Vocations Week: Becoming a Deacon

Douglas Robertson is being ordained a permanent deacon at St Michael's Church in Linlithgow on Saturday. We spoke to him about his journey to the diaconate.

What parish do you attend?
St Michael’s in Linlithgow. I have been a parishioner here for over 30 years.

What is a deacon, and what do they do?
Deacons (the word comes from the Greek word diakonia, meaning 'service') are ordained clergy who are not priests, but assist the priest at Mass by proclaiming the Gospel, reading the Intercessions, distributing Communion and dismissing the Faithful. A deacon assists the priest outside of Mass by administering the Sacrament of Baptism, bringing Viaticum to the dying, presiding for prayer services, officiating at funerals and burial services and witnessing marriages. As ministers of service, deacons perform charitable works such as visiting the sick, sacramental preparation and outreach to the poor.

Wherever I have been I have appreciated the many people who have taken the time to quietly encourage me.

What was your day job?
I worked in IT for forty years, in a number of different jobs and for several companies, starting with Rolls-Royce in Glasgow and ending with Lloyds Bank in Edinburgh.

Why did you decide to apply for the diaconate?
Looking back I feel that my whole life was leading up to this point. My faith journey took me from being a child attending Church of Scotland Sunday school, and not wanting to be there, to a teenager who went to Scripture Union camps, and found a living faith but could not sustain it.

Despite this, my faith was always there and in my early thirties, I wanted to integrate it fully into my life and joined the Catholic Church. This was the start of a wonderful and exciting journey. My faith continued to develop and I found myself saying “God, whatever you want me to do, I will do”. During a conversation with my Parish Priest Canon Paul Kelly he challenged me to go much further than my own limited plans for the future and look at the Permanent Diaconate. The words in Malcolm Muggeridge’s book about Mother Teresa inspired me – “as the whole story of Christendom shows, if everything is asked for, everything – and more – will be accorded; if little, then nothing”. So I applied!

What support have you been given? 
I am so grateful to my wife Margaret, whose own faith and that of her family is so important to me. Her Uncle Monsignor McShane, latterly of St Margaret’s in Clydebank, was a bedrock of the Catholic faith in our lives. Margaret has read my essays, tolerated the hours of study and said the right things when I found the formation challenging. I have had huge support both from this parish with its live faith and committed parishioners and that of my parish placement at St Francis Xavier, Falkirk, where I was provided with an insight into the life of a Deacon in a large parish. Wherever I have been I have appreciated the many people who have taken the time to quietly encourage me.

What are you most looking forward to in your ministry?
Serving my parish!

What advice would you give to married men who are considering the diaconate?
Contact your vocation director, an exciting journey is in front of you.

Douglas Robertson will be ordained a permanent deacon at midday on Saturday 14 September at St Michael's in Linlithgow. Interested in the Permanent Diaconate? Contact Deacon Ronnie Macaulay at macaulay_ronnie@yahoo.co.uk 

Vocations Week: The wonder of the Call of God

Bishop John Keenan, of Paisley Diocese, has issued the following letter for Vocations Awareness Week. Bishop Keenan is the President of Priests for Scotland

Dear brothers and sisters,

This Sunday (10 Sep), we begin our celebration of Vocations Awareness Week in Scotland.

It is a time when we are encouraged to pray for an increase in vocations to the priesthood, the diaconate and the consecrated life.

Our Gospel this Sunday tackles the difficult issue of how a Christian community should deal with internal problems and disputes.  At first, the answer seems a bit obtuse and legalistic, at least to our modern ears.  A bit of reflection on the LORD’s advice to the community, however, opens up a horizon of love and compassion.

At the heart of the LORD’s instruction is a reminder that we need to be a caring community; a community that cares for any person in difficulty and that cares for the truth that alone can set them free.

A community that cares about the person and cares about the truth. 

Might I suggest that this simple maxim, drawn from our Gospel, is a concise yet powerful description of a life of service in the Church.

Our priests, your priests, are called and chosen to care for each and every person, to respond to every human need wherever and however they encountered it.

Following the example of Jesus Himself, our priests seek out the lost, offer guidance to the young, forgive sinners and offer comfort to the sick, the dying and the bereaved. From the beginning to the end of our lives they offer us direction, meaning and compassion.

Our Priests are also called and chosen to care for the truth.  In a time of uncertainty, confusion and anxiety, they are witnesses of GOD’s presence and His promise in our world.

Faithful to a life of prayer, their priestly ministry reminds the world that GOD’s Word lasts forever, is always faithful and is ever inspiring of new ways of hope.

Pray for Vocations

Our Vocations Awareness Week is a precious opportunity for recalling the wonder of GOD’s call to serve His People, and of gratitude for all of those who said Yes down the years.

This week I hope you and your parish communities will pray for vocations to the Priesthood, Diaconate and Religious life, and encourage all those engaged in ministry in your community, and finally that our young people may be given time and space to discern if they are called to these special vocations in the life of the Church.

May the prayer that Pope Saint Paul VI composed for the first World Day of Prayer for Vocations accompany us on our journey: “O Jesus, Divine Shepherd of souls, You called the Apostles and made them fishers of men. Continue to draw to Yourself ardent and generous souls from among the young, in order to make them Your followers and Your ministers. Give them a share in Your thirst for the redemption of all… Open before them the horizons of the entire world.  By responding to Your call, may they prolong Your mission here on earth, build up your Mystical Body, which is the Church, and be ‘the salt of the earth’ and ‘the light of the world”.

May the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church and the Lady of Paisley watch over you and protect you.

With the assurance of my prayers and blessings, Bishop John Keenan.

Find out more about Vocations in our Archdiocese here.

Vocations Mass

Join us to pray that more young people in our Archdiocese respond to God's call to the priesthood and religious life.

Becoming a Deacon: Paul Henderson's story

The Cathedral is my spiritual home. Without the Cathedral, and its parish community, I might not be a Catholic, never mind training to be a priest.

It was through the Cathedral’s RCIA group that I was introduced fully to the faith and, on Easter Sunday at the Cathedral in 2016, received into the Catholic Church.

Being part of the RCIA programme was a profound experience.

Paul (left) with friend and fellow seminarian Peter Shankland. Both will be ordained in Rome on 14 June 2023.

I felt the truth of Jesus Christ growing in me, in the depth of my being, and was continually moved by the piety of the volunteers.

They would be there, always smiling, to welcome us enquirers, despite some of them having come straight from work (and surely exhausted) yet still willing to do this Christian service.

I remember how one evening a young priest from Africa explained his clerical garments and their ritual significance, before vesting and saying Mass.

I was struck as much by the beauty of his faith as by anything.

I remember asking him “how long did your training as a priest take?”

When I said this, one of the RCIA volunteers said to me “It’s not too late to get your application in, Paul!”

That really stuck in my mind, even though, at fifty-one, I presumed I must be too old to train to be a priest.

Beauty of the Mass

When I started RCIA, I thought I should acclimatise myself better to the liturgy, so started attending the twelve-noon Mass.

It wasn’t long before my eyes would fill with tears as I sang the Latin Creed joyously with the others: “Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum…!”

Peter and Paul at the Beda College in Rome where they are studying for the priesthood.

I was so moved at the aching beauty of the Mass and can honestly say that the Cathedral choir was thus part of my conversion, as was the devotion of the congregation, and whoever was responsible for the incredible flowers that appeared each week.

I remember Masses when Fr Patrick Burke was celebrating without a Deacon.

I can’t quite explain why, but the image of him on those occasions burnt itself in my memory, an isolated Catholic Priest acting in persona Christi.

I loved the multicultural congregation as well, the myriad of Europeans and “ethnic minorities”, so different from the very white Anglican church I was used to.


My eventual Confirmation in 2016 left me feeling so content.

There were drinks with the archbishop, clergy, and others, after that Easter Vigil, for those who had been baptised and confirmed at the cathedral that evening, and I had the strongest feeling that I had come “home”, by joining a truly global Catholic Church.

Just over two months later, on 23 June as it happened: I went to see Fr Patrick with a strong feeling I wished to serve the Church in a deeper way.

I’ll never forget the leap of joy in my heart when he asked if I’d considered the priesthood.

I will not forget the date, partly because it was the day of the Referendum on whether the UK should leave the European Union!

I asked him if there was any possibility I could look into the Permanent Diaconate.

I’ll never forget the leap of joy in my heart when he asked if I’d considered the priesthood.

At the meeting, he continued to say that, at my age, I would probably be sent to the Beda College in Rome. Strange though it is, I immediately knew I was going to this college I’d never heard of in Rome.

Following the call

The next day I called people close to me and told them that I was offering myself as a Catholic priest.

I can honestly say I felt something of the rushing wind of the Holy Spirit pushing me forward.

That said, it took me considerable effort to extricate myself from my career and life in Edinburgh in order to follow the call.

In case this doesn’t sound all too rosy-tinted, I must add that before starting RCIA at this wonderful Cathedral, at the recommendation of a friend, I had approached two Catholic priests asking for advice on becoming a Roman Catholic.

In both cases, I had the strong impression that they were almost bemused at the idea, as if they could not understand why anyone might want to join.

It really was through Fr Patrick that I finally glimpsed the heights and the depth and the incomparable grandeur of the Catholic Church and understood that (as the Magisterium puts it) the Body of Christ ‘subsists’ in the Catholic Church, mystically and physically embodied in the institutional Church we see with our eyes, in our congregations, in its liturgy and its social action around the world.

I was also struck by Fr Patrick’s ability to reveal the depth of the Scriptures in his sermons.

Cathedral community

I’ve had such good connections formed with the Cathedral community that in many ways it has become like a family.

It gives me joy that my sister Rowena followed me, joining a later Cathedral RCIA programme and being confirmed in the Cathedral.

Also, my good friends Diana and her children Catherine-Charlotte and Iain, were likewise confirmed into the Cathedral in 2021.

The Cathedral has as well, for the time being anyway, literally become my home. When I left for the preparatory seminary in Salamanca at the start of 2020, Covid hit, and I had to return to Scotland.

Fr Patrick very kindly let me stay at the Cathedral, as I no longer had a place of my own.

This kind offer has extended to the present and I’ve stayed at the Cathedral during breaks from here at the Pontifical Beda College in southwest Rome.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge that I would never be here if Archbishop Leo had not approved it. I am extremely grateful for all the support he has given me.

Indeed, I am indebted to the whole Cathedral community who have been so supportive of my journey. Thank you.

Paul Henderson will be ordained a Deacon by Archbishop Leo Cushley at the Papal Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls in Rome on Wednesday 14 June 2023. He will be ordained alongside Peter Shanklans, who is also a parishioner of the Cathedral. Read his story here. This article first appeared in Crux, the magazine of the Friends of St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh, Spring 2023 edition.

Mass to Pray for Vocations

Join us to pray that more young people will respond to God's call to the priesthood and religious life. Refreshments served after Mass.

SUNDAY: World Day of Prayer for Vocations

World Day of Prayer for Vocations (WDPV) is this Sunday, 30 April.

Watch Archbishop Cushley's message for the day below or on YouTube.


Please keep in your prayers the seminarians from the Archdiocese:

A special collection for the Ecclesiastical Students' Fund will take place at Masses this weekend. You can donate online at bit.ly/studentscollection

Our next Mass to Pray for Vocations is at 7pm on Monday 1 May at St Mary & St David in Hawick.

Our next group meeting for women interested in the Religious Life is on Sunday 30 April at St Columba's, Upper Gray Street, Edinburgh at 4pm. Contact religiousvocations@staned.org.uk

Pope Francis' message for WDPV can be read here.

If you want to find out more about the priesthood or religious life, speak to your parish priest or contact Fr Andrew Garden at vocations@staned.org.uk (0131 663 4286) or Sr Mirjam Hugens FSO at religiousvocations@staned.org.uk (0131 623 8902).

Mass to Pray for Vocations

Join us to pray that more young people will respond to God's call  to the priesthood and religious life. Refreshments served after Mass.

Mass to Pray for Vocations

Join us to pray that more young people will respond to God's call  to the priesthood and religious life. Refreshments served after Mass.

WATCH: Celebrating the Consecrated Life

Religious brothers and sisters from across the Archdiocese joined together with Archbishop Cushley in Edinburgh to mark World Day of Consecrated Life. Watch the video below or on YouTube.

If you are interested in exploring the Religious Life contact our Director of Religious Vocations Sr Mirjam Hugens FSO at religiousvocations@staned.org.uk

Helping women say YES to God

Scotland has one of the lowest rates of women entering religious life in the world. Ahead of World Day of Consecrated Life (Thursday 2 February), Sr Mirjam Hugens FSO explains why she is determined to change that...

I was studying engineering at the University in Wageningen in the Netherlands when the thought of becoming a religious sister came to me.

At that time, I could not picture myself as a nun so I dismissed it.

When the thoughts kept returning, I kept saying ‘no’!

I wasn’t convinced that this desire in my heart was actually God’s voice. Was it really His invitation to follow Him more closely? Despite dismissing these thoughts, they remained with me. It was a quiet desire.

The big issue for me was this: could the religious life be something I could commit to for the rest of my life? Like so many people, men and women alike, I struggled to discover God’s will.

My older sister Karin had already decided to follow God’s call to religious life. I was happy for her, but I still kept saying ‘no’ to the Lord.

One day she gave me a prayer card of St Thérèse of Lisieux and I still remember the French saint’s words: “Aimer c’est tout donner et se donner soi-même [“To give everything (to the Lord) and to give oneself”].

I have the privilege of helping young women discover what their vocation is, through prayer and gentle encouragement, just like my parish priest gave to me.

That really made me think. I knew that while I was ready to give everything to the Lord, I was not quite ready to fully give myself! My journey discerning a religious vocation raised questions and doubts, but eventually led me to joyful discovery.

How did I start? I prayed more. I asked the Lord to show me His plan for me.

In the beginning, I did not want to share these thoughts with anyone.

But I realised I could not figure this out on my own—I needed support. I spoke to my parish priest and he became my spiritual director.

Through regular meetings he helped me discover where the desires of my heart were. Most importantly, he encouraged me to trust the Lord.

The result? I am happy in my vocation as a religious sister! I’m based at St Columba’s in Edinburgh and work in the curia for the Archdiocese of St Andrews & Edinburgh. I was asked by Archbishop Leo Cushley to become the director of religious vocations in 2019.

That means I have the privilege of helping young women discover what their vocation is, through prayer and gentle encouragement, just like my parish priest gave to me.

Begin with prayer. Then have a conversation with someone you trust for advice. God sends us His help; we need to look for it.

God calls women to follow him in different ways. It may be in the sacrament of marriage, in the single life or as a religious sister. Whatever the vocation, I help young women say ‘yes!’ to God.

The fact that there are few religious sisters in Scotland now can be a barrier: There aren’t as many examples with which young women can identify. It also shows how great the need is.

The Church here needs religious sisters desperately.

My tips? Begin with prayer. Then have a conversation with someone you trust for advice. God sends us His help; we need to look for it.

I’m starting a group in Edinburgh in January for young women to explore how they can discover God’s will more deeply. Our starting point is this: God has a plan of love and happiness for each person.

It is a unique plan for you and where you will find fulfilling happiness. The foundress of our religious order (The Spiritual Family The Work), Mother Julia Verhaeghe, often said: “God wants your happiness and we do too!”

Join other young Catholic women to chat and explore God’s will for you at St Columba’s Church, Upper Gray Street, Edinburgh, from 4-7pm on the following dates. February 26, March 26, April 30, May 28. Contact Sr Mirjam Hugens at religiousvocations@staned.org.uk

Sr Mirjam Hugens is the Director of Religious Vocations for the Archdiocese of St Andrews & Edinburgh. Article first published in The Scottish Catholic.