Last week I wrote about the seminarian situation in the Diocese of Cleveland. Somebody wrote in and asked about the rest of the United States. What’s going on and what should we do? It led me to do some research and the findings are interesting. In some ways very encouraging and in other ways we really need to get to work.
First some quick background: In the Catholic system of priest training there are generally three levels of seminaries. Almost extinct in the United States is the high school seminary. Cleveland’s high school seminary closed a number of decades ago. Next is what equates to the college level seminary. In Cleveland that is Borromeo Seminary. It used to be its own college but has since associated itself with John Carroll University which is now the institution that awards the diploma though formation and many of the seminarian classes are held at the seminary. Then there is the graduate level seminary. St. Mary Seminary and Graduate School of Theology is the institution that fulfills this role here in Cleveland.
The number of graduate level Catholic seminarians (this is the important number since it is from this group that men are ordained) in the United States was 3,694 in 2013, a 16% increase since 1995. That does not mean 3,000+ will be ordained next year. This is the number of men in a 4 to 5 year program and will be ordained, God willing, over the next few years. That sounds like a huge number but divide it by 50 states, divide that number by the number of dioceses in your state, and then divide that by the number of parishes in your diocese. Last year 511 men were ordained. The peak was in 1964 with 994.
Here is what a typical newly ordained Catholic priests looks like in the United States according to an article in the Catholic World News:
81% has two Catholic parents
20% have 5 or more siblings.
10% have 4 siblings
22% have 3 siblings
4% have been home schooled
63% went to university before entering the seminary
62% worked full time before entering the seminary
67% served as altar servers
67% are white
5% African American
68% regularly pray the rosary
62% participated in Eucharistic adoration before entering the seminary
67% were encouraged by their parish priest
40% of the men were the oldest of the family.
Just by comparison, while both of my parents were Catholic, my dad was non-practicing (to say the least) until his death bed. “Religion is for weak people,” he said, “but at least you will be leader among weak people.” (Ha!) I have two sisters, was an altar server, graduated from the University of Akron and worked for a couple of years before entering the seminary. I am of Slovenian descent and prayed the rosary on a semi-regular bases then and occasionally made my way to St. Augustine in Barberton for Adoration. My home pastor, after whom I took my confirmation name, encouraged me, and I am the baby of the family.
So there is the trend but as you can see it is merely a trend. Don’t carry this list around with you to find the perfect person to encourage to be a priest. Find a single male (huge age range here) and suggest it to him. (The worst he can do is laugh.) We have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
1. Identify him.
2. Encourage him.
3. Pray for him.