May 7, 2010


Priests of the Class of 2010

Did you know that 11 men who will be ordained priests in the United States this year will be 65 or older?

That is one of the statistics that came out of a survey of the ordination class of 2010. The survey is taken annually by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), a Georgetown University-based research center.

The study was commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Some of the things about this year’s class might be surprising or some just an extension of what has been happening during recent years.

That statistic about ordinands over 65, for example, confirms the fact that men are continuing to be older when they are ordained than they used to be. The average age of this year’s class is 37, and the median age is 33. In the past, most of the men were 25 or 26 when they were ordained. What were once referred to as “late vocations” have become the norm.

It is expected that 440 men will be ordained across the nation this year. Of the 339 ordinands who responded to the CARA survey, 291 of them will be ordained for dioceses and 48 will be ordained for religious orders, such as the Benedictines, Franciscans or Jesuits.

Since the men are older, it is not surprising that 92 percent of them held full-time jobs before they entered the seminary. The interesting part is that most of those full-time jobs were in education of some type.

Sixty percent of the ordinands completed their college education before entering the seminary while 34 percent entered the seminary while in college. One in five, 20 percent, earned a graduate degree before entering the seminary.

One significant statistic is that, of those who had some college education before seminary, 66 percent attended Catholic colleges. For the entire Catholic population, only 7 percent of college students are in Catholic colleges.

Some of the findings in this year’s survey are similar to those of other years. For example, 80 percent of the men were encouraged to consider the priesthood by a priest. This has always been a strong factor in fostering religious vocations. Thirty-seven percent have a relative who is a priest or religious. On the other hand, half of the ordinands reported that someone discouraged them from considering the priesthood.

In this age of small families, a quarter of the ordinands, 24 percent, reported having five or more siblings, and 55 percent have more than two siblings. About two in five, 38 percent, are the oldest child in their family.

Most of them have been Catholics their entire lives, with only 10 percent being converts to Catholicism. Eighty percent said that both of their parents are Catholics. Half of them attended Catholic elementary school, and nearly 40 percent attended Catholic high school. Half to three-quarters of them served as an altar server, lector, extraordinary minister of holy Communion, or in another parish ministry before entering the seminary.

Commenting on this part of the survey, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, said, “One important trend evident in this study is the importance of lifelong formation and engagement in the Catholic faith.”

Since they were reared Catholics, it is not surprising that 67 percent reported that they prayed the rosary regularly, and 65 percent participated in Eucharistic adoration before entering the seminary.

As for race or ethnicity, 70 percent are Caucasian/European American/white. Only 13 percent are Hispanic/Latino while 10 percent are Asian or Pacific Islander. Those being ordained for religious communities are less likely to report their race or ethnicity as Caucasian.

One of the surprising statistics is that nearly one-third, 31 percent, of this year’s ordination class was born outside the United States. They came mainly from Mexico, Colombia, the Philippines, Poland and Vietnam. This is not that unusual, though, since between 20 percent and 30 percent of ordinands to the diocesan priesthood for each of the last 10 years were born outside the United States.

The importance of World Youth Day is reflected in the fact that 20 percent of the ordinands participated in one of them before entering the seminary.

It is hoped that, by studying the ordination Class of 2010, ways can be found to foster more vocations to the priesthood.

—John F. Fink

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