Interview with Jithu by Fr. Gregory

Fr. Gregory and Jithu sitting in St. Edward's Presbytery

As you know well, one of our seminarians has been living with me in our parish for over two months.  His name is Jithu and he is currently finishing his fourth year of study.  I think that many of our parishioners would like to know many things about a vocation to the priesthood and about formation in the seminary. Therefore, taking this opportunity, I have prepared some questions for our special guest who will stay with us until the reopening of Oscott College.

Fr Gregory: Jithu, could you say something about your family, siblings, how old you are and when did you decide to enter the seminary? Was this a decision difficult for you, and what or who helped you make it?

Jithu: I am Jithu James, a seminarian for the diocese of Northampton. I have just finished my fourth year at Oscott. My family is a nuclear family with my parents and two younger brothers. My parents and grandparents taught me the faith from a young age. I am 24 years old; my brothers are 20 and 10 years of age.

Fr Gregory: Do you remember the reaction of your parents when they found out their son wanted to become a priest?

Jithu: I remember telling them that I am going to take my discernment for priesthood further and apply to enter the seminary. They were not surprised because I have frequently mentioned to my parents something attracts me to the priesthood. Therefore, this was not a big surprise for them. However, they imagined I was going to join a religious order and not the diocese, this was a shock to them.

Fr Gregory: What does a typical seminarian’s day look like at Oscott College? Is there any particular programme for the day? What is your favourite prayer? Can a seminary student have any hobbies and interests besides theology and spiritual life? Do you have time for this? Do you miss your seminary, and do you have contact with your friends and lecturers?

Jithu: A typical day will involve waking up around 6:30 am for meditation in the morning. We start our day with prayer and this is the central part of our formation at Oscott. Then we pray morning prayer around 7:45 am communally, then breakfast around 8:00 am. We have around 45 minutes to have breakfast and to prepare for our lectures which begins at 8:45 am till 12:10 pm. Between lectures, we have two smaller breaks and a longer break for coffee. At 12:30 pm is our community mass and leading to our lunch. In the afternoon we have plenty of time for private study, socialising with friends, we can have our various meetings like spiritual direction, meeting formation tutor and human director. This time can be also be used for extra curriculum activities like playing different sports. At Oscott we have access to different games and socialise in the common room upstairs where can meet in the evenings. One of my hobbies is to go to the gym to work out, I usually do this in the afternoons at least four to five times a week. I and my friends like to go to the cinema occasionally to catch up on the latest releases. I do miss a lot about the seminary in this unusual time, however, we still maintain contact with friends and formation staff.

Fr Gregory: What does formation at Oscott College look like and who are your lecturers? Do you have any favourite Catholic writer or favourite book? Who is your favourite saint and why is that?  Do you remember your reaction when you found out that your rector had been appointed by Pope Francis as bishop of your diocese?

Jithu: The formation of a seminarian is to make him a holy priest and this time of formation is one of discernment whether God is calling him to be a priest simultaneously forming the man to the priesthood of Jesus. This is why people leave seminary after realising that God is calling them to a different vocation. The formation at Oscott is encompassed by prayer and study, similar to a monastic community, however, we can be a noisy bunch, therefore, we are nothing like a monastic community. The formation to the priesthood is usually for six years during which we have to obtain two degrees as part of our intellectual formation. The formation to the priesthood is divided into four fundamental dimensions which are human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral dimensions. The priest is called to be a living image of Jesus Christ as John Vianney says “the priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus. When you see a priest think of our Lord Jesus.” Human formation is to nurture one’s lifelong personal growth, this involves the integral growth for me allowing to integrate the four dimensions of formation. The spiritual formation is a central part of the formation to the priesthood as this will reflect in a priest’s identity and mission. As a seminarian, I am called to be a disciple of Christ and then to be configured to Him to be a man of God. And to help people to encounter the Lord and for them to build a deep relationship with Him. The intellectual dimension is to cultivate a habit of studying the faith which will help in the priestly ministry. Similarly, the studies help us, seminarians, to grow in our Christian vocation and with my relationship with the Lord Jesus. The pastoral dimension is to help me to become a good pastor in service of God and serving His people. Therefore, over the year I have experienced many pastoral situations to reflect them in my theological understanding and personal growth.

My favourite Catholic writer is St. John of the cross and my favourite book is the Dark Night of the soul. My favourite saint is St. Anthony because one of the things like about him is his zeal for serving the Lord. Importantly he has been a help for me in my discernment. One of my favourite prayers is the rosary.

Fr Gregory: How do you remember Father David Oakley as a rector? What kind of priest and rector was he for students at Oscott?

Jithu: One of the first thing that comes to my mind about rector David Oakley is the importance of prayer in his life. The way he is always first in the chapel for meditation, he always told us prayer is important in the life of a priest. The way he lived what he preached shows his integrity. He has always been inspiring in that way for me. And I am very happy that he is our Bishop. Bishop David has been a leader for us at Oscott, the way he helped us during formation is something I appreciate and treasure. Leading can be lonely especially for a rector, now that he is our Bishop, I would encourage you all to pray for Bishop David because it is not easy to lead or be a leader.

Fr Gregory: Last year you had the opportunity to visit and get to know the Holy Land.  How do you remember this time and what was the most beautiful experience for you? Would you like to go back there again? How would you encourage us to visit Jesus’ homeland?

Jithu: I enjoyed my time in the Holy Land, for me the Gospels that we hear were brought alive when I visited the very place where Gospels unfolded. It is a natural setting of the Gospel; it is like a fifth Gospel in the language of Saint Paul VI. I was overwhelmed with the peace I enjoyed in the region of Tiberias, the time I spent in prayer on Mount Beatitude is something I will treasure for the rest of my lifetime. Now that I have been to the Holy Land, this has impacted my prayer life and the Mass is a bit more different because I can see it and picture it walking in His footsteps bringing prayer experience into a new dimension.

Fr Gregory: What would you like to do when you become a priest?  Do you have any plans or dreams about pastoral work in our diocese?

Jithu: I would like to serve the people in this diocese and to propagate the faith which is necessary in this present world. Especially what the church is and who Jesus is misconstrued in people’s understanding. I would want to work with the vision of the Bishop for evangelising and the mission of the Church which is to carry on with the work of Jesus bringing about the kingdom of God.

Fr Gregory: What do you think will be the biggest challenge for you in your pastoral work?  Is there anything you are afraid of?  What excites you the most when you think about the future and the priesthood?

Jithu: One of the challenges in the present time is to present the faith in a world where we are faced with moral relativism. Therefore, promoting a moral life corresponding to the teachings of Church and our faith is increasingly becoming difficult. This is caused by the loose foundation on absolute subjective truth substituting and denying objective truth in our wider society. This is an issue we will find challenges as Christians. The most exciting prospect is the thought of having my life ahead to serve God as a labourer in His vineyard to teach and hand on the faith to generations to come in love.

Fr Gregory: Do you have any ideas on how to encourage young people to practise the Catholic faith, the sacraments and to build relationships with God? How could you encourage young men to follow you and join the Seminary?  How can you promote Oscott College?

Jithu: From my own experience it was in my family who made it possible for me to learn about the faith. We always had reserved time in the evening for praying as a family daily. This is because my grandparents and parents took faith seriously and taught me a lot about faith. I think family is very important for giving a foundation for the school and parish to carry on this good work. It is invaluable to have friends who help you grow in your faith and relationship with Christ. I encourage young people to give time to listen to the Lord so that you can discern what is His will for you. When you are having doubts and struggles openly discuss this with your friends, family and parish priest if you can. Oscott seminary has been provided me with a sacred space in discerning and forming me what God is calling me to do.

Fr Gregory: What would you like to ask our parishioners for?  Is there anything you need during your formation and preparation for the priesthood?

Jithu: I would like you all to keep me in your prayers, I will greatly appreciate this. It is important to teach the faith, cultivating an environment at home to do this for your children and grandchildren enabling them to respond to God’s love generously.

Thank you, Jithu, for our conversation. We all keep our fingers crossed for you and promise you our prayers for you and other seminarians. May God bless you and enjoy your time in our parish!