Catholics see rise in number of seminarians

Archbishop Gomez with young men interested in priesthood, Santa Barbara, 2011

Archbishop Gomez with young men interested in priesthood, Santa Barbara, 2011

The following comes from a Sept. 24 story on Religion News Service.

After decades of glum trends — fewer priests, fewer parishes — the Catholic Church in the United States has a new statistic to cheer: More men are now enrolled in graduate level seminaries, the main pipeline to the priesthood, than in nearly two decades.

This year’s tally of 3,694 graduate theology students represents a 16 percent increase since 1995 and a 10 percent jump since 2005, according to Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.

Seminary directors cite more encouragement from bishops and parishes, the draw of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and the social-justice-minded Pope Francis, and a growing sense that the church is past the corrosive impact of the sexual abuse crisis that exploded in 2002.

Ultimately, it was “a calling in my heart,” says Kevin Fox.

He walked away from his electrical engineering degree and a job in his field, working with CT scanners, to enter St. Mary Seminary in Wickliffe, Ohio, in his home diocese, Cleveland, this fall.

“I always had an inkling that I might want to be a priest and my parish priest told me he thought I might be called,” said Fox, 24. “But I put it aside.”

With a fresh degree from Case Western Reserve and his first post-graduation job, Fox soon realized the secular path “wasn’t filling my soul with joy.”

Now, after years of pure science, Fox is immersed in pure theology – and loving it. The challenges of the culture, such as crude jokes from strangers about the abuse crisis, have not dissuaded him.

“I feel the church has done a great deal to deal with (preventing) abuse and the seminary took a lot of care in screening and training us to make sure we are the good guys,” Fox said.

Fox is one of 72 students currently enrolled in the undergraduate and graduate programs at St. Mary, the highest number in decades, said the Rev. Mark Latcovich, president and rector.

Latcovich credits encouraging current seminarians and priests who are “our best recruiters. If they are happy and witnessing their faith and opening their hearts, that enthusiasm and joy is contagious.”

Young men today “want to give their life for something that counts. These men are tired of living in a culture of relativism. They want to say there must be something true, beautiful and good. They have discovered the beauty of God,” said Latcovich.

Monsignor Craig Cox, rector of St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, Calif., said the upward trend leading to their current record class of 92 graduate seminarians began six years ago.

He also cited “a renewal of idealism,” a stronger push for vocations by priests and bishops, and “receding damage” from the abuse crisis.

….Meanwhile, the declining numbers of people who identify with Protestant denominations has led to falling numbers in their seminaries since 2006, said Eliza Brown, spokeswoman for Association of Theological Schools, which represents more than 270 seminaries.

Between 2006 and 2012, the number of students enrolled in Master of Divinity programs at Protestant and non-denominational Christian seminaries fell from 31,532 to 29,249, Brown said.

To read entire story, click here.



  1. The Catholic Church is going to have to figure out an effective ways to form priests in additional to the manner in which they are formed today.

    Many of the Orthodox Churches form priests and deacons through many years of praxis, directed private study and spiritual direction within their own parishes. The Catholic Church needs to start doing this. In my opinion this is perhaps the most important reason for reviewing the celibacy rule in the Latin Rite.

    There are many, many men (particularly married men) in the Catholic Church that would be more than willing to go through years of formation at their parishes (or at least in the general area in which they live) rather than going to seminary for 5-6 years.

    I think in many cases the focus needs to be on more strenuously vetting potential priests and deacons over a much longer period than today before they could even begin to prepare for the priesthood.

    Take a GOOD (and FULLY vetted man) with an appropriate college degree. He should be able to be formed into a deacon and then a priest within 10 years in the manner in which I have described.

    I hate to suggest a second status for such “home grown” priests but they are desperately needed — particularly in the missions and in small isolated parishes. This very thing is already being done today in developing countries. I suspect Pope Francis I will make strides in this area.

    • Anton L Seidl says:

      R. B. Rodda: Yours is a good argument. A celibate clergy dates from a time when churchmen were often family men whose benefices, when they passed away, caused many disputes. (In medieval Europe, the Church was a MAJOR property owner) In today’s world consideration such as these no longer apply. It is my understanding that there are no doctrinal prohibitions regarding a married clergy. Celibacy, however, is no guarantor against sex abuse. We know for a fact that sex abuse among clergy in other denominations is no less rare than it is among Catholics. The abuse of young lads, however, is clearly more common in a church with a celibate clergy, which draws homosexuals. (Read the Jonathan Jay Study). The entry of married Anglicans into the Roman fold appears to have been frictionless. The issue of married priests should not be dismissed out-of-hand. I especially invite our priest correspondents to make comments.

      • The celibate priesthood is not a product of property rights. But that’s not the point of my posting, nor is the abuse of children.

        The ROMAN Catholic Church (some of the Eastern Catholic Churches already are working on this) can and should continue to form priests just as they are. But they should also start doing so in other ways as well.

        I don’t believe it should take 4-6 years of seminary to be a good priest.

    • RBR: Your words “second class status” mean more than you think, for if we follow the Orthodox example and ordain married men, bishops still will be selected from among celibate priests only. We will not have married bishops, cardinals or popes and the regular clergy (Jesuits, etc) will still remain celibate. This needs to be mentioned because I think it sits in the minds of some leftist Catholics (not yours) that a married clergy would be more “open” on divorce, birth control and abortion.
      You might also wish to consider the words of a late Episcopal priest who was a good friend of mind, who said one of the best reasons for a celibate clergy is that the wives of clergy get treated like unpaid labor by their congregations. (Actually, he used a word I can’t submit here!)

  2. I’m very glad that more men are studying to be Catholic Priests. What would we do without them – for the Sacraments? We should pray for all of them.
    However, I hope that all seminaries in the USA use the “Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition” as one of the required texts of study. After ordination, the CCC must be passed on to their flocks. They can not pass on what they have not read.

    QUOTE: “ Certainly, he added, “we can know Jesus in the Catechism,” for, “the Catechism teaches us many things about Jesus.”
    He said, “we have to study it, we have to learn it.”
    Thus, “We know the Son of God, who came to save us, we understand the beauty of the history of salvation, of the love of the Father, studying the Catechism.”
    Nevertheless, he asked, how many people have read the Catechism of the Catholic Church since it was published over 20 years ago? “ UNQUOTE – Pope Francis 9/26/13.

    Many Catholics have NEVER been encouraged to read the CCC, and some in the USA have never even heard of the CCC due to the lack of teaching of many Bishops and Priests.
    For more info on the CCC, and quotes from our last 3 Popes, please go to:
    “What Catholics REALLY Believe SOURCE”.

  3. Are there any nation- wide independent statistics of the ordination rate? What percentage of men entering seminaries are ordained? Is that rate steady, rising or what? Are the results uniform across all seminaries? Or some up, some down?

    A bean counter is curious.

  4. Maryanne Leonard says:

    The priesthood must be both the most difficult and the most rewarding endeavor on earth, judging from the priests I have known, a few as personal friends. It has been made all the more difficult by the few who have chosen to abuse the office, which is true also for many other more worldly professions including everyone from doctors, accountants, teachers, real estate agents and babysitters as well, due to abuses that have been brought to light. However, while the practitioners may feel more hamstrung than in previous times, ultimately the world is better served by stricter codes of conduct. The bad practitioners are being removed, and the various professions and endeavors that are affected are ultimately proving to be more respected.

    I have every expectation that that will continue to be the case with priests, and the continuing influx of new seminarians is a joy and a relief to us all. Bearing in mind that the course of study these seminarians have undertaken is rigorous to say the least, and the demands of the vocation are beyond my ability to grasp. So much is asked of our priests, and so much is given, and so often their pearls of wisdom are lost or even wasted, it must be hard to keep up one’s strength to help the next person in need of guidance, support or redirection.

    Therefore, I strongly urge my fellow Catholics to go out of your way to make yourself useful in supporting your local seminary and seminarians….

  5. It’s a good sign that maybe we’ve bottomed out in terms of the falling numbers of priests. The larger growth rate for US and Europe is still down, but this recent data might be a tipping point.

    No one should be ordained in the Church until they are 30. Get all the whistleberries out of your system and spend time at the parish and diocesan level getting ready. Six years is way too long to isolated in the seminary. Allowing for married priests would stem the tide of declining numbers and make priests far more empathetic in dealing with the laity.

    Anyway, here’s some positive news…

  6. Kenneth M. Fisher says:

    As usual the libs on this site always bring up a married priesthood. It is a broken record with them!

    May God have mercy on an amoral America!
    Viva Cristo Rey!
    God bless, yours in Their Hearts,
    Kenneth M. Fisher

    • Anton L Seidl says:

      Mr. Ken Fisher: I am as far from a lib as one can humanly get, but the recent admission of married Anglican priests seems to have changed the equation. Frankly, I would prefer a married priest to a child molester. Before we rejoice over the recent spike in vocations, let us not forget that there may well be the next crop of pedophile monsters among them. This would be worse than not having enough vocations. We have not yet recovered from all the damage inflicted on Holy Mother Church by the insane policies of the post-V2 era.

      • Stephen Joto says:

        True…child molester priest’s are beyond evil…I want a chaste, celibate clergy…comprised of heterosexual men, who are a credit to the ministerial priesthood and masculinity…get my drift?

    • Kenneth, I do NOT wish for a married priesthood, because (1) I hate change, and (2) I think it would put even MORE stain on our priests — and of course their wives and children, who would be under the microscope, poor dears.
      However, it is important to be honest about Scripture (which talks about bishops being married, good husbands, not drunkards, able to control their children), and about history — for example, Pope Hildebrand who was the first to truly and energetically attempt to enforce priestly celibacy.
      “This battle for the foundation of papal omnipotence within the church is connected with his [Pope Gregory VII’s) championship of compulsory celibacy among the clergy and his attack on simony. Gregory VII did not introduce the celibacy of the priesthood into the church, for even in antiquity it was enjoined by numerous laws. He was not even the first pope to renew the injunction in the 11th century, for legislation on the question begins as early as in the reign of Leo IX. But he took up the struggle with greater energy and persistence than his predecessors. In 1074 he published an encyclical, requiring all to renounce their obedience to those bishops who showed indulgence to their clergy in the matter of celibacy. In the following year he commanded the laity to accept no official ministrations from married priests and to rise against all such. He further deprived these clerics of their revenues. Wherever these enactments were proclaimed they encountered tenacious opposition, and violent scenes were not infrequent, as the custom of marriage was widely diffused throughout the contemporary priesthood.”

      • Sorry — I meant to say that marriage would put more STRAIN on our priests.

      • Anton L Seidl says:

        Suzanne: Your grasp of church history is commendable. Pope Hildebrand represents a watershed in the history of the relationship between church and state. In the view of many he was a revolutionary who did much harm by his intransigence vis-à-vis the established order. The Catholic Church was never the same again. Priestly celibacy was but one aspect of his power grab; the political ramifications would be felt for years to come. In some ways, he represented Rome as the supreme authority of the secular powers, particularly the Holy Roman emperors, many of whom became the papacy’s bitter enemies.

  7. God bless these men, and we need to pray for them and all priests.

  8. Stephen Joto says:

    Hopefully this rise isn’t a new batch of “lavender lads”…we don’t need this scourge anymore, we don’t want this scandal…we only want them OUT of the seminaries for GOOD!

    • Oh, calm down, Stephen, and don’t jump to the conclusion that these young men are after your body.
      For goodness’ sake, can’t we even take a bit of good news — more seminarians — and simply enjoy it, rather than attacking people who want to give their lives to Christ and His Church?

      • Stephen Joto says:

        I am calm…I speak from past experience, and it wasn’t 30-40 years ago…yeah, I do hope thing’s change, and for the better, would I have seen, doesn’t seem that much different from years past…10-20 years from now, we can look back and find out how many young men were assaulted by this batch of seminarian’s…I hope your right, I surely do…sadly, religious communities are still teeming with homosexual’s and I have no doubt the seminaries re as well…

  9. Stephen Joto says:

    heterosexual clergy were never the problem…only a handful faltered, and when they did it was with a WOMAN!…not a 14 year old boy they were orally copulating and worse!…the priests who committed these vile acts were flaming homosexual’s who couldn’t wait for ordination, so they could slither around parish’s, seeking young men to defile and children to sexually assault…this was the “horror show” that Cdl Mahony and his minion’s produced and promoted for decades…the Church is still reeling, financially and spiritually from this ignominious “scene”, that Mahony devised and crafted, with the help of other modernist’s and heretics…

  10. This is good news. Should we not be happy about the increase in vocations? I am! We need more good men to take up the mantel. I am concerned, however, that the seminaries are not changing the way they form priest. The old adage that you can’t do the same thing over and over and over and over again and expect a different result may be at work. The world has changed in significant ways in the last twenty years, but the formation of priests hasn’t changed much if any. If a person has a college degree, has had some work experience, had a few girl friends and wants to be a priest, why should it take more than a couple of years to be ordained? Ok, three years? The important thing, however is to train them to bring the gospel to the people in a modern way, to know how to lead small groups, to know how to use the laity to do lay work of the parish (not the sacramental), how to counsel people, etc. Many of these didn’t have to be taught in decades past. How about two years in seminary, then two years in parish work before the last year in the sem. There have to be new models for teaching and forming priests for the new and changing world in which we live. The dogma stays the same, but the delivery has to change.

  11. Stephen Joto says:

    I hope and pray that things have begun to change…it doesn’t happen overnight in the seminaries…when a young man acts gay, talks gay, and walks gay…guess what?…he’s gay…it doesn’t take a rocket scientist from cal-tech, to make this determination…take a trip up to the seminary in Camarillo…and talk to the seminarian’s…if they swish about flamboyantly and start talking modernism and liberal mumbo-jumbo, you will realize that these seminaries are only slightly better than in he past…my experience in religious life was deplorable, and I was surrounded by homosexual’s, a couple of whom hit on me…as did a sister from japan…it’s a minor miracle I didn’t lose my faith or end up on prozac, or elavil…or in a rubber room…it was beyond shocking…and I’m being charitable…if you only knew my friends

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