish priest and an interview with the Bishop was arranged. He decided to send me to St. Joseph’s Seminary at Upholland, in the Archdiocese of Liverpool.
I enjoyed my training and still meet up with priest friends from those days. At seminary, priests and students struggled together to try and understand the changes the Second Vatican Council was asking of the Church. And we are still struggling to understand today!
I was ordained in my home parish in Ashby de la Zouch in Leicestershire, and was appointed for eight years at the Cathedral in Nottingham. With the presence of the Bishop, Cathedral Chapter and many official functions year after year, I learnt much about the way a diocese functions. However, what I enjoyed most was the running of a young people’s drama group called “Torch”.
Since then I have been involved in a variety of pastoral situations, including running a lay community of young people, called the Nottingham Pilgrims Community, who spent a gap year sharing the Gospel message around schools and parishes. Now as an assistant Vocations Director and Chaplain to the Briars Residential Youth Centre in Crich, Derbyshire I am still involved in ministry to young people.
I enjoy the variety of pastoral situations each day can bring – baptisms, marriages, supporting the bereaved, engaging with people at the various key moments in life at home, in schools, in hospitals and in the work place. The unpredictability of each day keeps me on my toes. I have a couple of priest support groups that I belong to where I have friendship, practical advice and spiritual sharing. For relaxation I read and enjoy walking, but, in particular I enjoy going to the cinema most weeks. I often find ideas for homilies and talks at the cinema. For my holidays, if I don’t spend time with my two brothers and their families, I tend to hide away in a flat in the countryside where I can switch off, nipping out to visit friends around the country from time to time.
If you know of anyone considering a vocation to the priesthood, please encourage them. I found this very helpful when I was discerning my vocation – don’t laugh or put them off. Then, when they feel ready, encourage them to go and talk with a priest or contact their diocesan vocation director, who will help them decide what to do next.
Fr Jonathan Cotton