center on vocations crisis
Who will form the next generation of priests is a growing concern for the men currently serving as priests of the Diocese of Rochester.
This question occupied participants at the annual diocesan convocation of priests and pastoral administrators, held April 19-21 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Rochester. Carol Dady, newly appointed coordinator of the diocesan vocations awareness team, said she plans to use ideas gathered in convocation discussions in her efforts to raise awareness of vocations to priesthood.
Concerns about priestly vocations are growing as the effects of the priest shortage become more and more apparent in the diocese, according to Father Timothy Horan, diocesan director of priestly vocation awareness.
“It’s reaching the kitchen table when Masses get canceled and parishes are closing and people have to travel to experience a faith community,” Father Horan said.
Statistical projections listed on the diocese’s Web site note that “the number of active diocesan priests available to serve the faithful will diminish from the current level of nearly 140 to 62 by the year 2025 a decline of 60%.” Meanwhile, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, the number of diocesan priests nationwide has dropped from almost 36,000 in 1965 to a little more than 29,000 today.
Father Horan said priests and pastoral administrators prepared for the convocation sessions by holding discussions in Auburn, Elmira and Rochester about two questions: What are the forces in the diocese that frustrate the priestly vocation in young men? and What forces are in place in the diocese that would encourage men to answer the call to the priesthood? The regional discussions surfaced the following items as some of the forces obstructing vocations:
-A fear among young people of commitment to anything permanent including marriage and the priesthood;
-The fact that many Catholic parents do not encourage their sons to become priests;
-The image of priests as overworked and stressed; and
– The absence of priests in the daily lives of young people.
The regional discussion sessions also examined what the diocese could do better to encourage vocations, and what strengths it already has to recruit potential priests. The groups suggested:
– Posting priests to all area college chaplaincies;
– Taking men considering the priesthood on a summer mission;
-Placing stories and pictures of priests on the diocesan Web site; and
-Encouraging parishes to identify and invite potential candidates to consider the priesthood.
During the convocation, priests talked about their vocation, examining both good and bad aspects, Father Horan said. For example, many priests in the Rochester Diocese and nationwide- have high levels of job satisfaction, he said, noting that he enjoys celebrating Mass, preaching and being a meaningful part of his parishioners’ lives. On the other hand, Father Horan and other priests said some priests feel overburdened and stressed out by having to shepherd more than one parish, especially as more and more parishes are combined through the diocesan pastoral-planning process. He added that although the public views mandatory celibacy as a major obstacle for men considering the priestly vocation, celibacy doesn’t seem to be a major issue for most priests after they are ordained.
“Once you’re ordained, that ship has sailed, and you hopefully have proceeded in freedom and are ready to avail yourself of the help that God will provide in this life,” he said.
Indeed, Father James E. Hewes, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church in Clyde and St. Patrick in Savannah, noted that Protestant denominations likewise are experiencing clergy shortages, even though their ministers are permitted to marry. He noted that the vocation of the priesthood is in trouble at the same time the vocation of marriage is in trouble.
“This reflects one of the cultural barriers to priesthood and marriage today for many people, which is the difficulty in making long-term commitments when that involves some sort of sacrifice,” he said.
Diocesan priests asked to offer solutions to the priest shortage suggested a number of measures, from asking parish councils to address the vocations issue to encouraging Catholics to pray for more vocations.
Father Patrick J. Van Durme, parochial vicar of St. Patrick’s and Blessed Trinity parishes, based in Owego, said families should ask their children to reflect on what God wants for them, no matter what the calling. Father Van Durme said that he entered seminary, left and then came back, and that men considering the priesthood must be left free to determine if they are being called.
“My parents did not always ask me what I was going to be,” he said. “They also asked me what God wanted me to do. -This is what got me to the seminary and what got me back after 10 years and many relationships.”
He added that it’s important for all Catholics to ask what God wants of them.
“If we are all doing what God wants from us, then by extension, we must be getting enough priests,” he said. “The biggest issue is that people are not listening enough to God.”