Some recent statistics paint an interesting picture of our new priests in America. CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) interviewed 339 of the 440 seminarians who are expected to be ordained in the United States this year. They are largely older men. Their average age is 37. Eleven are 65 or older. This pattern has been consistent for several years.
Among those who had the greatest influence on their decision to become a priest was their parish priest (78%) and even though they put off their decision most first considered a priestly vocation in their late teens. A large majority (72%) had been altar servers and most had been active in parish ministries. Nearly half (47%) had participated in a parish youth group, and close to two-thirds (60%) had been in parish religious education programs. College students were likely to have been involved with Catholic Campus Ministry programs (25%). More than two-fifths (42%) attended a Vocation Awareness Program.
The influence of family and home life is evident. Most are “cradle Catholics”, born into the faith. The majority come from families where both parents are Catholic (83%) and more than a third have a relative that is a priest or religious (37%). They are most likely to be the eldest child (38%) and least likely to be the youngest (28%). A small number were only children (4%).
Nearly a third (31%) were born outside the United States, The majority (60%) completed college before entering the seminary and one in five (20%) had a graduate degree. About half (49%) attended a Catholic elementary school, fewer (38%) attended Catholic high school and about the same number (39%) attended a Catholic college or university.
Before entering the seminary they are most likely to have been an educator (12%) and least likely to have been a policeman (less than 1%). The vast majority had served in the armed forces before seminary (83%), most in the Air Force (37%).
Spiritual practices included the rosary (67%), Eucharistic Adoration (65%), retreats (58%) and prayer group/Bible study (53%).
What these data tell us is that vocations are nurtured within a Catholic culture, beginning with the family, supported by the parish and enhanced by Catholic education.
Priests are made, not born.
What have you done to help make a priest lately?