Visits to the church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome provide Father James McAuley with recurring inspiration in his faith journey. Within the walls of the holy building – close by the Venerable English College where he is Academic Tutor – hangs a painting by Caravaggio. The Calling of St Matthew, depicting Jesus Christ summoning the tax collector Levi to follow him, speaks to Father James personally because St Matthew is the patron saint of accountants – and that is his own profession.

“I visit San Luigi dei Francesi no less than once a month and it is a tremendous privilege to be able to look at this wonderful work of art which reflects the call to priesthood,” he said. “A priest is first and foremost a disciple, a follower of Christ and with every other disciple he shares the vocation to holiness.” Father James’ admiration for the 1599 masterpiece reflects his absolute commitment to his work in assisting in the formation of future priests of England and Wales.


As a member of the formation staff at the Venerable English College he has oversight of the academic component of the formation of the seminarians who all attend classes at one of the Pontifical Universities in Rome. The Northern Ireland-born specialist in Biblical Theology also has responsibility for the overall formation of one-third of the seminarians as their pastoral tutor. He meets each of the seminarians at least three times a semester for a formation tutorial, and also teaches first-years Latin as part of their philosophy course. 


“I discuss the four aspects of their formation with them, set goals and assist them in their development and progress,” said Father James, who has a Law Degree from Oxford University and worked as a chartered accountant before being ordained as a priest in 2010.

Our man in Rome.jpg

“My primary responsibility as a seminary formater is to be as good a role model as possible, and I can only do this with the help of God’s grace. When I arrived in Rome two years ago it was a bit like coming back to my old school as a teacher because I had spent seven happy years as a seminarian at the Venerable English College starting in 2003.”

It was a bit like coming

back to my old school as a teacher because I had spent seven happy years as a seminarian at the Venerable English College starting in 2003.


Caravaggio’s masterpiece painting The Calling of St Matthew which Father James regularly views.

In fact the summons to become Academic Tutor in Rome came as a surprise to Father James, who had spent three years as a priest in Jersey and then four years working at St John’s Catholic Cathedral in Portsmouth as well as being the Bishop’s Secretary with never a thought that he would return to Italy. He is in Rome for a maximum of five years after which he will return to his pastoral work in the Diocese.


In his current role he finds the commitment of many seminarians to personal prayer and to study “both edifying and personally challenging,” while he also admires their sense of mission exemplified by periodic “Nights of Light” inviting people on the streets of Rome to light candles and pray. 

A high point of his time so far in the Italian capital was meeting Pope Francis when the Pontiff received the College in an audience last April. He was introduced to the Pope by the College Rector and His Holiness spoke words of encouragement for the important job with which Father James has been entrusted.

“It was a wonderful opportunity to be able to encounter in a direct way the successor to St Peter,” he said. “To hear words of encouragment from the Holy Father and to meet priests and seminarians from all over the world trying to follow God’s will for them have both enriched my own personal life of faith and challenged me to respond more radically to the call to follow the Lord. Faith is a gift. In order for it to grow, it needs to be shared with others.”