WASHINGTON (August 6, 2004) -– The ordination class of 2004 reflects a trend toward older, more educated and more foreign-born men entering the priesthood in the United States.
Sociologist Dean R. Hoge, PhD., of the Catholic University of America Life Cycle Institute, identified the trend in his Report on Survey of 2004 Priestly Ordinations.
Hoge, who has examined data related to ordinations for several years, found "three changes in the ordinands since the research began in 1998."
"First, the average age at ordination rose from 34.8 to 37.0," he said. "Second, the level of education prior to entering seminary rose. Whereas in 1998, 30 percent had less than a B.A. or B.S. degree, in the 2004 sample it was only 22 percent. Correspondingly, those who had received a master's degree or professional degree beyond the B.A. rose from 13 to 28. This is a notable change in only six years. Third, the percentage born outside the U.S. rose from 24 to 31 percent. The four principal countries of birth today (outside the United States) are Vietnam, Mexico, Philippines, and Poland."
The study also noted that involvement in parish ministries, primarily as altar servers, lectors, and Eucharistic ministers, preceded seminary for the vast majority of men.
There were 126 dioceses and 32 religious orders that provided 336 respondents to the survey by March 31. The survey contacted 194 dioceses and 59 religious orders of men.
The largest numbers of ordinations were in the Archdioceses of Chicago and Newark, which each ordained 14 men. The Archdiocese of New York ordained 13.The archdioceses are the third, ninth and second largest dioceses in the nation, respectively.
Some smaller archdioceses and dioceses marked a significant increase in numbers ordained. The Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania, ordained five men. They range in age from 29 to 54.
The Diocese of Columbus, Ohio, ordained six, the largest group in 20 years. The Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island, ordained seven, its largest number in ten years.
The Diocese of Buffalo, New York, ordained five men. The Archdiocese of Cincinnati ordained eight, the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois, the Diocese of Orlando, Florida, and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis ordained six each; the Diocese of Venice, Florida, four, and the Archdiocese of Washington, eight, one less than last year.
The Newark Archdiocese exemplifies the increasing number of seminarians from other countries. Of the 14 men ordained for the diocese, 11 were born outside the United States, three in Poland, two in Africa, and one each in Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Nicaragua, the Philippines and Singapore.
Over 50 percent of the seminarians attended Catholic schools and about 46 percent of the ordinands attended Catholic colleges. These percentages are much higher than the percentage of Catholics overall who attend Catholic schools and colleges.
State college graduates also are among the ordinands. In the Diocese of Austin, for example, two of this year's class, Brian Eilers and Patrick Ebner, are Aggies, alumni of Texas A&M University. There are about 50 Aggies currently in formation for the priesthood or religious life.
Some in the ordination class grew up in other churches. Robert Conway, a businessman from the Diocese of Charlotte and a widower, was first a Quaker, then raised as a Methodist. After converting to Catholicism he was drawn to the priesthood as he saw his wife's parish community rally round her as she died of multiple sclerosis. Conway was one of three men from the Charlotte Diocese in this year's ordination class. In the Washington Archdiocese, Carter Griffin, one of eight men to be ordained, grew up Protestant and converted to Catholicism in college. He is a former naval officer and served in the Persian Gulf. Timothy Pfander, of the Diocese of Birmingham, Alabama, grew up without a formal religion and then became a Lutheran before converting to Catholicism.
Two are twins: John Silva of the diocese of Evansville, Indiana, and Kyle Schnippel of the Cincinnati Archdiocese.
Three percent of the class is over 60 years old. Among them are two from the Diocese of St. Augustine, Joseph McDonnell and Richard Perko, both 62. Father McDonnell is an attorney; and Father Perko, a funeral director and embalmer. Patrick Forsythe, also over 60, was ordained for the Birmingham Diocese. He studied for the priesthood after 40 years in medicine.
Hoge noted that 12 percent of the class is Hispanic and 12 percent Asian or Pacific Islander, a figure higher than in recent years. He noted that a 1984 study of Catholic seminarians found that seven percent were Hispanic. Still, he added, the figure is lower than the percentage of Hispanics in the U.S. Catholic population today, estimated at 25-30 percent. Among the Hispanic ordinands is Fidel Anda, one of seven men in the Archdiocese of Boston ordination class.
The 12 percent Asian or Pacific Islander rate is higher than the estimated two to three percent of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the U.S. Catholic population. They include Ramil Fajardo of Chicago Archdiocese, who was born in the Philippines, and Lan Ngo, from Vietnam, who is a member of the California Province of the Society of Jesus. Another religious order priest from the Pacific region is Miguel Marie Soeherman, from Indonesia, a member of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word. Still another, John Le, became a priest in the Society of the Divine Word. He escaped from Vietnam with two aunts when he was 15, and spent seven days on the sea without food.
Only one percent of the class is African-American, including Andre Bain and Saint Charles Borno of the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York. African Americans are estimated to comprise two to three percent of Catholics in the United States.
Some in the class belonged to a religious order before studying for the priesthood. Christopher Isinta, of the Newark Archdiocese, is a former Brother of St. Charles Lwanga and was superior of the community for two terms. Robert Fulton, of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, was for eight years a Missionary Brother of Charity. Hilary Rodgers, of the Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware, was a religious brother for 35 years.
While the mean age for the ordinands is increasing, 49 percent were under 35, and 22 percent under 30. Eric Augenstein, of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Nicholas March of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, Iowa, and David Young of the Columbus Diocese, are 26. Jeffrey Lorig, of the Archdiocese of Omaha, is 27. Peter Williams of the St. Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocese is 28.
The ordinands reveal a variety of professional backgrounds. Responding to a question about their full-time work experience, 20 percent cited the field of education. Among them is Ronald Richards of the Archdiocese of Detroit, who taught physics and math and coached swimming. Seven percent were in church ministry, including Christopher Mahar of the Providence Diocese, who was the diocese's young adult ministry coordinator. Nine percent cited engineering and computer programming fields, including Michael DeAscanis, one of three ordinands in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. He holds a master's degree in civil engineering.
Seven percent were in the military, including Paul Butler of the Diocese of Albany, New York, who was a U.S. Navy submariner; Robert Reagan, of the Orlando Diocese, who was a judge advocate; and Paul Schloemer, a Franciscan friar who was a U.S. Navy officer. Gerald Johnson, of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico, was a navy pilot and rancher.
Four percent were in law, including Rafael Rodriguez, of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, and Michael Donovan, of the Newark Archdiocese. Thomas Mescall, of the Chicago Archdiocese, was both an attorney and judge. Joseph McDonnell, of the Diocese of St. Augustine, prosecuted people accused of violent crimes. William Cocco of Wilmington was a police detective in Ocean City, Maryland. Another detective from Ocean City became a Wilmington diocesan priest last year.
Brian Sanderfoot, of the Washington Archdiocese, was a legislative assistant in the U.S. Congress. Patrick Madden, of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, is a former trade union leader and social activist. He decided to become a priest after his wife's death
Some of the seminarians are from the Neocatechumenal Way, a spiritual renewal movement which began in Spain in 1964, and has three seminaries in the United States – in Newark, Washington and Denver. Yuvan Arbey Alvarez, ordained in the Newark Archdiocese, for example, attended the Neocatechumal Redemptoris Mater Seminary there. He is a Colombian native and youngest of 20 children. Another is his classmate Manoel Oliveira, from Brazil.
Bishop Blase Cupich, Interim Chair of the Bishops' Committee on Vocations, states: "The Church, with both joy and gratitude, celebrates the ordinations of these men for priestly service. These men… reflect the richness of the Church in our Country. They are faithful, dedicated and committed men."