By Fr. George Welzbacher
May 27, 2012
What with all the gloom and doom we've recently been treated to - with goveniment mandates that violate conscience, an economy in the doldrums, and recurrent bad news from the Middle East - it's nice for a change to hear some GOOD news. With respect to the Church it is welcome news indeed that the number of young men willing to listen to - and, yes, to heed - God's call to the priesthood is growing world-wide. Here in the U.S.A., despite the catastrophic damage sustained by the Church during the sixties, seventies and eighties owing to improvised and irreverent liturgies and widespread theological dissent, the national vocations trend in recent decades has turned decidedly upward both in terms of the strength of commitment shown by our seminarians and in the total numbers of those preparing for ordination. Our seminaries today for the most part are full, and our candidates for ordination show real promise.
In the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis the future is bright, though this May the number of ordinands to the priesthood is just three. I, however, am deeply impressed by the intelligence, the faith, and the dedication shown by these three candidates. After all, even one good priest can, as the channel of God's grace, bring great benefit to Christ's Church. And next year, God willing, should they all persevere, no fewer than ten young men, ordained this month as "transitional" deacons, will receive the powers of the priesthood for service to our archdiocese. I am personally acquainted with two of those scheduled for ordination to the priesthood in the class of 2013, and I can confidently predict that the Church will be greatly blessed through their priestly service.
In the meantime, pray for the three men ordained this very weekend as priests for our archdiocese, that their lives of service will yield an immense harvest of souls for our Divine Master. They are: Father Evan Koop, Father Ben Little and Father Nicholas Vanderbroecke. And keep praying for all of those currently enrolled in our seminaries as well as for those who soon may be seeking admission.
Finally, by way of offering a glimpse of the bigger picture transcending the boundaries of our own archdiocese, may I share with you an article from a recent issue of The Wall Street Journal.
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Wall Street Journal, April 13, 2012
Anne Hendershott and Christopher White
In his Holy Thursday homily at St. Peter's Basilica on April 5, Pope Benedict XVI DENOUNCED calls from SOME Catholics for optional celibacy among priests and for women's ordination. The pope said that "true renewal" comes only through the "joy of faith" and "radical obedience."
And renewal is coming. After the 2002 scandal involving sexual abuse by [a small percentage (3.5 to 4 %) of] the clergy, progressive Catholics were predicting the end of the celibate male priesthood in books like "Full Pews and Empty Altars" and "The Death of the Priesthood." Yet today the number of priestly ordinations is steadily INCREASING.
A new seminary is to be built near Charlotte, N.C., and the archdiocese of Washington, D.C. has expanded its facilities to accommodate the surge in priestly candidates. Boston's Sean Cardinal O'Malley recently told the National Catholic Register that when he arrived in 2003 to lead that archdiocese he was advised to CLOSE the seminary. NOW there are 70 men in Boston studying to be priests, and the seminary has had to turn away new candidates for lack of space.
According to the Vatican's Central Office of Church Statistics, there were more than 5,000 MORE Catholic priests world-wide in 2009 than there were in 1999. This is welcome news for a growing Catholic population that has suffered through a real shortage of priests.
The situation in the U.S. is still tenuous. The number of American Catholics has grown to 77.7 million, up from 50 million in 1980. But the priest-to-parishioner ratio has changed for the worse. In 1965, there was one priest for every 780 American parishioners. By 1985, there was one priest for every 900 Catholics, and by 2011 there was one for every 2,000. In dioceses where there are few ordinations, [dioceses with long-reigning ultra-left-liberal bishops] such as New York's Rochester and Albany, people know this shortage well.
Still, the future is encouraging. There were 467 new priestly ordinations in the U.S. last year, according to a survey by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, up from 442 a decade ago.
While some of the highest numbers of new priests are in the Catholic-majority cities of Newark, N.J., and Philadelphia, ordinations in Washington, D.C. (18 last year) and Chicago (26) are also booming. The biggest gains are not only traditional Catholic strongholds. In Lincoln, Neb., Catholics constitute only 16% of the population yet have some of the strongest numbers of ordinations. In 2011, there were 10 men ordained as priests in Lincoln.
What explains the trend? Nearly 20 years ago, Archbishop Elden Curtiss, then leader of the Omaha, Neb. Diocese, suggested when dioceses are unambiguous and allow a minimum of dissent about the male, celibate priesthood, more candidates answer the call to priesthood. Our preliminary research on the correlation of priestly ordinations reveals that the dioceses with the largest numbers of new priests are led by courageous bishops with faithful and inspirational vocations offices.
Leadership and adherence to Church doctrine certainly distinguish the bishop of Lincoln, the Most Rev. Fabian Bruskewitz. He made national news in 1996 when he stated that members of dissident Catholic groups including Call to Action and Catholics for Choice had automatically excommunicated themselves from the Church.
Francis Cardinal George, the longtime leader of the Chicago archdiocese, once gave a homily that startled the faithful by pronouncing LIBERAL Catholicism "an exhausted project ... parasitical on a substance that no longer exists." Declaring that Catholics are at a "turning point" in the life of the Church in this country, the cardinal concluded that the bishops must stand as a "reality check for the apostolic faith."
Such forthright defense of the faith and doctrine stands in clear contrast to the emphasis of an EARLIER generation of Catholic theologians and historians. Many boomer priests and scholars were shaped by what they believed was the "unfulfilled promise" of Vatican II to embrace modernity. Claiming that the only salvation for the Church would be to ordain women, remove the celibacy requirement and empower the laity, [liberal] theologians such as Paul Lakeland, a Fairfield University professor and former Jesuit priest, have demanded that much of the teaching authority of the bishops and priests he transferred to the laity.
This AGING generation of PROGRESSIVES continues to lobby Church leaders to CHANGE Catholic teachings on reproductive rights, same-sex marriage and women's ordination. But it is being replaced by YOUNGER men and women who are attracted to the Church because of the very TIMELESSNESS of its teachings.
They are attracted to the philosophy, the art, the literature and the theology that make Catholicism COUNTERcultural. They are drawn to the beauty of the liturgy [when enacted with reverence] and the Church's commitment to the dignity of the individual. They want to be contributors to that commitment- alongside faithful and courageous bishops who ask them to make sacrifices. It is time for Catholics to celebrate their arrival.
Ms. Hendershott is distinguished visiting professor at King's College in New York. Mr. White is the international director of operations with the World Youth Alliance. They are the co authors of the forthcoming "Beyond the Catholic Culture Wars " (Encounter Books).
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What is true today of candidates for the priesthood is true as well of young men and women presenting themselves as candidates for the consecrated religious life.
Study Finds New Religious Vocations are Younger, More Educated
catholicnewsagency. com, May 16, 2012
Washington D.C., Apr 11, 2012 / 04:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A recent study of men and women who professed perpetual vows in 2011 shows that new members of religious orders are younger and more educated than those in the past.
"We are encouraged by the report's findings that men and women are considering a vocation at a younger age," said Mercy Sister Mary Joanna Ruhland, associate director of the U.S. bishops' secretariat of vocations and consecrated life.
"As the Catholics recognize their responsibility to build a vocation culture in our parishes, schools and families, children and youth are being introduced to the various vocations in the Church," she said in an April 5 statement.
"This helps them respond to God's love and holy will generously and eagerly."
A recently-released study, conducted by Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, surveyed men and women religious who were incorporated into religious communities in 2011.
The survey, commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, found that the average age of women professing perpetual vows in 2011 was 39. This is four years younger than those from the previous year.
Men entering religious orders, who were included for the first time on the 2011 study, averaged 42 years in age.
In addition, respondents reported that they first thought about a religious vocation at a younger age than last year's class. On average, survey participants first considered a vocation to religious life when they were 19 years old, although half did so at age 17 or younger.
Those entering religious orders in 2011 were also highly educated. Almost 60 percent had earned at least a bachelor's degree, and 16 percent had earned a graduate degree as well.
Sixty-five percent of survey respondents identified themselves as white, while nineteen percent identified as Asian and nine percent identified as Hispanic. The U.S. bishops have recently commissioned a survey on Hispanic vocations, to determine why the group is under- represented.
Ninety-four percent of respondents said that they have been Catholic since birth, and almost 80 percent come from families in which both parents are Catholic. Almost half of those surveyed attended a Catholic elementary school, and nearly all said that they regularly participated in some kind of private prayer activity before entering their religious institute.
Members of the Class of 2011 come from a variety of backgrounds and have overcome various challenges to make their perpetual vows.
Sr. Emma Calvo, OP, said that she "felt the desire to belong totally to God" since she was eight years old, while Sr. Wanda Szymanko was engaged to be married when she "re-experienced the call to religious life."
Sr. Roseli Oliveira overcame the challenge of initially lacking the support of some her family members in her vocation, while Br. Damien Evangelista experienced a "crisis of faith" and stopped practicing his faith for several years in his mid-20s before finding his way back to Christ.
The newly-professed men and women will now use their diverse talents to serve God and his people in a variety of ways.
"Religious sisters, priests and brothers are treasured by the Church, and we support their sacred commitment to be poor, chaste and obedient in imitation of Christ and at His service," said Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis.
The archbishop, who chairs the U.S. bishops' Committee for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, explained that the religious help us "set our heart's goal not on this life, but on eternal life."
"In a world where human frailty is acutely felt, they remind us of God and they bring Christ's redemptive love to all they meet," he said.
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