My dream of priesthood

Columban seminarian Laurencio Woobin Lee is missioned overseas by Regional Director Fr Seo Kyunghi Stephen, Columban Formation house, Seoul, Korea. - Photos: Sarah MacDonaldColumban seminarian Laurencio Woobin Lee is missioned overseas by Regional Director Fr Seo Kyunghi Stephen, Columban Formation house, Seoul, Korea. - Photos: Sarah MacDonald

Sarah MacDonald speaks to Columban seminarian Laurencio Woobin Lee about his call to missionary priesthood.

Thirty-two-year-old Laurencio Woobin Lee is sitting in the homely community room at St Columban's in Dalgan Park (Ireland). He has taken some time off from his English classes to chat with the Far East magazine about his vocation story. Language studies are part of his preparation for a Spiritual Year in the Philippines.

Originally from Daejon in South Korea, he explains how important the Catholic faith was to his family. "On my Mum's side, we are an old Catholic family." Both of his parents are still alive, and he has one younger brother.

Growing up, "I had a dream: to be a priest. I was involved in the parish when I was young. Every Saturday, I went to the Children's Mass. The priest was a really good man, and seeing him at the altar, I wanted to be like him. So I began to dream about being a priest."

His family respected his decision to pursue priesthood, and so did his friends. He recalls being a poor student in school. "I didn't like studying – I really liked freedom and having fun." His decision to become a priest saw him change, and his friends noticed that. "I also respected them because being a lay person and being married has a lot of challenges."

Laurencio joined the diocesan seminary in Daejeon in 2009. Over the next four years, he studied for the priesthood and did his military service (2011–2012). Military service is mandatory in South Korea. All able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 28 are conscripted into the armed forces for up to 18 months.

But by 2013, he no longer felt that the seminary was his path. "Military service was difficult for me. I was attached to the artillery corps and worked on cannon duty in 2011. But the chaplain needed an assistant and he chose me. I had no option and had to agree." He politely hints that he was unimpressed with the chaplain's attitude to the military hierarchy, clearly favouring the officers over the ranks. "I was very disappointed," he admits.

"After I came out of the seminary, I tried to find another job." His family understood his decision but were "very worried" for him because in Korea leaving the seminary is seen by some as "a failure". He began to think about becoming a police officer. "But I never forgot about the priesthood."

In fact, he had begun to think about mission while in the seminary. "In the diocesan seminary, we had the first Mongolian seminarian studying to be a priest. One professor told him he was a “Mongolian Kim Daejon Andrew” – the first Korean-born Catholic priest and the patron saint of Korean clergy. I was very curious about Mongolia and started to think about mission and missionaries. The Mongolian seminarian really seemed Korean. He spoke the language well and even joked well in Korean with the other seminarians. I became curious about missionaries because there are many foreign priests, nuns and missionaries in Korea."

Columban seminarian Laurencio Woobin Lee. - Photos: Sarah MacDonaldColumban seminarian Laurencio Woobin Lee. - Photos: Sarah MacDonald

However, having left the diocesan seminary, he had to find a new path. He took the national test for the police, but that idea was undermined by the political context in which then-president Park Geun-hye was impeached. The police handled the protests over corruption badly, attacking protestors with water cannons and even firing on demonstrators.

"I was very disappointed by their behaviour, so the idea of becoming a policeman ended." He had seen that many seminarians, nuns and priests had taken part in the protests and had experienced the heavy-handed police tactics. That was when he began to seek information on religious congregations to try to understand if missionary priesthood was his calling. "I think it was God's will that I did not become a policeman."

Laurencio had been impressed by Columban Fr Seo Kyunghi Stephen, who served as a deacon in the Cathedral in Daejon diocese. In 2017, he contacted Columban Fr Kang Suengwon Joseph, who is now a member of the Columban General Council in Hong Kong but was then working in Korea. "I told him I wanted to join the Missionary Society of St Columban." He did that in 2019. "Before I entered the Columbans, I discussed it with my family, and they really encouraged me."

Laurencio explains how his first year of studies with the Columbans was spent getting to know the Society and what its priests, sisters and lay missionaries do, and the role played by Columban missionaries in Korea, and other countries such as the Philippines, Pakistan and Myanmar. The second year was spent discerning why he chose the Columbans. His supervisors, Fr Donal O'Keeffe and Fr Jude Genovia, were a great help to him in this. During his third year of studies, he was "really impressed" to learn about Fr Kim Young-In Gregorio's work in Peru. "He is on the Regional Council in Korea and is very passionate about mission. As my rector, we discussed mission many times."

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, his spiritual year in the Philippines had to be postponed. Speaking ahead of his departure for Manila, he described himself as "feeling really excited about the Philippines because I want to try and understand the culture of another country. The Columbans are an intercultural and a multicultural Society." Please pray for all our Columban seminarians, who are on the journey to become missionary priests. Please pray for vocations.

Sarah MacDonald is Editor of the Far East magazine, Ireland.

Listen to "My dream of priesthood"

Related links

The Far East - New Subscription

Code : 4



Annual subscription to The Far East magazine, published by St Columbans Mission Society 8 times per year. It features mission articles and photographs by Columban Missionaries from the countries where they work.


See all products