Paul Lacombe's friends might not understand why he wants to become a priest at such a young age, but he is among a growing number of young men taking what has become a rare path in life.
"Some of my friends are very excited for me because they know this is what I want to do," said the 19-year-old. "Some are baffled at my choice just because they are more into doing what is popular. I tell them that I am dedicated to doing this, and one day you will find something to be dedicated to do, too."
Lacombe said that living a chaste life is a "gift we give to the church and the people we serve."
By not having a wife or children, Lacombe feels he will have more time to give his complete heart, attention and time to other people.
"It is like having a spousal relationship with the church," he said.
Lacombe said the simplicity of life as a priest also is a draw for him, and that he loves to pray and serve others.
Lacombe was raised in St. Peter Catholic Church in Beaufort. He spent his youth volunteering at the church, served as an altar boy and later taught Sunday school in Beaufort and at St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church in Bluffton. He is a graduate of St. Peter Catholic elementary and middle schools and the Benedictine Military School in Savannah.
Both of his parents are integral parts of the St. Peter parish, as well. His father is Deacon Bill Lacombe, the director of religious education, and his mother, Wendy, is a teacher at the school. Lacombe is the eldest of five children, and said that being a part of an even bigger family is another reason he is entering the seminary.
"I really love how a priest, who really is a total stranger, can come into a community and become a part of the family," Lacombe said. "They just bring him in. There is a reason for a priest to be called 'father.'"
Lacombe said he also hopes to help fill the nation's ever-growing need for priests. With a Catholic population of 196,000 and only about 50 active parish priests, South Carolina's need is particularly great, said the Rev. Jeffrey Kirby, the Diocese of Charleston's vicar of vocations and the recruiter for priesthood and religious life.
Nationwide, there are about 3,500 Catholic men studying to become priests, about half of what there was in 1965.
Lacombe is among the youngest seminarians.
"Ten years ago, the average applicant (to join the seminary) might have been in his 30s. Now they are in their late teens and 20s," Kirby said.
Kirby credits the younger generation's search for greater meaning in their lives to the change.
In an effort to reach even more youth, new guidelines to add social media to outreach have been handed down from The Vatican.
Kirby and Lacombe have Facebook pages. Kirby also tweets to those considering the priesthood.
Kirby, at 37, also is among this younger group of priests. He entered the seminary at age 27 after graduate school, opting for the priesthood instead of law school.
"My decision was based upon a call, a strong attraction to a life of dedicated service to God and to others," Kirby said. "Nothing else seemed to make sense to me, except serving as a priest and helping people to know God's love.
"In a world that seems to be stuck in darkness and confusion, the priest is a light and a consolation," he said. "He brings good news to those around him. The priest shows people how much they are loved, and helps them to hope in themselves and others. This is what I was attracted to. This is what I wanted, and how I felt called to live for others."
Lacombe is looking forward to his future after having lived the past three months in Charleston at Drexel House, a Catholic men's residence, with 10 other seminarians. During the day, he works at a bottling company.
In August, Lacombe will enter the seminary. He will begin by obtaining his bachelor's degree in philosophy at the University of Dallas, a public Catholic college in Texas. Instead of living in a college dorm, though, Lacombe will live at Holy Trinity Seminary with other seminarians, where he will receive training in prayer, virtue and pastoral skills. The seminary is one of 23 in the United States for Catholics.
Next summer, he will be sent on a mission trip to a Spanish-speaking country for cultural and language studies. After graduating from college, he will then go to St. Mary's Seminary in Houston for four years of formal theological training. He will then complete a year-long pastoral internship before being ordained a priest.
Being ordained will certainly bring back memories of the first Mass Lacombe attended at the age of 5.
"I was a pretty bad kid, and it was probably the first time they let me into the church," he said. "I remember being in awe of what was going on. I was attracted to it. The whole experience was just amazing."
Lacombe said he expects life in the priesthood to be just as exciting.
"I was watching a YouTube video where this priest talked about how a priest could experience in one day what a normal person experiences in a lifetime. They might perform a baptism in the morning, a wedding in the middle of the day and give a person their last rites in the evening."