The Priestly Discernment Program

Could God be calling you to the priesthood?

The world needs priests. It needs strong, faithful, courageous men willing to die to themselves for the sake of Christ’s Bride, the Church. It also needs men who want to conform themselves to Christ, who can proclaim his Word and dispense his mercy in the darkest corners of the culture.

If you think God could be calling you to this sacred mission, Franciscan University’s Priestly Discernment Program can help.

Surrounded and supported by a band of brothers who are also discerning their vocation, you’ll live and study in an environment conducive to hearing God’s voice and finding the courage to respond. You’ll also receive extensive preparation for both seminary and priestly life.

Laying a Foundation for the Priesthood

The preparation you’ll receive at Franciscan follows the model for priestly formation laid out by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Under the direction of Father Gregory Plow, TOR, you’ll receive the spiritual, intellectual, pastoral, and human formation you need to pursue God’s call in a diocesan seminary or with a religious order. You’ll also receive fraternal formation—a unique feature of Franciscan’s Priestly Discernment Program.

Practically speaking, that means you’ll grow spiritually through daily Mass, regular confession, praying both Morning and Evening Prayer as a community, deepening your personal prayer life, taking on a weekly Holy Hour, and making two retreats annually.

You’ll also grow in your understanding of the faith and the philosophical foundations undergirding a Catholic worldview. With world-renowned scholars such as Dr. Scott Hahn, Dr. John Crosby, and Dr. Pat Lee for your professors, you’ll take 30 hours of coursework in philosophy and another 18 in theology, along with your other required classes.

Your pastoral formation will take place through a deep and sustained involvement in the life of Franciscan University. As a member of the Priestly Discernment Program, you’ll serve at University Masses and assist with Chapel Ministry programs. You’ll also go out into the local community, helping the spiritually and materially poor through activities such as feeding the homeless, praying at abortion clinics, and performing other works of mercy with your fellow students.

Human formation—growing in wisdom, maturity, and virtue—comes by way of spiritual direction and one-on-one meetings with the program director. It also comes through living your life as part of the larger Franciscan community, where both your fellow students and your professors are joined together in a common pursuit of holiness.

Lastly, you’ll receive fraternal formation—help living a life of Christian brotherhood. This happens through small faith-sharing groups, brotherhood nights, and especially through Franciscan’s household system, which encourages Christ-centered friendships and Christian maturity. Men in the Priestly Discernment Program belong to one of two households: Koinonia and Living Stones. During your time in the Priestly Discernment Program, you will live, study, and pray side by side with your household brothers, holding each other accountable and encouraging each other to follow God’s voice.

Contact Us

To apply to the Priestly Discernment Program, please fill out the application for Admission to Franciscan University of Steubenville.

For all other communications, you can reach us at [email protected] or call us at 740-283-6495.

Support Future Priests

The Blessed Junipero Serra Fund allows contributors to invest in the future of the priesthood through ongoing spiritual and financial support for Franciscan University’s Priestly Discernment Program students. Be sure to specify “Serra Vocations Fund” in the “Fund Name” drop-down box.

PDP Leadership
Father Jonathan
Father Jonathan McElhone, TOR

Director of the Priestly Discernment Program

Father Jonathan McElhone, TOR was born and raised near Delhi, Ontario Canada, the middle of three children and grew up working on the family farm. After a three year college program in Electro-Mechanical Engineering – Robotics and Automation (1997), he spent two years serving as a missionary with NET Ministry (National Evangelization Teams) located in St. Paul MN. Moving back to Ontario, he volunteered with parish youth groups and worked for three years as an industrial electrician in an automotive factory.

Read More

In 2002 he left his job to study at Franciscan University of Steubenville OH while immersed in the Priestly Discernment Program. After completing a BA in philosophy and a minor in theology in 2005, he was accepted and started formation in Loretto, PA with the Franciscan Friars TOR – Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. Two years later, on July 7, 2007 (that’s right 07-07-07) he professed first vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and then started formal seminary studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington DC. He professed solemn vows in July 15, 2011.

On Nov. 26 2011 he was ordained a transitional deacon at which time he served at St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Cheverly, MD. After concluding studies with a Masters of Divinity (M-Div) and graduating in May of 2012 from CUA he moved to Good Shepherd Catholic Community (GSCC) in Fort Worth, Texas to serve as a deacon until his priestly ordination by Bishop Kevin Vann which took place on Nov. 3, 2012. Fr. Jonathan remained at GSCC as Parochial Vicar through June 2017 after which time he returned to minister at Franciscan University.

A unique fact about him is that the first time he came to Franciscan University was back in 1991 for a summer youth conference, before even the fieldhouse existed! Fr. Jonathan is very excited to be back at Franciscan University to serve in a place that has been pivotal as well as inspirational for his own faith. He is honored to be the first alumnus named as director of the Priestly Discernment Program and feels privileged to journey with so many men who desire to follow God’s call in their lives.

Father Jonathan’s current hobbies include cycling (mountain and road) as well as playing guitar and singing. He also enjoys NASCAR, ultimate Frisbee, hiking, as well as a host of other sports and outdoor activities. One of his favorite scripture verses is Phil 4:4-7 which starts off with: “Rejoice in the Lord always, I say it again: rejoice….” Feel free to ask him why he likes it so much. May our Lord bless you abundantly!


loyalty, honor, prayer, service, joy, and, most of all, love

As a part of the Priestly Discernment Program, you’ll participate in one of our households where you’ll develop the strong bonds of Christian brotherhood so necessary for a man in discernment.

Daily Mass, Liturgy of the Hours, eucharistic adoration, guided holy hours, small-group sharing, formation conferences, and apostolic and liturgical ministries: these activities and more help our men to grow as brothers and servants of God’s people as they discern our Lord’s call in their lives.

Living Stones

Upon entry into the Program, new students enter the LIVING STONES household as they begin to discern God’s call and to foster a deeper personal and communal spiritual life. Because of their love for Jesus Christ, they agree to live together in brotherhood and to engage in a program of spiritual formation geared towards helping them become more attentive to the voice of God in their lives. For our younger men, this is a prerequisite before entrance into the more advanced household, Koinonia.


Upper classmen or men with prior spiritual formation enter KOINONIA household. “Koinonia” is a Greek word indicating a “brotherhood of believers.” Men in Koinonia have moved to a deeper level in their commitment to God’s call and are now discerning in what manner they are being invited to live out that calling. Whether discerning the ministerial priesthood or life as a consecrated brother, each man in this household is committed to the service of God’s people through the Holy Roman Catholic Church.