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How to Get More Priests

06/21/2009 Comment

A last resource for the Year of the Priest ... our 2007 list of what works for dioceses that get vocations.

Six Habits of Highly Effective Dioceses

Why are some dioceses better at attracting vocations than others? In Tim Drake’s recent story “Vocations Surge,” the Register provided some answers to that question.

Based on what we learned, here are six questions successful dioceses all answer “Yes.”

1. Is the Eucharist the center of vocation efforts?

We found that the promotion of Eucharistic adoration for vocations is a decisive factor in attracting candidates. The reason is simple: It’s a vocations strategy that came from Christ himself, when he told the apostles to “ask the Lord of the harvest to send more laborers.”

Eucharistic adoration is especially effective because it draws sharp attention to the great gift that makes the priesthood so extraordinary and so needed — we have the priesthood to thank for God’s real presence in the Blessed Sacrament. And the dynamic of silent Eucharistic adoration inevitably leads to the question, “What do you want me to do, Lord?”

Anecdotal evidence bears this out. In conjunction with the U.S. bishops, kicked off an effort in 2005 that delivered Vatican monstrances to dioceses in order to encourage regular adoration in parishes. Program leaders like David Craig have been astounded to see parishes produce their first vocations ever after Eucharistic adoration was introduced.

2. Is the diocese unabashed about personally inviting men to be priests?

Father Keith Stewart in the Diocese of Memphis, Tenn., counted this as the key to his vocations strategy. A U.S. bishops survey found that 78% of those being ordained said they were initially invited by a priest to consider the priesthood. Very few men were drawn to the priesthood by ads alone. One of our sources said that the seminarians he talks to say they only began to consider the priesthood the third or fourth time they were asked!

3. Is the seminary faithful to the magisterium of the Church?

We’ve all heard horror stories about seminaries using theologians who try to “de-mythologize” religion, and end up denying basic truths of the faith. The Register has reported on situations where seminary instructors downplayed celibacy, offering only a sneer regarding the very sacrifices they are asking young men to make.

The seminaries that are booming, like Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, Md., St. Vincent in Latrobe, Pa., and St. Gregory the Great in Seward, Neb., are ones with a reputation for being faithful to the magisterium.

4. Are there many strong and faithful families to draw from?

There are beautiful exceptions, but the rule is that priests come from committed Catholic families in which the father is an active player in the family’s faith.

These families are most common, we found, in places like the South and the Midwest, where the faith is relatively new and isn’t taken for granted, or is actually under attack.

In the Northeast, there are lots of Catholics — so many that the faith seems to have become part of the scenery. But wholesome families are more common in the Bible Belt, and Catholics are in a minority. They have had to endure the strange looks and the vigorous — or even vicious — arguments of those who think there’s something strange about being Catholic.

5. Do young men know and interact with priests?

“What do priests do, pray all day?” The priest’s life is largely a mystery to young men. Unless they meet and interact with priests — at parish functions, but also at dinner with their families — it may never occur to many young men that the priesthood is a life that would appeal to them.

The Diocese of Steubenville, Ohio, is one of many dioceses involved in Project Andrew, hosting dinners with priests and young men so that they can meet — and so that the all-important invitation can take place.

For many priests, serving at the altar was the first place they first came to know men who had been called and understood what the call entailed. Parishes should make sure that boys feel welcome at the altar, and that altar serving isn’t, in effect, girls-only.

6. Did young people in the area go to World Youth Day?

The World Youth Day factor is very real. Many men in seminary trace their enthusiasm back to a World Youth Day. These events give young people with high ideals a chance to see that the Church will allow them to have a big, positive impact on the world — one that lasts for eternity.

God has never stopped calling young men to commit their lives to him. But we have sometimes stopped listening as well as we could. As more dioceses adopt these highly effective habits, the vocations surge will only get stronger.

Filed under year for priests resources

About Guest Blogger/Tom Hoopes

Tom  Hoopes
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Tom Hoopes is Vice President of College Relations and writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. He has written for the Register for more than 20 years and was its executive editor for 10. His writing has appeared in First Things’ First Thoughts, National Review Online, Crisis, Our Sunday Visitor, Inside Catholic and Columbia. He has served as press secretary for the Chairman of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee. He and his wife, April, were editorial co-directors of Faith & Family magazine for 5 years. They have nine children.