Martin Scorsese is talking about vocations. It’s s a subject he knows something about, having studied at a seminary when he was a young man. In the end – as history and an armful of awards can attest – he decided to be a film-maker rather than a priest, but as he himself points out most firmly, a vocation does not necessarily have to be a clerical one.

“Vocation is very special,” says the legendary director, who at the age of 14 entered Cathedral College Seminary in New York with a view to entering the priesthood. “I entered the seminary because I had a mentor – Fr Principe his name was. He was down in the Lower East Side and he had a great effect on my life from the ages of 11 to 17. He was a major influence on a lot of us kids in those days, he’d give us books by Graham Greene and Dwight Macdonald and many others, and he opened my eyes to a lot intellectually.

“I also saw him working with the guys in the Lower East Side and I saw him play out compassion. But I also saw a toughness to him, which he needed because the streets there were tough. I wanted to be just like him, so I went into the preparatory seminary to do what he was doing.”

Once in the seminary, however, he says that he quickly gained a different perspective. “I didn’t know what a vocation was at that time, I hadn’t lived, and I didn’t get it at all. But what I realised once I was there was that you can’t devote yourself to a way of life and call it a vocation just because you want to be like somebody else. It has to come from you.

“I didn’t make being a priest – in fact, I was ejected from the seminary. But then I thought: when one has a vocation, does it have to be clerical? Can’t you act out those tenets of whatever you believe in your own life without wearing a priest’s collar? And that’s something I have been struggling with – and trying to deal with as best as I can – for my whole life since then.”

The New York-born son of film actor Charles Scorsese and his wife, Catherine (née Cappa), he is fiercely proud of his Italian heritage, and, as a film-maker, indelibly marked by his Catholic faith.

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