I Found My Vocation, but What About My Debt?

Family Matters: Financial Life

I have discerned a call to the religious life, but I have a lot of college loans. What advice can you give me to help me alleviate my debt?

The high cost of college and increasing levels of student debt have been making the news lately.

What you may not know is how high student loans are impacting the ability of young people to pursue religious vocations.

For the most part, dioceses and religious orders are unable to shoulder the debt burden of candidates for religious life. As a result, young people are expected to enter formation either without any debt or with a guaranteed way of eliminating such debt. That creates a dilemma, since recent college graduates leave college with an average of $27,000 in student loans and another $4,100 in credit-card debt.

Fortunately, there are two organizations that assist young adults who feel called to religious life to eliminate student-loan debt. The first is the Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations (FundforVocations.org), and the second is the Labouré Society (LaboureSociety.org).

Both of these organizations expect aspirants to pay any non-student loan debts such as credit cards. But student loans pose a more difficult dilemma. Loans that would normally have been paid off over a period of 10-20 years must now be paid in full, resulting in lengthy delays for entrance into the formation process and in fully serving the Church as a priest, brother or sister. That’s where these groups lend a hand. Once candidates have been approved into a program, these organizations fund the required student-loan payments during the formation process and pay the loan off completely when the candidate takes final vows.

Loan payments are made periodically rather than in a lump sum in order to avoid either making a grant recipient feel indebted and remain in formation even when he or she has concluded his or her true vocation is different or the possibility of someone seeking religious life as an easy way to eliminate student loans. I encourage you to contact these groups if you are interested in religious life and have debt or know of someone who needs assistance. The mission of these organizations is also worthy of support.

While these programs are a tremendous benefit to those whom they are able to help, the sad reality is they need to turn many away due to lack of resources. This should be yet another reason for parents and young adults to consider ahead of time the level of debt it makes sense to take on to obtain a college education.

One idea I have found to be helpful in limiting the amount of debt taken on during the college years is to pay the mortgage on the house off by the time one’s oldest child enters college. This requires applying additional payments to the mortgage in a consistent manner over a long period of time, so foresight, commitment and a willingness to sacrifice are necessary. But the benefits will be worth it. God love you!


Phil Lenahan is president of Veritas Financial Ministries

(VeritasFinancialMinistries.com) and author of

7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free: A Catholic Small Group Study (OSV)

and Generation Next: A Catholic Guide to Financial Freedom for Young Adults.