Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

Essential thinking for reading Catholics.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Great news, if you know where to look.

One of the tenets by which I live my life is to be faithful to that which produces results, and never be a slave to process. Hold that thought as you read this.

I'll be a pal and reproduce the relevant bit here with my emphasis. (No comments necessary.) After you read them, let's see if you can answer a question at the end of this entry.

Special Report -- Priestly Vocations in America: Recent Trends

A survey of dioceses rich in seminarians and dioceses poor in them.

by Jeff Ziegler December 2007

According to the Vatican's statistical yearbook, there were 63,882 major seminarians worldwide when John Paul II began his pontificate in 1978; by the end of 2005, that number had grown to 114,439—an increase of 79.1 percent. During the same time period, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, the number of American diocesan and religious seminarians in college and theological seminaries decreased from 9,021 to 4,603—a decline of 49.0 percent.

While priestly vocations have collapsed nationwide, several American dioceses have been part of the worldwide surge in the number of seminarians. "Over the past three years," says Father Darrin Connall, rector of Bishop White Seminary at Gonzaga University and director of seminarians for the Diocese of Spokane, "we have increased the number of active priests in our diocese by almost 20 percent. This has permitted the bishop to assign parochial vicars to parishes that haven't had one in several years…We have also been able to free up priests for prison ministry, full-time hospital ministry, and to place a priest in our diocesan high school as a chaplain and teacher—the first time this has happened in decades."


Returning to the list of top 10 dioceses is the South Dakota diocese of Rapid City, which ranked first in the nation in 2003. Bishop Blase Cupich says to CWR, "I think there are three things that have contributed to our success, although I have to admit we would surely like even greater numbers. God's grace: We can never forget that it is the Lord who calls and we have to pray…Strong families: We have the support of parents and we tend to have larger families. [And] all of the priests are involved in recruiting and supporting seminarians. I refer to this as 'enlightened self-interest'—not only from the perspective of knowing that they will have collaborators for the future, but also from the standpoint that seminarians bolster priests' morale today with their vibrancy and enthusiasm."

New additions to the top 10 in 2006 are the Diocese of Peoria, the Archdiocese of Denver, and the Diocese of Lexington ( Kentucky). Father Brian K. Brownsey, Peoria's vocation director, believes "our success is due much to the culture of vocations, which started with my predecessors and which I am trying to spread. Especially in our high schools and Newman centers we work at putting down the lie of 'careerism' and try to instill in our young people the notion that every person has a specific call from God." In addition, "every high school in the diocese is assigned a full-time priest chaplain, and our college Newman centers are staffed by priests as well. The high schools and Newman centers offer regular times of Eucharistic adoration at which students are encouraged to sit and pray before the Blessed Sacrament to come to know and embrace their vocation. Furthermore, one third of our presbyterate has been ordained for 10 years or less. These young priests give powerful witness to that message of the culture of vocations." Peoria Bishop Daniel Jenky, C.S.C., concurs: his assistant, Sister Trish Clark, says, "The bishop attributes our vocations to the grace of God, a zealous diocese, great priests, eight Catholic Newman centers, priests at all seven of our diocesan Catholic high schools, and prayer."


For his part, Archbishop Chaput traces Denver's success to World Youth Day 1993 and to the vision of his predecessor, Cardinal James Francis Stafford. Moreover, Archbishop Chaput tells CWR, "I think we have a strong presbyterate that attracts good men. I also believe our two seminaries are among the very best in the country, with a great faculty and sound formation team. And I think the people in archdiocesan leadership here are solidly and unapologetically Catholic. Young men who hear God's voice in their lives want to be part of that—especially when they see the zeal, maturity, and enthusiasm of the seminarians who are already studying here. I'm also impressed with the number of people in the archdiocese who are praying for vocations to the diaconate, priesthood and religious life. Many of our parishes have perpetual adoration, which brings special graces to the archdiocese."


Commenting on the Archdiocese of Mobile's success in attracting seminarians, vocation director Father Anthony Valladares says, "This is God's work. He inspires; we receive… [Archbishop Lipscomb] is very accessible to discuss with prospective seminarians a call to the priesthood. This personal touch is vital to the discernment process and continues throughout the formation process." In addition, Father Valledares attributes the archdiocese's success to its campus ministry programs: "All but four of our seminarians," he says, "have had direct contact with campus ministry programs, which have helped them grow in their faith." He adds, "The people in the archdiocese sincerely pray for vocations. It makes a difference."


Father Michael Dolan, who was appointed the Archdiocese of Hartford's new vocation director in August [...] sees grounds for hope in "the John Paul II generation, with their great devotion to the Blessed Mother and the Eucharist."


San Antonio Archbishop Jose Gomez, who served as Auxiliary Bishop of Denver from 2001 to 2005, says that "after my experience in Denver, I think that the involvement of the bishop makes a difference. I live on the grounds of Assumption Seminary and I celebrate Mass with [the seminarians] at least once a month. I'm as available to them as is possible, together with the formation faculty of the seminary. Of course, I pray for them, and I ask people everywhere in the archdiocese to pray for vocations. Every Sunday at the cathedral after Mass, we sing the Salve Regina, praying for vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life…I think that confidence in the formation programs and better information about what's happening in the seminaries makes a big difference. When the seminarians feel that their vocation is respected and supported and the formation and theological program are solid, they are more likely to respond to the call and stay in formation. In turn, they are your best advertisement to other prospective seminarians."


Speaking to CWR on condition of anonymity, the bishop of one of the 20 dioceses whose rankings declined most steeply attributes his diocese's decline to increased vigilance over the doctrinal fidelity and moral suitability of seminarians.


No diocese suffered a steeper plunge in the ratio of Catholics to seminarians between 2003 and 2006 than did the Texas diocese of Lubbock. Four diocesan officials did not respond to invitations to offer comments for the article; two prominent local laity, however, did.


Dr. Kellie Flood-Shaffer, residency program director in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, is associate department chairperson, a board member, and an officer of the Texas Perinatal Association, and a member of the Catholic Medical Association. She says, "Clearly, the sexual abuse of children scandal has caused a drop in vocations, here as elsewhere. But unique to Lubbock, in my opinion, are these things: I do not hear regular encouragement from the pulpit for the faithful to pray for vocations, I am not aware that there is any regular discussion with our young sons and daughters to consider a religious vocation (by either the priests, nuns, or parents in our community), and I have not seen a single novice or seminarian visit any of the parishes to talk to the youth or work in the parish since I moved to Lubbock in 2001…I believe that in order for the Lubbock diocese to increase vocations, the leadership of the diocese must be more vocal and visible to the youth of the diocese. There is only one Catholic school here in Lubbock, which all of my children have attended—but again, they got little to no encouragement to consider religious life."

On the other hand, the dozen dioceses whose rankings rose the most steeply between 2003 and 2006 were Juneau, Shreveport, Madison, Paterson, Pueblo, Saginaw, Memphis, Crookston, Colorado Springs, Covington, St. Paul-Minneapolis, Kansas City-St. Joseph, and Toledo. In several cases, the increase in the number of seminarians coincided with the arrival of a new bishop: Bishop Robert Morlino in Madison, Bishop Arthur Serratelli in Paterson, Bishop Robert Carlson in Saginaw, Bishop Michael Sheridan in Colorado Springs, Bishop Roger Foys in Covington, Bishop Robert Finn in Kansas City-St. Joseph, and Bishop Leonard Blair in Toledo.

Discussing the various reasons for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph's increased success, Keith Jiron, director of the office of vocations, says that Bishop Finn "at the outset of his episcopacy made vocations a super-priority." Sister Connie Boulch, director of the diocese's office of consecrated life, gives credit to "the bishop's constant preaching on the need for vocations at every event and his upfront, face-to-face challenges to young people concerning priesthood and consecrated life. The bishop has entrusted our diocese and its needs of all kinds, but especially the need for good holy priests, to Mary, the patroness of our diocese. He also keeps in contact with the seminarians, is present to them, and enjoys being with them at prayer and socially. Being strongly up-front about fidelity to Church teachings even when they are not popular has clarified what the Church is and who her priests need to be."

Similarly, Msgr. James Bartylla, vocations director for the Diocese of Madison, describes Bishop Morlino as "an orthodox bishop" who "is particularly adept at fostering and promoting vocations and supporting our seminarians. Our seminarians are thrilled that he will vocally stand up for the natural law and Catholic doctrine, even when it isn't easy."

Msgr. Bartylla calls Eucharistic adoration the "number one reason" for the increase.

Echoing the comments of other bishops and vocation directors, Paterson's Bishop Serratelli tells CWR, "God has been good to us. In the last three years, we have earnestly begged him for an increase of vocations. We instituted a pastoral initiative in all the parishes on all vocations, with a special emphasis on priesthood and the consecrated life…We have encouraged prayer by everyone, especially prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Where Jesus is loved and adored in the Eucharist, vocations follow."

Paterson 's vocations director, Father Tom Fallone, adds: "It seems that a lot of the men entering seminary formation are operating out of a great love of Jesus Christ. And in any vocation, that has to be the main motivation…For a long time it seemed that the idea of priesthood became diluted, amalgamated with other forms of ministry. But in recent times, it seems to be a good thing that guys are being invited to consider the priesthood as a totally unique way of loving God and man: a way in persona ChristiThe numbers of seminarians increase because men will give their lives for an exclamation point but not a question mark."

The question:

"Anything, y'know, peculiar strike you about what the dioceses with the most success have in common?"

(Read the whole thing.)


P.S. Incidentally, Bp. Finn is one of the GREAT Bishops in the USA. If we had a few dozen more like him, half our troubles would evaporate overnight.


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