A pediatrician, an aerospace engineer, a semi-pro baseball player and a Capitol Hill lawyer walk into a room.

Please note: They are not walking into a bar, nor is a rabbi coming in; this is not the beginning of a campy joke. This was the scene Aug. 23 when I entered the doors of Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Mass., ready to begin my studies as a first theologian.

"Welcome home!" exclaimed the rector, Rev. Brian Kiely, as he greeted me with a firm handshake.

Indeed, I will make my home here in Weston, outside of Boston, for the next four years as I prepare for life as a priest of the Albany Diocese.

Prior to entering seminary, the main focus in my spiritual life was discernment: that is, trying to answer the question whether God was calling me to a life of ministry in service of the Church.

Now, discernment does not end, but it yields to formation, which is based on four pillars: human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation. This quartet of pillars, first laid out in St. John Paul II's 1992 apostolic exhortation "Pastores Dabo Vobis" ("I Will Give You Shepherds"), is at the core of the entire seminary program.

Seminary is not simply a place a man goes to pray, practice celebrating Mass or learn about the Bible. It is where a man's identity is subsumed to that of Christ. He must learn to be "in persona Christi" prior to his call to the sacrament of holy orders.

Like Jesus, who died in this life to bring us to everlasting life, we must die to ourselves in order to bring others to Him. A brother seminarian wisely told me that formation "is a process, not an event," as this transformation does not happen overnight.

Academics, the intellectual pillar, are definitely a foundational part of life here. After taking first-semester classes in patristics (the study of the Fathers of the Church), Mariology (the study of Mary) and the Old Testament, I have learned the difference between St. Augustine of Canterbury and St. Augustine of Hippo; mortalists and immortalists; and the Torah and the Tanakh.

But equally important to the academics is the brotherhood that has developed among the student body. Not only do we take classes together, but we eat, pray and worship as one.

The men here all come from different walks of life, different parts of the country, and held different jobs prior to entering Pope St. John. Some are widowers, and have children -- even grandchildren -- while others, like myself, were never married.

There is one fact we all share in common. We are all here to answer Jesus's call in Mark 1:17: "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men." Four years from now, God willing, when we gather for alumni days here at the seminary, we will all walk into the room as Roman Catholic priests. And that is no joke!

(Mr. McHale is a native of Holy Trinity parish in Hudson.)