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Part Two of "Priestly Vocations in America" | Part
Some officials of vocation-poor dioceses attribute their track record
to the clerical abuse scandal. "Because of scandals in the diocese,
the priests have been hurt in spirit and have found it difficult to attract
men to the priesthood," says Santa Rosa vocation director Father
Thomas Diaz, whose diocese suffered a particularly sordid scandal involving
former Bishop G. Patrick Ziemann. "I can say that we have faced lower
numbers since the clergy abuse scandal, but that seems to be turning around,"
adds Father Manning of the Diocese of Paterson, whose $5-million settlement
with 26 men has exceeded that of any other New Jersey diocese in the past
three years. With rare exceptions, other dioceses particularly affected
by the clerical abuse scandal tend to be vocation-poor; these dioceses
include Lexington, Kentucky (24th), Cincinnati (77th), Portland, Oregon
(102nd), Palm Beach (103rd), Tucson (140th), Manchester, New Hampshire
(144th), Springfield, Massachusetts (145th), Louisville (150th), Milwaukee
(151st), Orange, California (154th), Boston (161st), and Los Angeles (163rd).
Vocation-rich Spokanes Father Carroll, whose diocese faces bankruptcy,
expresses similar concerns about the future:
The Diocese of Spokane accepted only one new
seminarian last year, which I attribute in large part to the negative
publicity surrounding the lawsuits and declaration of bankruptcy we
are facing. These are definitely dark days for our local Church. It
will be very interesting to see what the nationwide impact is going
to be on vocation recruiting. I suspect that, at least in the short
term, it is not going to be good.
Two vocation directors predict that the recent appointment of new bishops
to their dioceses may presage a local springtime for priestly vocations.
Recently appointed Brooklyn vocation director Father Kevin Sweeney says,
"Our previous Bishop (Thomas Daily) turned 75 and submitted his resignation
in the fall of 2002. Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio was named as bishop of Brooklyn
in the summer of 2003, but was not installed until October. Bishop DiMarzio
has truly made vocations a priority in the diocese, and I have seen many
hopeful signs over the past few months." Father Manning of the Diocese
of Paterson, whose previous ordinary (Bishop Frank Rodimer) retired last
year, concurs: "Our new bishop [Arthur Serratelli] is very vocal about
vocations and is proactive about inviting people to think about priesthood
and religious life. I think his direct approach has encouraged our priests,
and I expect to see numbers continue to grow."
Las Vegas vocation director Father Tony Vercellone observes that many "parents
are not supportive of their children entering the seminary or religious
life." One vocation director candidly admits that many local priests,
too, have not been supportive of new priestly vocations. San Bernardinos
Sister Shrewsbury recounts:
One reason I think we have had a challenge attracting
seminarians in the past is that most people (not all)that is,
priests, sisters and lay peoplestopped promoting vocations about
18-20 years ago for various reasons, as is true across the United States.
We have spent the last ten years trying to change attitudes among these
groups to begin and continue to plant the seeds of a vocation to priesthood,
religious life, and diaconate at a young age and to keep watering the
seeds that are planted. It seems that these efforts are beginning to
The Diocese of San Bernardino has recently experienced
dramatic growth in the number of seminarians; it now, according to Sister
Shrewsbury, has 26 diocesan seminarians, up from 11 in 2003 and 16 in
2004. (Sister Shrewsbury insists that these latter numbers, which were
published in The Official Catholic Directory,
are low; others in the diocese, she says, submitted inaccurate data to
the Directorys publisher.)
A few vocation-poor dioceses have adopted restrictive policies for accepting
seminarians from other geographical areas. San Diegos Father Spahr
says, "As a rule we do not accept men into our formation program
from other areas of the country unless they have lived in the diocese
for a period of five years prior to making application to our program."
"We do not take candidates from outside the US," reports Las
Vegass Father Vercellone. On the other hand, one quarter of Brooklyns
seminarians are foreign (from Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Poland, and
the Philippines), and one half of San Bernardinos seminarians are
foreign born, though they "lived in the diocese for several years
before going into the seminary," says Sister Shrewsbury.
Distinctive traits of local cultures can also play a role in a dioceses
failure to attract seminarians, notes Bishop Francis DiLorenzo, formerly
of Honolulu (1994-2004), now of Richmond (which ranks 118th). Bishop DiLorenzo
attributes Honolulus challenges to the emphasis that Asian and Pacific
Island cultures place upon marriage and family life, to the "social
and economic aspirations of Asian people for their children, which excludes
priesthood," and to the clash between "seminaries and their
predominantly European and Western culture" on the one hand and Asian
and Pacific Island cultures on the other.
Although these cultural traits may account for Hawaiis low number
of seminarians, some Pacific Island dioceses have proved to be fruitful
soil for priestly vocations. While Honolulus nearly 235,000 Catholics
had only one seminarian in 2004, the Archdiocese of Agana (Guam) had one
diocesan seminarian for every 8,214 Catholics. The Diocese of the Caroline
Islands, which comprises two nations that gained independence from the
US in the 1980s, has one seminarian for every 14,588 Catholics. American
Samoas Diocese of Samoa-Pago Pago is more vocation-rich than Lincoln:
it boasts an extraordinary ratio of one seminarian to every 1,819 Catholics.
Cultural and geographical factors do play a large part in the national vocation
picture. Every diocese in California, New England, and New York has a rate
of seminarians below the median, as does every diocese along the Mexican
border except for San Angelo. Every diocese along the western two-thirds
of the Canadian border (except for Seattle), on the other hand, has an above-average
vocation rate, as do all the dioceses of the Dakotas, Minnesota, Montana,
Idaho, and Wyoming. These factors transcend American political divisions:
while the pro-Bush "red states," in general, tend to be more vocation-rich
than the pro-Kerry blue states, some "red" dioceses are vocation-poor,
and the most pro-Kerry area in Minnesota is located in the Diocese of Duluth,
the states most vocation-rich diocese (16th).
Geographical and cultural factors alone, however, cannot account for
the wide disparities in the vocation rates of neighboring dioceses:
Shreveport, Louisiana, (120th) borders
Alexandria (8th), whose longtime ordinary (Bishop Sam Jacobs) was recently
transferred to vocation-poor Houma-Thibodaux (147th).
Yakima (2nd) adjoins Seattle (111th).
Denver (14th) borders Colorado Springs (108th) and Pueblo (114th).
Colorado Springs jumped from 156th to 108th in the year following the
appointment of Bishop Michael Sheridan, who issued a pastoral letter
on the obligation of Catholics to vote for pro-life candidates.
Wichita, Kansas, (6th) is next to Dodge City (164th).
Chicago (41st) borders Milwaukee (151st), and Chicago
and Peoria (19th) border Joliet (136th).
In Pennsylvania, Erie (53rd) borders Pittsburgh (143rd), and
Altoona-Johnstown (47th) borders Greensburg (160th), whose longtime
Bishop Anthony Bosco (1987-2004) retired recently.
Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, (17th), Lexington (24th),
and Charlotte, North Carolina, (27th) border Richmond (118th).
Lexington (24th), Nashville (36th), Knoxville (37th), and Covington
(49th) adjoin Louisville (150th).
While 71 dioceses experienced a decline in the number of seminarians between
2003 and 2004, only five dioceses lost ten or more seminarians, according
to statistics published in the 2003 and 2004 editions of The
Official Catholic Directory. Chicago lost 21 seminarians (and
now ranks 41st in the nation); St. Louis (now 93rd) lost 16. The number
of Newark (80th) seminarians declined by 11, while Baltimore (115th) and
Fargo (32nd) each lost ten.
Because Chicago (with 336 seminarians) and Newark (with 102) have more seminarians
than other dioceses in the nation, their declines are relatively insignificant.
Even after these declines, Chicago and Newark remain among the nations
most vocation-rich major urban archdioceses; Philadelphia, Detroit, Boston,
New York, and Los Angeles, for example, rank 142nd, 156th, 161st, 162nd,
and 163rd respectively.
Newarks decline in seminarians between 2003 and 2004 has proved to
be temporary. According to vocation director Father Brian Plate, Newark
has gained 14 seminarians since last year. Asked which factors have helped
make Newark more successful in attracting vocations than other major urban
archdioceses, Father Pate replied, "Newarks success to me seems
to be leadership, orthodoxy, and vocations as a priority. Weve been
blessed with two back-to-back strong, unabashed Catholic archbishops, for
whom vocations and priesthood are extremely important." Indeed, Cardinal
Theodore McCarrick, Newarks archbishop from 1986 to 2001, ordained
more men than any other bishop in the nation during that time period, according
to several articles; that track record of success has continued under Archbishop
The declines suffered by the Archdioceses of St. Louis and Balti-more and
the Diocese of Fargo are more statistically significant. In a single year,
Baltimore lost 27 percent of its seminarians, St. Louis lost 30 percent,
and Fargo lost over 45 percent. The decline in the number of seminarians
in all three of these dioceses cannot be explained by a change in bishop
or vocation director during 2003. (Subsequent to the 2004 statistics, Archbishop
Raymond Burke was installed in St. Louis, and former Fargo vocation director
Father Robert Smith, Jr. was replaced.)
In the 1990s, the Diocese of Fargo (under Bishop James Sullivan) was frequently
cited, along with Lincoln (under Bishop Bruskewitz), Peoria (under then-Bishop
John Myers), and Arlington (under the late Bishop John Keating), among Americans
leading powerhouses of priestly vocations. In 2001, the year Bishop Sullivan
(who suffers from Alzheimers disease) received a coadjutor, Fargo
had 42 seminarians and a ratio of one seminarian to 2,356 Catholicsa
rate higher than Lincolns is today. By 2003, the diocese had 22 seminarians;
the number fell to 12 in 2004, a 71 percent decline over three years. With
a ratio that now ranks 32nd in the nation, Fargo remains vocation-rich.
In 2001, Bishop Samuel Aquila, former seminary rector in the vocation-rich
Archdiocese of Denver, was named Fargo coadjutor bishop. Like Bishop Sullivan,
Bishop Aquila has boldly proclaimed Catholic teaching on controversial issues
of the day and has been praised for his leadership in confronting pro-abortion
politicians and mandating orthodox catechetical materials for parish programs.
A dramatic decline in the number of seminarians in reputed vocation powerhouses
is not unprecedented. After Archbishop Myerss 1986 appointment as
coadjutor bishop of Peoria, the number of Peoria seminarians surged to 64
in 1990. By 2000Archbishop Myerss last full year in Peoriathat
number had fallen to 33. At the time, then-vocation director Father Joseph
Donton attributed Peorias steep decline to "the increasing vocations
efforts in other dioceses," which reduced the need for non-Peoria natives
to seek ordination in Peoria. (The number of Peoria seminarians has risen
slightly under Archbishop Myerss successor, Bishop Daniel Jenky, CSC;
its ratio of Catholics to seminarians now stands at 19th in the nation.)
Likewise, the Diocese of Arlington had 42 seminarians in 1995. By 1998the
year Bishop John Keating diedthat number had fallen to 32, with a
ratio of one seminarian to 10,200 Catholics (a ratio that would rank 62nd
today). The number of Arlington seminarians has continued to fall under
Bishop Keatings successor, Bishop Paul Loverde, and now stands at
23, for a 107th-place ranking.
When Fargos current vocation director was asked which factors, in
his judgment, have contributed both to Fargos success in attracting
priestly vocations over the years and to the recent numerical decline, diocesan
director of communications Tanya Watterud replied on his behalf: "Neither
he nor I feel comfortable with him having to answer interview questions
about statistics from previous years." The following day, Msgr. Gregory
Schlesselmann, diocesan vicar general and rector of Cardinal Muench Seminary,
issued the following statement:
Given the many factors that affect a young mans
decision to pursue a priestly vocation, it is very difficult to identify
as a trend fluctuations that occur over a short period of time. The
action of the Holy Spirit cannot be reduced to statistical measurement.
Of the 69 dioceses that gained seminarians between 2003 and 2004, seven
gained six or more seminarians. New York gained ten (and now ranks 162nd);
Wheeling-Charleston (17th), Boise (29th), and St. Paul and Minneapolis (64th)
each gained seven; and Washington (63rd), Toledo (88th), and Cleveland (100th)
each gained six. In no case did the sudden increase in the number of seminarians
coincide with the appointment of a new vocation director; in only one instance
(Toledo) did it coincide with the appointment of a new bishop.
Not surprisingly, the factors that have contributed to the success of vocation-rich
dioceses have also proved to be a factor in dioceses whose numbers have
surged recently. Washington vocation director Father Robert Panke gives
primary credit to prayer; the archdiocese, he says, has mandated intercession
for vocations at every Mass and has recently founded a society dedicated
solely to praying for vocations. Toledo vocation director Father David Nuss
composed a prayer for vocations; 80,000 bookmarks on which the prayer is
written have been distributed.
Episcopal leadership and the cooperation of other priests have also played
an important part in the increase in vocations. "To say Cardinal McCarrick
is a strong promoter of vocations would be an understatement," says
Father Panke. "Everywhere he goes he speaks on the importance of opening
ones heart to the call to religious life." Toledos Father
I work especially closely with a group of roughly
40 priests. The message is clear: they are starting pitchers, and I
am now a closing pitcher! I can only work with the viable candidates
they send my way
Therefore, I have turned to priests who are men
of prayer, generous servants, faithful to their calling and happy and
who give real cause for men to consider priestly life and ministry.
Cleveland vocation director Father Robert Stec concurs: he credits Clevelands
rising number in part to the ministry of young priests, who "are more
engaged in vocations [work] than what we have seen in quite some time."
Along with these common factors, dioceses with rising numbers of seminarians
can also point to distinctive reasons for their success. Toledos rising
vocation rate is partly attributable to an expanded media presence and a
"discover the priesthood" campaign launched by recently appointed
Bishop Leonard Blair. Washington, like Denver and Newark, has established
a seminary for Neocatechumenal Way seminarians who will be ordained for
the archdiocese. Clevelands Father Stec believes his dioceses
rising numbers are the fruit of his strong emphasis on discussing the priesthood
with junior high and high school students.
The Boise model
The number of Hispanics in the US is expected to increase from 35.3 million
in 2000 to 80.2 million in 2040. As Latino culture increasingly influences
the Church in the United States, one diocese that has experienced a dramatic
surge in seminarians may prove to be a model for other dioceses.
The Diocese of Boise had 14 seminarians in 2003 and 21 seminarians in 2004
(for a ranking of 29th); it now has 29 seminarians, according to vocation
director Father Jairo Restrepo, who recounts the factors that have led to
his dioceses vocation surge:
"When Bishop Michael Driscoll came
to our diocese a few years ago, he demanded that all parishes have adoration
before the Holy Sacrament asking for vocations."
"Four years ago, we opened a house of discernment and formation
in Boise. In it live men who are considering priesthood but are not
ready for seminary formation, and men from other countries who need
English and an environment where they can continue growing in their
"The encouragement from our pastors has motivated men and
especially Hispanics to respond to the call."
"Two years ago, in the midst of the shortage of priests
in our diocese, the diocese was willing to sacrifice a priest from parish
ministry to take over full time the work of vocations."
"Having a bilingual vocation director has helped tremendously
to bridge and reach out to Hispanics."
Father Restrepo continues:
Something remarkable that is happening in our
diocese is the number of Hispanics that were living in Idaho already,
but working in the fields, and now are joining us. Most of them were
before in seminaries back in their countries of origin, but for economic
reasons had to leave school and come to the US looking for money to
help their families. Once here, they got connected with parishes and
after two to six years of working in the fields and of commitment in
their parishes, they have desired to continue with their education and
respond to the needs in Idaho
The Lord God is blessing us in Idaho,
and I do believe it is due to the prayers of Gods people before
the Holy Sacrament and a bishop who is open to the work of vocations.
Prayers before the Blessed Sacrament, a zealous vocation director who seeks
out Hispanic vocations "in the fields," priests who assist the
vocation director in recruiting seminarians, and "a bishop that is
open to the work of vocations"these may well be the most important
ingredients of the successful vocation programs of the future.
| Seminarians Preparing for Ordination by Diocese
Jeff Ziegler writes from Ellenboro, North Carolina.
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