The 2012 priesthood ordination class continues a six-year trend towards younger priests, according to a survey that indicates new priests come from larger families and are more likely to have attended Catholic schools and colleges.
Two-thirds of the men in this year’s ordination class are between the ages of 25 and 34. The men to be ordained, called “ordinands,” have an average age of 34.6 and a median age of 31.
Most ordinands have been Catholic since birth, though 6% are converts. Eighty-four percent had two Catholic parents, while 37% had a relative who is a priest or a religious. Nearly 70% of ordinands said they regularly prayed the Rosary, and 65% participated in Eucharistic adoration before entering the seminary. About 75% had been altar servers, while more than half participated in a parish youth group.
Ordinands first considered a vocation to the priesthood at an average age of 17. The survey from the Georgetown University-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate was commissioned by the U.S. bishops’ conference’s Secretariat for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations.
About 63% of the estimated 487 ordinands responded to the survey.
The family size of new priests was also surveyed. Fifty-five percent of ordinands say they have more than two siblings, with 28% reporting that they have five or more siblings. One-third of the ordinands are the oldest child in their family, while 22% are the youngest child. About 71% of ordinands said their primary race or ethnicity is Caucasian, European American or white. Fifteen percent identified as Hispanic or Latino, while 9% were from Asian or Pacific Islander background.
Compared to the Catholic U.S. population, Hispanics were underrepresented. Thirty percent of ordinands were born outside the U.S., the CARA report says. The largest numbers of new foreign-born priests come from Vietnam, Colombia, Mexico, Poland and the Philippines.
Almost half of respondents attended a Catholic elementary school, a rate slightly higher than all Catholic adults. They are also somewhat more likely than other Catholics to have attended a Catholic high school. The 2012 class was much more likely to have attended a Catholic college: 47 percent of ordinands did so, compared to 7% of U.S. adults. About 27% of respondents had school debt when they entered the seminary, at an average of slightly over $20,000 in debt.
Priests ordained for a diocese lived there for an average period of 15.6 years before they entered seminary, while religious orders’ future priests knew members of their religious institute for an average of 9.3 years.