This week the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops made public its annual survey of newly ordained priests, conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), a Georgetown University-based research center. The Class of 2011: Survey of Ordinands to the Priesthood surveys the men being ordained priests for U.S. dioceses and religious communities this year.
“One important trend evident in this study is the importance of lifelong formation and engagement in the Catholic faith,” said Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations. “The role of the family, parish priest, friends, and youth ministry are evident in the results.”
Most of the findings weren’t all that surprising or noteworthy to me. However, there are three things that caught my attention:
(1) The new priests are a little younger. The average age of this year’s ordinands is 34. Not only that, but two-thirds of all the ordinands are 34 or younger. The religious order priests raise the average a little bit, as they also typically go through their postulancy and novitiate before beginning their seminary studies.
(2) Vocations come from larger families. Families with at least three kids are now considered “large families.” Seventy-seven percent of the new priests come from families with three or more children. In fact, 37% come from families with five or more children. It’s by no means a “cause and effect” thing, but the numbers here do not lie: Large, intact, faithful Catholic families provide the best possible soil for priestly and religious vocations.
(3) Websites help. Twenty three percent of all respondents to the survey said that their discernment was influenced by websites. Even more, 37% of religious order priests were so influenced. I realize this is a little self-serving, but the survey nonetheless suggests that vocation websites and blogs can be most helpful tools in fostering vocations.
For the complete report, click here.