About 30 percent of men being ordained to the priesthood in the United States in 2014 were born outside the U.S. In the Diocese of Nashville, which has five of nine men to be ordained on Saturday, July 26, who were born outside the U.S., the percentage is much higher.
“It’s not uncommon at all,” for men from other countries or other U.S. dioceses to be ordained far from their hometown, according to Dr. Mary Gautier, senior research associate at the Georgetown University-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), and lead author of the report, “The Class of 2014: Survey of Ordinands to the Priesthood.”
Men from outside the U.S. who are studying for the priesthood in the U.S. end up staying here for a variety of reasons, Gautier said. “There are probably as many stories as there are men being ordained.
“It’s an interesting phenomenon and shows how global our whole world is now,” she said.
A generation or two ago, for example, a seminary in Philadelphia would have only educated men from Philadelphia for the priesthood, Gautier said. Today, it is rarely the case that a seminary would educate only men from one diocese. “That’s just not the way it works anymore,” she said.
Most seminarians from the Diocese of Nashville attend the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, or Assumption Seminary in San Antonio, where seminarians from many dioceses, and countries, study. Their commitment to one diocese is less solid than in previous generations, since seminarians “are as mobile as the rest of America and the world population today,” Gautier said.
In the Diocese of Nashville’s 2014 ordination class of nine men, only one, Deacon Michael Fye, is a cradle Catholic who grew up in this diocese. According to the CARA report, most 2014 ordinands have been Catholic since birth, although 9 percent became Catholic later in life. Among the latter, their average age of conversion was about 19, which is when Deacon John Hammond entered the Catholic Church as a student at the University of the South at Sewanee. Like most other ordinands, he was a convert from a mainline Protestant tradition.
Data for the CARA study on ordinands in the U.S. is collected annually for the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations. This year, about 77 percent of the estimated 477 potential ordinands responded to the study. Respondents were from 114 dioceses and archdioceses and 31 religious orders.
“The number of new priests remains steady and the quality of the new priests is stellar. They have a solid educational background to minister in the contemporary U.S. church,” said Bishop Michael F. Burbidge, chair of the Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations. “However, we need more priests and we need them especially from the Hispanic community. The U.S. Bishops in general and the Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations in particular continue to keep both these goals as top priorities. We encourage all the faithful to pray for these special intentions.”
About 15 percent of 2014 ordinands are Hispanic, which reflects a gradual increase of Hispanic/Latino priests in the U.S. church over recent decades, but is about half the percentage of Hispanics in the U.S. Catholic church overall, according to the CARA study. Ordaining enough Spanish-speaking priests to keep up with the lay Hispanic Catholic population is still a challenge, Gautier said. “It’s an issue of great awareness and I think bishops are trying to recruit more Spanish speakers.”
Nationally, the largest numbers of foreign born priests to be ordained hail from Mexico, Vietnam, Colombia, Poland and the Philippines. Altogether, the class of 2014 identified 33 different countries of origin. Of the foreign-born priests to be ordained for the Diocese of Nashville, two are originally from Brazil, one is from Tanzania, one is from Kenya and one is from Vietnam.
Nationally, the number of ordinands who are foreign-born increased from 22 percent in 1999 to 38 percent in 2003, but has declined since then and is now 31 percent.
The number of priests ordained in recent years has held steady at around 450-500 men per year, Gautier said, but it is not enough nationally to replace the larger number of older priests who are retiring or dying. “The number entering a generation ago was much larger, but the good news is there is still a steady supply coming in.”
As the U.S. Catholic population continues to grow, she said, “the challenge is still on to attract more men to priestly life.”