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Diocese has highest number of seminarians for 30 years

The Diocese of East Anglia has 12 men studying for the priesthood at seminaries across Europe, the highest number for 30 years and amongst the largest contingents from all the English and Welsh dioceses, despite being one of the smallest. Vocations Director Fr Patrick Cleary reports.


With five new students starting in seminaries across Europe in September, the Diocese of East Anglia now has a dozen men training for the priesthood.

We have men in six seminaries, across three different countries (Italy, Spain and England). Thanks to the financial support that the Diocese is receiving from the successful Alive in Faith programme we are now able to sustain this is number of seminarians. The annual collection for the training of new priests raises enough, from across the diocese, to pay the fees and expenses for just one seminarian.

As the vocations director, it’s my responsibility, to accompany young men through the process from early and noncommittal enquiries to ordination.

Part of my responsibility is to visit each seminary, and indeed each seminarian, at least once during the academic year.

Bishop Alan places seminarians in various parishes for pastoral experiences during the summer break and during other periods according to the seminaries’ requirements.

This is a huge change from my time as a seminarian, when we spent the summer months working in various capacities in the secular world. My experiences included working on a farm, in a shop, in a factory, cutting grass verges for the local county council and running a pitch-and-putt golf course. On one stormy evening, when no customers materialised, I managed a hole-in-one but who is going to believe me!

We also had a much lower profile in the life of the diocese. Often, the first that people knew that we were training for the priesthood, was the announcement of the date of our ordination.

Now, the progress and activities of our seminarians is charted in various diocesan communications, especially in the pages of Catholic East Anglia, our diocesan paper. Our seminarians also feature prominently in various diocesan celebrations, liturgies and events.

These days, it’s common for applicants to approach the diocese in early middle life, having had some experience, in the world of work, or indeed some experience of time spent in a religious order.

The average age of our seminarians is probably in the 30s rather than the 20s. Each one, brings some particular experience to their vocation, which I’m sure will be beneficial to the diocese in the years ahead.

This is an interesting diocese in terms of the variety of parishes. We have large city parishes, market town parishes and coastal parishes from King’s Lynn to Felixstowe. We try to give the seminarians exposure to all of the various types of parishes during their years of preparation.

We went for many years with no seminarians at all and are presently blessed with our very Biblical team of 12, with all their talents and variety. Please remember them in your prayers.

On December 30, Bishop Alan gathered his seminarians at the White House in Poringland for Mass and lunch. Pictured above, they are, front row from the left, Deacon Andrew Eburne, Bishop Alan, Fr Jaylord Magpuyo (ordained in December), back row from the left, Alfonso Jude Belnas, Paul Spellman, James Fernandez, Michael Brookes, Alan Hodgson, Peter Wygnański, Simon Davies, Bienn Carlo Manuntag, Mark Ashwood and Michael Smith. Missing from the lunch was seminarian Anthony Asomugha.


The full list of seminarians are:

 St Mary’s Seminary, Oscott (Birmingham)

Year 1 Bienn Carlo Manuntag (St Philip Howard, Cambridge)

Year 5: Alfonso Jude Belnas (St Philip Howard, Cambridge)

Allen Hall (Westminster)

Year 1 Mark Ashwood (St John Cathedral, Norwich)

Year 4: Anthony Asomugha (St John Cathedral, Norwich)

Deacon Andrew Eburne

Venerable English College (Rome)

Year 4: Peter Wygnański (St Lawrence, Cambridge)

Beda College (Rome)

Year 1 Michael Smith (St Laurence, Cambridge)

Year 3 Alan Hodgson (St Edmund’s, Bury)

      Michael Brookes (Sacred Heart, Dereham)

      Paul Spellman (Our Lady and St Joseph, Sheringham)

Valladolid (Spain)

Year 1 James Fernandez (St John Cathedral, Norwich)

Wonersh (Surrey)

Simon Davies (St Neots)

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