Some members of the media have asked about the number and percentage of Hispanic seminarians being ordained in the United States, as well as efforts to recruit seminarians from the Hispanic community. This year’s ordination numbers came to us from Mary Gautier, Ph.D., senior research associate for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University. She reported that for the class of 2009, 12 percent of men being ordained to the priesthood listed Hispanic/Latino as their primary race or ethnicity. This breaks down to 13 percent among priests ordained in dioceses and 9 percent among priests from religious institutes.
She adds that “approximately 14 percent of seminarians in theology are Hispanic/Latino. Overall, the ethnic distribution of seminarians in theology is gradually becoming more diverse. In 1993, the first year CARA collected racial and ethnic data on seminarians, 11 percent were Hispanic/Latino.”
Jesuit Father Allan Deck, executive director of the Secretariat of Cultural Diversity at the USCCB, added that despite this movement of Hispanics into ministry in the United States, “it still doesn’t come close to the percentage of Latino Catholics which is in excess of 35 percent and moving up all the time.”
According to Father Deck, of the many seminaries in the U.S., the most Hispanic is Assumption Seminary in San Antonio (where most of the actual courses are taken at Oblate School of Theology).
He added that there are also many programs that set out to recruit Hispanics, noting, “One of the longest-standing programs is in the Archdiocese of Chicago where Hispanics are provided with a residence where they can live and study English and get the educational background necessary to succeed in the seminary. It is called Casa Jesús. Many Hispanic priests have gone on to the priesthood from here.”
Mary Gautier noted that one seminary program in Mexico City accepts only seminarians sent by U.S. and Canadian bishops.
“It is called the Seminario Hispano de Santa Maria de Guadalupe,” she said. “The seminary sees itself as helping to promote priestly vocations among Hispanics in the United States and Canada arising out of the need that exists for priests to minister to these groups of Catholics that are increasingly found in those countries.”
According to Father Deck, one of the most frustrating aspects of recruiting Hispanic seminarians is that “some good prospects come forward but lack legal immigration status. It becomes increasingly difficult if not impossible to gets visas and/or regularize these prospects,” he said. This is due in part to laws put in place after September 11, 2001, and it puts a strain on candidates born outside the United States. These candidates constitute the largest group of Hispanic seminarians.
“The other story is the rise of Hispanic permanent deacons,” Father Deck added. “Of the approximately 16,000, some 3,000 are Hispanic. They are pounding to get into programs. This is a much under-reported success story.”