CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) the major sociology group with regards to Catholic issues in the United States has some new data to share on seminarians. As someone who considered the priesthood at a young age and even well into college but didn’t go to the seminary, here are some interesting numbers that I’d like to comment on.

Issue #1: Age and Encouragement

“On average, the responding ordinands report that they were about 18 when they first
considered a vocation to the priesthood. Eight in ten (80 percent) were encouraged to
consider the priesthood by a priest. Close to half report that friends, parishioners, and
their mother also encouraged them to consider priesthood.”

So to the priests out there…ya gotta ask. I was asked often when I was young in a diocesan parish and asked most often by my pastor and by a deacon. I spent time at the diocesan seminary and it definitely made the priesthood seem “not weird.” However, it also seemed very heavy handed to me as if other priests were only concerned about me if I were a vocational candidate at times.

Issue #2: Influence of Media

• Relatively few ordinands say that TV, radio, billboards, or other vocational advertising
were instrumental in their discernment. Four in ten ordinands (42 percent) participated in
a “Come and See” weekend before entering the seminary. Three in four (76 percent)
report that they have seen the “Fishers of Men” DVD, published by the USCCB.
Diocesan ordinands are twice as likely as religious to have seen the DVD.

Say it with me now….Direct, personal, invitation. That’s what gets vocations. Jesus said (and I tend to agree!), I want YOU and YOU and YOU…come follow me. We need to do the same.

I’m more surprised that 24% hasn’t seen fishers of men because that has been plastered everywhere (almost to the point that it’s annoying). I’m not surprised as a media professional that vocational advertising doesn’t work. A billboard, magazine ad, etc. isn’t really what is going to sway people. However, something that the survey didn’t ask that I’d be curious about is the aspect of niche marketing. A good number of the seminarians were educators, leading me to believe that people in service instructional and communication/public speaking industries may be more apt to be interested in the priesthood. I mentioned to our Paulist Vocations Committee that a better vocational approach might be to target people in “service industries”: counselling, social work, etc and in the Paulist’s case the communications industry. In the Jesuit’s case they may need to target intellectuals who are looking at being college professors or educators in general as well as the service industries.

Diocesans may concentrate on Catholic School teachers and those same service industries. I think we’d be better off spending a majority of our time encouraging people who are thinking of this line of work who may not be awakened to a possible call in their life to religious life than to throw the blanket out to the masses. These jobs contain deeper callings to the type of life that priests often lead but priesthood is often not considered by people in these industries. Why? Probably because they don’t realize that the priesthood would enable these gifts and be similar to the life that they are already leading.

Here’s the crazy stuff:

Issue #3: Discouragement

Nearly half of responding ordinands (45 percent of diocesan ordinands and 53 percent of
religious ordinands) also said that they were discouraged from considering the priesthood by one
or more persons.
Very few responding ordinands said they had been discouraged from considering a
priestly vocation by clergy, teachers, or religious sisters or brothers. None reported being
discouraged by a youth minister. A few mentioned someone else who had discouraged them
from pursuing their vocation, including a girlfriend or former girlfriend, a co-worker, a more
distant relative, or non-Catholic friends.

This was totally my experience. Not by my parents but definitely by others. Celibacy was the main issue that they would cite. I was a weirdo if I was a priest, or gay, or a religious fanatic. For me, being married was something I longed for and that was something that I felt called to much more than being a priest–and I think that’s a major reason why I’m feeling the call to be a deacon–I was mistaking one call for another. I also had 2 deacons in my life as a young man who were very good to me. And deacons I have become friends with (Deacon Greg, most especially!) recently have been very encouraging as have priest-colleagues.

Although four in ten received encouragement from their mother to consider the
priesthood, ordinands are more likely to report that they received encouragement from
friends and parish contacts than from other family members. About three in ten received
encouragement from their father and about one in five were encouraged to consider the
priesthood by a grandparent or another relative.

No surprise here. Most seminarians are Gen-Xers (average age is 37) so their friends hold a huge place in their discernment. Parents are not necessarily to be trusted, but friends hold much greater weight. I expect this trend to change with millennials –would like to see a breakdown between the two generations to see if this holds up. I’m going to call CARA and see if they can run this for me.

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