Father Dominic Risley is remembering the conclusion of the prayer of consecration during his Ordination Mass at Saint Edward's parish church in Wigan. "I had my eyes closed and when I opened them, I thought, 'That's it, I’m a priest now.'"
It might have been just a fleeting moment but this was the culmination of a long road travelled – and the departure point for his new life as a priest in the Archdiocese of Liverpool.
The 27-year-old's ordination took place on Saturday 9 July at his home parish. Next month he will embark on his first assignment, as an assistant priest at the Metropolitan Cathedral. For now, though, he is getting used to "the newness of it all" during a summer of helping out at St Edward's, his home parish, and participating in the World Youth Day activities in Krakow.
Before departing for Poland he found the time to reflect on how it felt to take that final step to the priesthood – and the challenges faced and decisions made in the years leading up to his ordination.
'It was almost like a day that was happening around me. I blinked at the end and thought, "It's all over."'
His big day might have been a blur but when Father Dominic stood looking at the altar during his Ordination Mass, he could see quite clearly the role played by four priests in his development, now standing there before him.
Father John Causey, parish priest at St Edward's, "has helped me a lot over the years with bits of advice", he explains, and so too Father Pat Sexton from St Monica's in Bootle whom Father Dominic first met during his first year as a seminarian at Ushaw. "We always knew the door was open at St Monica's if we needed any help or somewhere to relax," he says.
There was also Father Mark Beattie, with whom he worked during his four-month placement as a fourth-year student at St Oswald's and St Sebastian's in Liverpool. "He really did mentor me," says Father Dominic. "I learned a lot by watching him with people and in other parts of parish life – I saw things where I thought, 'I want to do that, I want to be like that.' He was a great example to me."
Finally there was his good friend Father Matt Jolley, who was ordained in July last year. "He was in the year above me and helped me all the way through seminary, not just by being a friend but also somebody who would tell me things he thought had worked or not. He'd tell me, 'This is what I've done and it's gone wrong'. During the Mass, he helped vest me with Father Pat."
'It was lovely to be back in my home parish as I felt that is where my vocation had been nurtured without me realising it.'
St Edward's was the parish church where Father Dominic had his first experiences as a young Catholic. It was there that he went to Mass with his father Chris, mother Anne and sister Bernadette – and there that he served on the altar for many years. "I carried on during the teenage years when a lot do drop off," he remembers.
Recounting his journey to the priesthood, Father Dominic cites as a key staging post his trip to Lourdes in summer 2005. He had just left St Thomas More High School and was about to begin his A level studies at St John Rigby College in Wigan.
"Lourdes was a turning point where I thought, 'Maybe ...,'" he says. "I'd thought the priesthood was somehow above me and I couldn't do it but when we went to Lourdes, I thought maybe there is something in this. In Lourdes I said, 'God if this is something you want me to do, then you'll make it happen and I left it in God's hands.' There was the beginning of something."
After his A levels, he studied Theology at Leeds Trinity & All Saints – now Leeds Trinity University – and it was during these student days that he encountered another influential figure, Monsignor Paul Grogan, then vocations director for the Diocese of Leeds. "He saw a young man sitting at the back of the chapel week in, week out and thought maybe there was something there. He brought up the question again about the priesthood. That was when I started to discern a bit more seriously."
'There were little moments where I thought, "I don’t think I can do this."'
Father Dominic began his studies for the priesthood straight after finishing his degree course. He spent his first year at Ushaw College before the closure of the seminary there led him down the motorway to Oscott College.
He reflects on the moments of self-doubt he experienced during his time at Oscott – "little moments" as he calls them. "There were little moments where I thought, 'I don't think I can do this, I haven't got the confidence to do this or the discipline to do that.' A particular concern was his anxiety over the 'performance' aspects demanded by priests' central role in the Mass.
"Homilies were always a big fear because I used to dread speaking publicly. I still get a little nervous sometimes. Towards the end of the second year everyone had to give a homily or reflection at Mass so standing in front of everybody at chapel was a terrifying experience.
"Singing was another of those things that at the beginning, when you just start, is absolutely petrifying. But by the end you're so used to being in the community and being in the house that you think, 'If it goes wrong, it goes wrong' so you become a bit hardened to it."
'The Archbishop said, "I hope St Dominic Savio will help to keep you young."'
It is one specific homily – delivered by Archbishop Malcolm McMahon during his Ordination – that Father Dominic is talking about now. The Archbishop referred to two different Dominics as he preached during the Ordination Mass on 9 July.
"He mentioned the two saints named Dominic and said, 'I hope St Dominic Savio will help to keep you young', which I liked. That got a laugh. He said too that he hoped Dominic, founder of the order of preachers, would help draw me closer to God’s word."
Archbishop Malcolm also quoted a Dominican priest, Herbert McCabe, in his homily, as Father Dominic explains: "He said, 'To love is to be crucified but not to love is to be dead already.' I'd never heard that before and that struck a chord with me."
These words will stay with Father Dominic when he embarks on his work at the Metropolitan Cathedral in September. He is ready to embrace the challenges that come his way.
"I'm very excited because you are finally able to do what you've been training for all these years," he says, adding with a laugh: "You feel you're actually doing proper work now. You can go out and finally try and put the theory into practice.
"Being with the people is what I'm looking forward to because you're able to be with them in their good times and their bad times, you're able to bring God to them in the Sacraments."