Interview With Bishop Paul S. Loverde
Committee on Vocations
National Conference of Catholic Bishops
- What trends do you see among men becoming priests as we move into the Third Millennium?
- What do you think accounts for the trends?
- Do some dioceses do better than others in vocation recruitment? If so, give an example and suggest why the diocese's numbers are good?
- There seemed to be a low response rate to this survey from religious orders. Why is that?
- Why do you think the religious orders attracted so many African Americans and Catholic school graduates?
- Overall the percentage of graduates of Catholic elementary and secondary schools seems high given the lower percentage of Catholic youth in parochial schools today. What does this mean?
- One quarter of the graduates were born outside the United States. What does this say?
- With almost 25 percent of the class born in other countries, do you see the profile of the priesthood changing?
- More than 13 percent of the class are educated beyond bachelor's degrees. What does that suggest?
- Eight percent are over 50. Isn't that old for starting out as a priest?
- Do you think it is possible to increase the number of men becoming priests?
- The U.S. Bishops are in their last year of the three-year initiative, A Future Full of Hope, a strategy to increase vocations. Has it been successful?
A. Given the current situation, I predict that a similar or growing percentage of priests will enter the seminary at a later age and that there will be increasing cultural diversity reflected in candidates for the priesthood. I also detect a greater openness on the part of young men to consider a vocation to the priesthood, but that they need encouragement and support from their parents, priests and parishes.
A. Seminarians or priests do not develop in a vacuum, but in the society or culture in which they live, and these trends reflect the changing nature of contemporary society. Commitments are delayed by young people today and that trend does not appear to be reversing itself. Likewise, the face of the U.S. population in general and the U.S. Catholic population is changing to reflect a variety of ethnic and cultural groups, especially the growing Hispanic/Latino and Asian Pacific communities. The greater openness to vocations to the priesthood stems from the evident spiritual hungers of our young people and their desire to serve others.
A. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles will ordain 14 men. Of course it's the largest archdiocese in the United States, but it also has invested significant money and personnel into vocation recruitment. They have developed a variety of programs to educate, invite and support Catholics in discerning a vocation to the priesthood and consecrated life. A smaller diocese which has had consistent numbers of seminarians is La Crosse, Wisconsin, and they have made a commitment of personnel and resources to sustain a vibrant vocation ministry. At the same time, vocations are in the realm of faith and mystery; programs and personnel are not the final word because it is ultimately God's grace at work.
A. We used a list from the Conference of Major Superiors of Men and it includes many small groups of men who are not really active in the organization. In addition, we sent the surveys to superiors instead of directly to vocation directors so some questionnaires may still be on superiors' desks due to other responsibilities. The president of CMSM told us that a low response rate was not unusual.
A. Many of the orders teach in Catholic schools at various levels and maintain a strong presence in the inner cities. At least one religious community is founded to serve African Americans and other orders also focus their ministry on the African American community. I suspect that African American men considering a vocation to the priesthood might feel more welcome or better accepted in a religious community.
A. It verifies data we've seen that show Catholic school graduates are more likely than graduates of public schools to consider the priesthood. I think that it relates to Catholic identity, which will be stronger if one is in a Catholic environment five days a week. However, there are a significant number of graduates of public high schools who do pursue the priesthood. Obviously Catholic identity is formed not just by Catholic schools but by parishes, especially parishes with active youth groups.
A. It says we're benefitting from the overall emigration of people from Mexico, Latin America, Asia, Africa and other nations to the United States. Some of the class also may be men who came in contact with U.S. religious working in their native country.
A. I see it changing the way the profile of the American Catholic is changing, though not as quickly.
A. It shows a serious interest in service even before the men decided to become priests. Seventeen percent were educators, 10 percent in church work, four percent in social work and three percent in health care. These professions are people-oriented and attract persons who want to serve, care and nurture others. Often they find something still is missing in their lives, and come to realize that a call to priesthood enables them to minister to people in ways that ultimately make the difference.
A. It's older than we're used to, but society is changing. A couple years ago no one even heard of the concept of ageism, discrimination against someone because of his or her age. That shows a significant change in the reality and attitude in our country. We're an older society now and today it is not unusual for people to pursue dreams they've long had. People retire in their forties and fifties, young enough to pursue another career or vocation. Age no longer is such a barrier; as Jesus related in a parable, people are invited to labor in the vineyard at various hours of the day. At the same time, note that 26 percent are under 30 which underscores the importance of our high school and college seminaries. It remains vital that we plant the seed of a vocation at a young age, even in grade school, and provide priestly formation for young men when they discover that God may be calling them to be a priest.
A. Yes. Research shows than there are more young people thinking about religious vocations than there are young people being encouraged to do so. Parents, priests and men and women religious especially have to be more pro-active in encouraging vocations. Research also shows that young people involved in youth ministry and in other parish activities are more likely to pursue a religious vocation. We need to facilitate more youth involvement in parishes, especially involvement that brings youth into contact with priests.
A. It has been successful in highlighting vocations to the priesthood and religious life. It also has undertaken research on what influences vocations and that is helpful in guiding our future efforts. It also showed how important it is to have solid vocation recruitment offices in dioceses. The lesser number of men pursuing the priesthood, however, is a problem it will take more than three years to counter. Nonetheless, the awareness, enthusiasm, and increased collaboration which the National Strategy has engendered is very encouraging and augers much toward a "future full of hope."