Priestly Discernment Program

Franciscan University of Steubenville

"...and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."

1 Peter 2:5

God calls to you in the still of your heart.

You understand the greatness of his call, and your desires bud into questions: Who was I created to be? How do I best serve Christ and his Church? How do I follow his voice?

The Priestly Discernment Program at Franciscan University of Steubenville brings together a community of young men seeking the answers to these questions.

Based on five dimensions of formation, this program is designed to give each student-member a firm foundation that prepares him to grow in holiness and maturity while discerning a potential religious or priestly vocation.

Discernment is never done in isolation. Members of the PDP fully engage with the dynamic, faith-filled student life on Franciscan University’s campuses in both Steubenville and Austria.


Apply to the Priestly Discernment Program

Acceptance to Franciscan University is a pre-requisite for admission to the PDP, although you can complete this application anytime during your admissions process.


Email: [email protected]

Phone: 740-283-6495

Father Patrick Whittle, TOR

Director of the Priestly Discernment Program

Fr. Patrick Whittle, TOR, is a native of Levittown, PA. He entered the Province of the Most Sacred Heart shortly after graduating from Franciscan University (class of 2006). He professed first vows in 2008, solemn vows in 2012, and was ordained to the priesthood in 2013.… Read More
He has a Masters in Divinity from Catholic University of America, a Masters of Arts in history from American University, and Doctor of Sacred Theology in liturgical studies from Catholic University of America. Father Patrick has ministered previously at Franciscan University of Steubenville, St. Joseph Catholic Church in Herndon, Virginia, and as a Director of Formation for the Province of the Most Sacred Heart. He aslo serves on the Provincial Council and is Director of Liturgy for the Province of the Most Sacred Heart. He was appointed the Director of the Priestly Discernment Program in August 2023.

After Graduation: Next Steps

As a graduate of the Priestly Discernment Program, you’ll be well positioned to be admitted into major seminaries or religious communities for ongoing studies in priestly formation.

The formation experienced in the program builds a foundation of virtue, emotional maturity, leadership, and personal skill building—knowledge of self so that you can be confident wherever God leads you.

Pillars of Formation

The four dimensions of intellectual, human, spiritual, and pastoral formation are set by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) as areas for a young man to develop during priestly formation. The fifth dimension is fraternal formation, or the building up of community life and brotherhood, is lived out among the Priestly Discernment Program students through their households Koinonia and Living Stones.


"Faith and reason are like two wings upon which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth."

—Pope St. John Paul II

Faith and reason are the cornerstones of all academic programs at Franciscan University. Priestly Discernment Program members are encouraged to study philosophy, although they may self-select their major course of study.

The PDP is open to both graduate and undergraduate students seeking a strong education for future priestly formation in seminary.

View All Academic Programs


"As men of God, our lives will be characterized by loyalty, honor, prayer, service, joy, sacrifice, and most all—love."—Koinonia Covenant

It is essential that students become healthy, well-adjusted men of God in order to answer a potential call to priesthood. Regular meetings with the PDP director and with a spiritual director are integral to the program.

Students grow in peer mentorship, skill building, and goal setting in their participation with both this intentional program and the wealth of opportunities of campus life.

Weekly formation evenings allow students to hear from many different speakers on a variety of topics related to the five pillars of formation specifically directed toward men in discernment who are seeking full maturity in Christ.


"Unless the Lord builds the house, in vain do the builders labor."—Psalm 127:1

Students develop a deep and consistent prayer life through daily personal and communal prayer. Mass and Marian devotions, as well as two retreats per year, aid in developing spiritual maturity.

Places to Pray


"He made them, the vicars of his love."—St. Ambrose of Milan

When students serve in pastoral and University sponsored ministry, they gain a deeper understanding of what it means to love and serve God’s people.

All Franciscan University students are invited to serve Christ in everyone they encounter. Learn more about Missions of Peace, Works of Mercy, and SENT Ministries.

Missionary Outreach


"And the Lord gave me brothers."—St. Francis of Assisi

One of the most compelling features of the Priestly Discernment Program is what takes place through daily life in their households. Lord’s Day celebrations, study groups, outings, small groups, and sports are some of the many ways PDP students support each other as they learn what brotherhood is all about.

PDP students enter the Living Stones upon entry into the program and begin to cultivate the attributes necessary to discern God’s call. Students acquire tools necessary to fostering a deep spiritual life while promoting maturity and balanced human development through communal activities. As they grow to love and care for one another, so too will their love for God and their mission to His Church increase. All men within the PDP program will spend some time in the Living Stones.

Read More

“Koinonia” is a Greek word indicating a “brotherhood of believers.” Men already in the PDP who have demonstrated maturity in discernment and a greater desire toward the priesthood may petition to join KOINONIA. This household dives into greater prayer, ministry, and preparation for seminary or religious life. Putting discernment into action, men in Koinonia engage in ministry, humbly discovering how their own gifts and talents may be in service to the Lord Jesus Christ and His Church.

Read More

Your Home On Campus

St. Junìpero Serra Hall

Renovated in 2018, St. Junìpero Serra Hall is home to nearly 200 young men. Living Stones and Koinonia, the Priestly Discernment Program households, are two of the households located in the hall.

Students visit the hall’s Eucharistic chapel for quiet prayer and household commitments.

Support Future Priests

The Saint Junipero Serra Fund allows you to invest in the future of the priesthood through ongoing spiritual and financial support for Franciscan University’s Priestly Discernment Program students.

The Priestly Discernment Program is the only one of its kind in the country. Students experience the fullness of college life at Franciscan University—and are given a strong foundation for the spiritual, intellectual, human, apostolic, and pastoral formation they’ll receive if they continue on to seminary.

Give Today

Avanti Con Maria

Stay connected with Avanti con Maria, the Priestly Discernment Program’s semesterly newsletter.

Autumn 2023 Issue

Br. Anthony Augustine Cherian, OP

Class of 2016

Brother Antony Augustine Cherian, OP, says he always had an appreciation for the priesthood—a gift he attributes to his family and their deep roots in the Syro-Malabar Catholic rite. …Read MoreSo, when that appreciation grew into a potential calling, he joined the Priestly Discernment Program at Franciscan University. He found the program provided a healthy environment for discerning within a community of like-minded men.

“Now, some are finishing their formation and preparing to be ordained priests, others have families and children,” Brother Antony adds, “but it’s amazing our time at Franciscan helped develop strong friendships that last to this day.”

A member of the Dominicans of the Western Province, Brother Antony made his first vows in 2018. Since then, his formation has included philosophy and theology studies in California, as well as a year of pastoral ministry in Anchorage, Alaska.

“The residency in Alaska was a real joy because it was an opportunity to experience the Dominican life I’ll be living after formation,” he says. “It gave me a sense of both living in community amongst the brothers and within a ministry setting, encountering people through teaching and preaching. It helped confirm this is what God is calling me to.”

This past summer, he also traveled to the Dominican province in Poland. The opportunity allowed him to witness the rich, 800-year history of the order in that country, as well as participate in a walking pilgrimage in honor of St. Hyacinth.

As for the future, Brother Antony hopes to profess solemn vows, after which he’ll have two more years of study before priestly ordination. Then, his assignment could take him anywhere throughout the province, from as far south as Mexico to as far north as Alaska.

For men discerning the priesthood or religious life, Brother Antony’s advice is simple.

“Jump in with both feet, whether that means attending a Come and See, joining the PDP, or applying to a religious community or diocese,” he says. “God actively works through both the joys and struggles. At the end of the day, even if you discern you’re not called there, he uses those experiences to help you grow and prepare you for the life he has for you.”

…Read Less

Archbishop Gintaras Grusas

Trusting God is crucial to discernment. God often prepares us for his plans without us knowing it, says Archbishop Gintaras Grusas of Vilnius, Lithuania. …Read More

Case in point: Over 30 years ago, he was on a Pre-Theologate Program (now PDP) retreat that focused on Divine Mercy. At the time, he didn’t know much about St. Faustina and her messages of Christ’s mercy. 

“God’s providence now has me as the archbishop of the place where most of the visions took place, where the Chaplet of Divine Mercy was dictated, and where the image of Divine Mercy was painted under the direction of St. Faustina. The original image hangs today in the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy in Vilnius,” Archbishop Grusas says. “Growing in trust is key to letting God’s will unfold in our lives.”

Born in the United States to Lithuanian parents, he worked in the corporate world before answering God’s call to the priesthood. He spent a year at Franciscan from 1989-90, then continued his studies in Rome. A summer assignment in Lithuania led to him assisting with Pope John Paul II’s 1993 visit to the newly independent country. Now, Archbishop Grusas has ministered to the Lithuanian Church through numerous roles, including as general secretary—and later as president—of the Lithuanian Bishops’ Conference and bishop of the Military Ordinariate.

“The occupation of Lithuania, its forced annexation into the Soviet Union, and life under a communist regime leaves people with many internal wounds that do not heal quickly,” he says. “That said, Lithuania has come quite a long way in a relatively short time, in part due to the prayers and sacrifices of those who maintained the faith during years of persecution.”

In September of 2021, the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE) elected Archbishop Grusas as president. He looks forward to continuing the CCEE’s work while also helping guide the process of “listening, discerning, and building communion between the various Churches in Europe” during the two-year synodal process the Vatican recently initiated.

Throughout all his ministries, Archbishop Grusas says his favorite aspect of being a priest is experiencing the Lord’s work.

“It is truly awe inspiring when you see God working through you, knowing full well you remain simply an instrument in God’s hands.”

…Read Less

Father Edwin Leonard, Diocese of Dallas, Texas

Class of 2007

Busy, and happy. That is the impression one gets of Father Edwin Leonard. Ordained in 2012, he became vocations director for the Diocese of Dallas two years later. While holding …Read Morethis position, he has also served as interim pastoral administrator to a number of parishes which, for various reasons, lost their regular pastors in sudden, unexpected ways.

“Whenever that happens,” Father Edwin says, “you need someone to steady the ship of the parish until a permanent pastor is available.” 

And there’s more! He is also chaplain of Bishop Lynch High School, caring for the spiritual needs of 1,000 students. 

When asked about the trend toward younger vocations directors, Father Edwin says this came about from necessity.

“Older priests are needed for big parishes, so younger priests now fill other types of leadership roles. But it’s effective. A young man thinking about the priesthood might relate better to someone who doesn’t remind him of grandpa, but more like, ‘I could see myself being this person eventually.’” 

So, how to make the priesthood intriguing to young men?

“Teach that everyone has a vocation—to holiness. That primary vocation has specific ways of being lived: marriage, Holy Orders, consecrated life, etc. But don’t view marriage as a default without reflecting on what the Lord might be calling you to.” 

Beyond that, Father Edwin stresses the importance of example: “The more I can be out at events, letting them see that priesthood brings me life and joy—that is planting seeds. I don’t talk right away with every young man about the priesthood, but about how to pray in such a way that he can listen to the Lord and live out what the Lord is asking for each day. A robust prayer life is where vocations arise.”

Father Edwin’s advice to our PDP?

Don’t spend too much time ‘discerning,’ or rather, don’t make an idol out of receiving perfect clarity. What God wants to give you is himself. Save your questions about discernment for the last 10 minutes of your Holy Hour. Spend the first 50 minutes loving God and allowing yourself to be loved. Once you’re secure in being a son embraced by the Father, that’s when the Father will place the ring on your finger. He wants to give you a relationship with him, and that will be the answer.”

…Read Less

Franciscan University Admissions

Our application process is simple—and free! Start your application now!

Frequently Asked Questions

Discernment is the process by which we make a decision—and in regard to a vocation, discernment is the process by which we pray, listen, and move in the direction God is calling us to move.    

Discernment does not need to be a terrifying undertaking. Discernment of God’s will can only bring us closer to him—and closer to living out the fullness of who we were created to be. As we allow ourselves to be guided by Christ, we may be surprised by what he reveals to us, but we are always encouraged to move in love and trust. God prepares us for what he calls us to.  

And remember—life doesn’t stop when you’re in a time of discernment. God works through all things and in all times.  

If you’ve felt a desire to serve Christ and his Church, minister to others, and deepen your knowledge of the faith, you may have a call to the priesthood. You can feel these desires and not have a religious calling, but they are good signs to consider when asking God where he wants to lead you. 

Going on a retreat, talking to a priest or spiritual advisor, or participating in a program like the Priestly Discernment Program is a great way to start your discernment process.  

Absolutely! Please reach out any time to talk with us! 

We’d love to have you!  

You can study any major and still participate in the PDP. We strongly recommend taking at least a minor in philosophy to supplement your studies. These classes are not only enlightening and transformative, but they are also foundational for future priestly studies. 

Outside of personal prayer and Mass commitments, the Priestly Discernment Program will add on average about seven additional hours per week. 

Yes, you can, however, both DIII Athletics and the PDP have time requirements. We recommend talking to both the PDP Director and your coaches together as you plan out your semester. 

Apart from Baron Athletics, many students are encouraged to participate in Intramural Sports at Franciscan, competing with (and against) friends, classmates, and Households.  

There is no additional cost for participation in the PDP.  

The Priestly Discernment Program has some limited scholarship aid to offer through the Serra Scholarship Fund. Upperclassmen in the PDP may be eligible for additional scholarships. Talk to Franciscan University’s Financial Aid Office and the PDP Director to learn more. 

Yes! Program members can plan to attend the Austria Study Abroad Program during the spring semester of their junior year as a group. The Austria Program is not required for members to attend. 

God calls us all into relationship with him. Priesthood is a specific calling–a specific, particular relationship with Christ and his Church. The thought of becoming a priest may be equally exciting as it is frightening—and that’s okay.  

The Priestly Discernment Program has been designed to give you the environment necessary to listen to God’s voice and the direction necessary to take a step forward. We often find the answers to some of our biggest questions simply by taking a step forward—even if that step is small or unsure.  

Discernment is a time to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask! 

You can best prepare for the seminary—or any vocation—through a life of prayer and frequenting the sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist.  

You may also want to find a spiritual advisor, someone who has experience in discernment. In discernment, we often need someone to ask us questions, challenge us, and encourage us. 

If you are deciding whether to enter the seminary, this program could be a perfect fit for you. Franciscan University’s Priestly Discernment Program is designed to intentionally assist young men to discern God’s call to the priesthood while living in community on a college campus.  

With great care to ensure that the men are well prepared academically to seek admittance into a major seminary or religious community, Franciscan University provides a well-grounded and well-rounded formation experience. Upon completion of the PDP, candidates receive a certificate and move on to make unique contributions to the Church and the world.