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We invite you to read the many stories in our annual Religious Vocations Supplement.
Do you remember just a few years ago when the clerical sex-abuse scandal seemed to be in the news constantly that people were certain it would badly damage seminaries? Why would men accept a vocation to the priesthood when priests were being looked at as potential child abusers?
Well, the opposite has occurred. Enrollment in seminaries has been on the rise. In our archdiocese, both Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology and Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary are at capacity, with plans for expansion at both places well under way.
According to Benedictine Father Brendan Moss, director of enrollment at St. Meinrad, its increase started five years ago and has continued each year.
Those seminaries mirror what is happening in other seminaries, according to a study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. In the most recent report last April, it said that there were 3,608 post-baccalaureate U.S. seminarians last year, an increase of 4 percent over the previous year and the highest number since the early 1990s.
It’s not just numbers either. In the story we published in our Dec. 2 issue of The Criterion about the increase in seminary enrollment, Father Phillip J. Brown of Theological College in Washington emphasized, “I’m tremendously impressed with the quality of the candidates, their zeal. We’re seeing a real renewal of the priesthood.”
The priests in charge of Saint Meinrad and Bishop Bruté have expressed similar sentiments.
It’s doubtful that many of those seminarians are there because they read Msgr. Stephen J. Rossetti’s new book, but it would certainly be an encouragement. The book is Why Priests Are Happy: A Study of the Psychological and Spiritual Health of Priests, published by Ave Maria Press.
That book contains data from a survey taken in 2009 of 2,482 priests from 23 dioceses, and a survey in 2004 of 1,242 priests from 16 dioceses. It confirms, among other things, that 92.4 percent of priests are happy overall being a priest, 94.9 percent feel a joy that they consider a grace from God, and 88.9 percent have a good morale.
We haven’t seen data from studies of women religious or brothers—although they might exist—but we would bet that they would have similar results.
Those of us who know priests and religious, both men and women, aren’t surprised. Besides, the conclusions are in line with social science research that clearly shows that people with a strong spiritual life and religious faith are usually happy and well adjusted. As Msgr. Rossetti said, “Frankly, the reality is that religion is good for you, psychologically and spiritually.”
Still, we are sure that some people will wonder how priests can be so happy when they’re expected to live a celibate life, and they know that they probably will be overworked. If they don’t know that before they enter the seminary, they will learn it while they are there in formation.
Nevertheless, a full 75.1 percent of the priests surveyed said not only that they are happy to be living a celibate life, but that celibacy has been a personal grace. In fact, 82.1 percent said that they would choose to remain celibate if priests were allowed to marry.
As for being overworked, most priests see their ministry as a gift from God and as the opportunity to serve others. It gives them a purpose in life that many people might not have.
Today there are other Church-related ministries besides the priesthood, permanent diaconate and religious life. We are speaking, of course, of lay ecclesial ministers. All of us have vocations, but we are writing in this week’s issue about religious vocations. The number of people serving the Church in lay ministry positions also continues to increase every year.
Why are we witnessing such an upsurge in the number of people who are devoting their lives to the Church, especially now when our society is becoming more secular? Could it be precisely because of that?
Could it be that they become disillusioned with those things in their secular lives that society says are supposed to make us happy?
The priesthood, the diaconate and religious life seems to be a recipe for happiness—in this life and in the next.
—John F. Fink