The Leaving Certificate has come to a close and a blissful summer of freedom has began for many young people in Ireland, the CAO and life decisions lay on the horizon.
This is a journey well-traveled by many Irish people, year in, year out, young people must make decisions on their future.
The youngest priest in Ireland, David Vard, knew at a young age that a different path lay ahead for him.
Father Vard knew that he wanted to join the priesthood throughout his final year in secondary school.
While the decision to become a priest was certainly a big one, support came from his family and friends who knew this was something he had been considering.
"I told my friends the summer after the Leaving Cert, they were supportive, they kind of knew it was something I had been thinking of. They would have noticed that I was practicing my faith more. They were supportive because everyone was going off doing what they wanted to do, there were people going off being doctors and nurses and teachers so this was just something I was going to do," he said.
Choosing to go to a seminary after school is not hugely common in Ireland and Fr Vard's inspiration came from a trip to Lourdes.
"I went to Lourdes with my school and parish as a helper when I was 16 at the end of Transition Year and it was there that I really saw a whole different side to the church that I hadn’t seen growing up. It was a real active church and a real loving church over there," he said.
Following the Leaving Certificate, Fr Vard went to St Patrick's College, Maynooth, which is the National Seminary for Ireland.
Philosophy is a subject that all of those in the priesthood must study and because he was so young, Fr Vard had the opportunity to study a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Philosophy and History in NUI Maynooth.
In this way the Newbridge native did get to experience college life alongside his friends, but this was not without its differences.
"When I was in the system I felt how different it was, my friends were having a normal college life and I couldn’t do that. At the time when we were going off and doing things I just thought that they were on their path and this was my path and when I was in the system I realised how different it was," he explained.
"Sometimes it was difficult; I couldn’t go to all my friends 21st birthdays because I wasn’t allowed. I suppose it was hard at the time but looking back now I realise what I was sacrificing and this is something I wanted to do so I had to make sacrifices for it," he added.
Throughout his college years, Fr Vard was fully supported by his father David Vard, his mother Elizabeth Yelberton and his sisters Rebecca and Charlotte.
"When I decided I wanted to become a priest, my mother was one of the first people I told. She told my sisters and they have been nothing but supportive, I am the only son in the family so they realised the name wouldn’t’ be carried on and all that, but they are fully supportive," he said.
Following his ordination by Bishop Denis Nulty of Kildare and Leighlin on Sunday, June 25, Fr David Vard will begin life as a priest in Portlaoise Parish from August 1.
Graduating and walking into your first job is hard for anyone but to 25-year-old Fr Vard, priesthood is a lifelong calling.
"Priesthood is very different to a career because it is our life, we are priests forever we don’t have a nine to five job, it is every day, all day, every minute of every day we are priests. It is definitely more of a calling. It is more who we are than what we are," he said.
But just like any role taken on for the first time, while it is exciting, it can take some time to settle in.
"I hope to be involved in the community, as it is my first parish it might take me a bit longer to work everything out and see where I fit in. I am just looking forward to meeting as many people as I can and getting stuck in," he said.
While Fr Vard is looking forward to meeting everyone, one thing that will take some getting used to for the new priest is saying mass.
"Learning to say mass is definitely one of the things I have to get better at. You don't really do it in seminary a lot. It is very different, we go to mass every day during our training and we work hard to go to mass every day during summer but it is very different doing it. It is like driving a car, you think you would be able to drive a car until you are actually in the drivers seat," he explained.
Msgr. John Byrne P.P. is looking forward to welcoming the new, young priest to the community and wishes him every success.
"We will be rolling out the red carpet for Fr Vard's arrival in Portlaoise," he said.