WASHINGTON — A new study of the priests who will be ordained this year in the U.S. shows they tend to come from large families and were active in their parish life before entering seminary.
The median age of the 2013 ordination class is 32, a slight increase from last year. The youngest to be ordained is 23, while the oldest is 69.
Almost 10% of those to be ordained, called “ordinands,” are converts. Eighty percent of survey respondents said both their parents are Catholic, and more than one-third have a relative who is a priest or vowed religious.
Half have more than two siblings, while 20% have five or more siblings. About 40% are the oldest sibling.
Parish service was also common. Two-thirds have been altar boys, about half participated in a parish youth group, and 20% participated in a World Youth Day before entering the seminary.
The CARA survey also examined the racial demographics of the new priests.
Two-thirds identify as white, 15% identify as Hispanic or Latino, 10% are of Asian or Pacific Islander background, 5% are African-American, and 1% identify as Native American. Whites and Asians or Pacific Islanders in the 2013 ordination class are overrepresented compared to the general U.S. Catholic population, while Latinos are underrepresented.
About 30% of respondents were born outside the U.S. Of these, the largest numbers came from Mexico, Vietnam, Colombia, Poland, the Philippines and Nigeria. Foreign-born ordinands have on average lived in the U.S. for 14 years.
About 42% attended a Catholic elementary school, the same rate as all Catholic adults. They are somewhat more likely to have attended a Catholic high school. Forty-four percent attended a Catholic college, compared to 7% among U.S. Catholic adults.
Sixty-three percent of respondents completed college before entering seminary, while 23% have a graduate degree. About 26% have student loan debt, at a median average of $15,000. The most indebted ordinand has current educational debt of $90,000.
Four percent of ordinands have served in the U.S. military.
Most said they were encouraged to consider a vocation by a parish priest. A little under half said their friends encouraged them to consider a vocation, while 38% said parishioners and 34% said mothers were behind their vocation.
CARA has conducted its survey of ordinands for 17 years.