Priest in Class of '98 Boast Varied School, Racial Backgrounds
WASHINGTON-Teachers, tradesmen, lawyers and laborers make up the ranks of men comprising the U.S. ordination class of 1998.
The group crosses the racial spectrum and includes Caucasians, Hispanics, Asians and African-Americans.
Sixty percent of the class of '98 are under 35 years of age and 55 percent earned at least a bachelor's degree before entering the seminary.
Almost 60 percent attended a Catholic elementary school, a figure much higher than the percentage of Catholic school attendees among their Catholic peers overall.
The class profile was culled through a February survey conducted by Dean R. Hoge, Ph.D., of the Life Cycle Center of The Catholic University of America for the U.S. Bishops' Committee on Vocations. Hoge surveyed 182 dioceses and 350 religious orders of men in February. All but one of the dioceses and 81 of the religious orders surveyed responded. There are 193 dioceses and archdioceses in the United States, but the survey was limited to the dioceses belonging to the National Conference of Diocesan Vocations Directors. The dioceses and religious orders that responded reported a total of 428 men to be ordained in 1998.
Most of the men will be ordained in May or June.
Bishop Paul Loverde of Ogdensburg, New York, chairman of the Vocations Committee, noted the variety of backgrounds.
"Diversity is a hallmark of the Catholic Church," he said. "We include people of every race and background. It's vital that vocations come from throughout the Church."
He was especially pleased with the increasing number of Hispanics and Asians.
"We're seeing the number of Asians and Hispanics increase in the Church in the United States so it is heartening to have an increase in vocations from their communities."
Bishop Loverde also noted the age span of the class, in which 34 percent are between 30 and 34 years of age, 26 percent under 30, and 80 percent are under 50.
"It's heartening to see that more than a quarter of the men are under 30," he said. "It suggests that in their formative years they considered all the states in life open to them. One challenge for the Church is to make sure youth in elementary and secondary schools know their options and seek God's will for them."
He also acknowledged the effect of contemporary society in which people make decisions later in life and pursue second and third careers.
"Many people make vocation decisions at a later age today than they did in the past," he said. "A few decades ago people entered into marriage or the priesthood in their twenties. Today many people put off lifetime commitments until their thirties or even later. Most of the men attained a higher level of education before entering the seminary than in the past. More than 70 percent attained a four-year college degree. Some even have professional degrees, for example in education, law or social work, before entering the seminary."
Bishop Loverde praised religious orders for attracting men of African descent to the priesthood and noted that nine percent of the men ordained for religious orders identified themselves as African American or of African descent.
Hoge compared percentages of ethnic groups in the ordination class with those in the Catholic Church in the United States overall.
He noted that "12 percent of the ordinands are Hispanic, a figure higher than in recent years." A 1984 national survey of seminarians found only seven per cent were Hispanic. He added, however, that the figure for Hispanic in the ordination class "is lower than the percent of Hispanic in the total U.S. catholic population today (variously estimated at 20 to 30 percent)."
Six percent of the Class of 98 are Asian or Pacific Islanders, a figure higher than the percent in the entire U.S. Catholic population, which is estimated at two to three percent, Hoge said.
The percentage of African Americans in the class, four percent, "is similar to the percentage of African American in the U.S. Catholic population," he said.
A variety of educational backgrounds marks the class. Many of the men are educators. Others have military experience. Kent Drotar, 37, of the Archdiocese of Denver, was a pilot in the U.S. Air Force.
Some were leaders in college activities. Paul Hudock, 30, of the Diocese of Wheeling, West Virginia, was senior class president at Shepherd College, in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Thomas P. Doyle, C. S.C., 31, who will be ordained as a member of the Indiana Province of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, was student body president at the University of Notre Dame.
Some have been preceded into the priesthood by relatives. Brian Lang, 38, a studio artist, for example, joins his brother, Father James Lang, as a priest in the Diocese of Syracuse.
Older men are approaching priesthood as a second career. Richard DeMolen, Ph.D., 59, of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada, and Anthony Gomez, 45, of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, are educators.
Albert J. Fornace, M.D., 78, of the Diocese of Orlando, Florida, was a cardiologist for 50 years. Francis Raffo, Jr., 54, of the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina, is a chemical engineer.
Two percent of the class are lawyers, including Thomas Bastian, 34, of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York.
Douglas R. Arcoleo, 33, also of the Rockville Centre Diocese, was a stage hand at NBC and worked for Saturday Night Live.
Some have dramatic stories. Hoa Xuan Nguyen, 35 of the Diocese of Forth Worth, Texas, survived being lost at sea for 30 days before being rescued by an American Navy ship after the fall of Saigon in 1975. Todd Mlsna, 30, of La Crosse, Wisconsin, is visually handicapped and legally blind yet successfully completed seminary studies.
David Bristow, 58, of the Forth Worth Diocese, was an Episcopal priest and a winner of two bronze stars and three purple hearts for service in the U.S. Navy.
Many of the class had extraordinary involvement in their parishes. John Torrez, 28, of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, worked in religious education and evangelization and assisted migrants in entering the Church.
Many entered right from college. David J. Lies, 28, of the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas, joined the seminary after completing his bachelor's degree in English.
Many had academic honors or other achievements. Thomas Kirchhoefer, 26, of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, was an eagle scout. DeMolen was a Fulbright scholar and winner of a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship. Gomez spent 25 years as a racer in national roller skating competition.
Almost a quarter of the men were born outside the United States. Doan The Pham, 38 and an electrical engineer, from the Los Angeles Archdiocese, is among the four percent of the class born in Vietnam. Akan Simon, 32, of the Diocese of Rockford, Illinois, is among the two percent from Africa. Another four percent were born in Mexico.