Men Who Turned Their Back on Life of Riches; despite Falling Church Attendances, the Number of Roman Catholic Priest S Being Ordained Is Increasing. Today We Speak to Four Men Who Have Turned Thei R Backs on Worldly Riches for Six Years of Training at Oscott College in Sutton Coldfield. Once Priests, Each Will Get Accommodation and Food Bills Paid - and about Pounds 40 a Week to Spend. MAUREEN MESSENT Reports

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KEVIN CONMEE'S STORY

KEVIN Conmee reckons he could be on pounds 100,000 if he'd stuck to his ambition to be an actuary - a high-powered statistics and probability expert.

But instead of jetting off round the world for Easter, or chartering a yacht, he'll be helping the priest at St John's RC Church in Balsall Heath where he worshipped as a boy, bored to tears by gabbled prayers and what he saw as religion by rote.

He reckons he got an overdose of religion as a child when attendance at Mass and other services was taken for granted. He grew up in Balsall Heath, the son of a labourer - and is the only child of the large family to pass his 11-plus or get to university .

"I did everything expected of me," he says. "I was an altar boy, I was always at the church. And I was so bored that I'd count the words on the Mass sheet, anything to while away the time so I could get out.

"When I left St Philip's Grammar School in Edgbaston, I chucked it all up. I'd had enough of God and empty words, I thought. I wanted money, lots of money - my father had always told me that the secret of life was money, a good woman and a good pint.

"I had the chance to make a lot of cash too. The Norwich Union took me on with a view to sending me to university to be an actuary. I went along with it for a while.

"Then, the day my cheque arrived from the Norwich to pay my university fees, I had a rather weird experience which, being a bit of a rationalist, didn't convince me 100 per cent.

"I was sitting in my bed-sit in North London and I was suddenly convinced that everything I had worked for, hoped for, yearned for, was utterly meaningless.

"I guess it was a sudden conversion. But not a complete one because, although it convinced me that money and ambition were a waste of time, it didn't tell me what to do."

Returned

He returned the cheque to the Norwich that day and resigned. First he got a job in a parcels office, then worked as a volunteer in the Third World. He taught. He helped AIDS patients. He worked with the homeless.

"The priesthood had come into my mind," he says, "but I wasn't even going to Mass at this stage. My mother was desperately worried about me but I was still feeling my way. The stumbling-block was that I didn't feel I could associate the priesthood with p overty."

He returned to Mass after six years, still unsure of his future. It was only when he began working with SPUC, the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child, that he realised the Catholic Church offered the authority he sought.

"Although I was baptised a Catholic at a few days old, it wasn't until I felt that authority that I actually became a Catholic. After that, my faith grew again. But naturally this time, not forced.

"Coming here was simply another step. I just want to be in God's hands. He will know what's best for me."

MIKE DOLMAN'S STORY

MIKE Dolman had the prospect of about pounds 30,000 a year had he stuck to his teaching. But he sold his red Triumph Spitfire and inherited his sister's old Mini Metro.

"It wasn't difficult," he says. "I've chosen a life that seems to me to be totally fufilling."

He has a brother travelling the world as a barber, a student sister at the University of Central England and another in Katmandu with her forester-husband, so aren't there times when Mike reckons his choice of a life without money and women is too hard a n option?

"I trust not," he says light-heartedly. "I've never been through one of those 'spiritual rebellions' that seem to affect others. Perhaps that's still to come.

"I was fairly active at St. Christopher's, Codsall, as a boy and although, as I reached my teens, the prospect of a teaching career and a family were inviting, I had doubts, very slight doubts, that they were for me.

"I had loads of girlfriends and, despite my family being practising Catholics, there was no pressure brought to bear on me - nothing like those old

jokes about every Catholic mum wanting a son to be a priest. …