Today is traditionally called “Good Shepherd Sunday” because of the Gospel. It’s also traditionally a time to talk about vocations to the priesthood. Here are some data to get us started:
|Parishes without a resident priest pastor||549||571||702||791||1,051||1,812||2,161||2,843||3,251||3,353||3,496|
|Former Catholic adults:||—||—||7.5m||8.6m||8.0m||10.3m||17.3m||17.9m||19.1m||26.8m||28.9m|
I was ordained in 1972. Forty-three years later there are 20,000 fewer priests in the U.S. and about 25 million more Catholics (plus about twenty million more former Catholics). The ratio of diocesan priests to Catholics has gone from a 1970 figure of 1 priest per 862 Catholics to a 2014 ratio of 1 priest to 2,818. But those aren’t the most worrisome numbers.
Any professional group has to replace itself each generation. So a key thing to look at is the age-distribution of practitioners. If you look at the nearest comparable professions, medicine and law, over the past forty years the ratio of young practitioners to older ones does something amazing: in 1970 priests, doctors, and lawyers had roughly similar age-distributions; but by 2010 doctors’ and lawyers’ age-distributions looked about like they did in 1970 (median age rose 3%); but priests were widely-different: the median age of priests rose 31%, from 45 to 59. In 1970, fewer than 10% of priests were over age 65; now, 40% are.
Simply put, the church in the U.S. is not replacing its priests at nearly the rate it needs to. Why? Well, it seems that a major factor in young people pursuing a religious vocation (priest or sister) is whether or not they receive encouragement from family and friends. Now look at the chart on the right: 69% of adult Catholics would not encourage a young person to pursue priesthood or religious life. What would happen to the health of a society that discouraged its young people from becoming physicians?
So there are the data. More, from a more personal angle, next week. Until next week, peace.
A request: If you’ve been using the notebook to record what you hear from God at Mass and would like to help others to get started, I invite you to send me your jottings; I’ll publish some as examples (without names attached, of course). You can drop off notes to me at the parish office, or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Source: Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA): http://cara.georgetown.edu/CARAServices/requestedchurchstats.html
 Source: Gaultier, Peri, and Ficter, Same Call, Different Men. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2012.
 Source: CARA research blog: 2011/04/spotlight-on-vocations-interested-and.html