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What does a typical priest look like?

Most are from traditional Catholic families are not afraid of traditional devotions, according to a new survey

By on Monday, 6 May 2013

Seminarians in New York. A new study paints an interesting picture of the type of men joining the priesthood    CNS

Seminarians in New York. A new study paints an interesting picture of the type of men joining the priesthood CNS

There was an interesting article on Catholic World News for 2nd May. The headline caught my eye: “Typical new priest: 32-year-old cradle Catholic who prays Rosary, takes part in Eucharistic adoration.” Reading down I saw this was a survey of 366 out of 497 men to be ordained in the US this year. The headline itself was uplifting: these are mature men who emerge from Catholic families and who are not embarrassed to take part in traditional devotions. Thank God for them.

There were other significant features to the survey: the overwhelming number (81%) has two Catholic parents; 20% have five or more siblings, 10% have four siblings and 22% have three siblings. 4% have been home-schooled – at a time when less than 2% of US children are educated at home. This – admittedly small – survey indicates that having two Catholic parents undoubtedly makes it easier to develop a vocation. Both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis had Catholic fathers and mothers with a strong faith, who thus provided a balanced influence on their sons’ vocations. Again, larger families tend to produce more vocations than smaller ones. Perhaps this is because there are fewer material distractions in larger families, alongside greater opportunities for service? As it happens, I personally know of three priestly vocations from homeschooling families in the US. Again, such families tend to be large, counter-cultural and with a strong Catholic ethos.

The figures also reflect the modern trend for mature men to come forward. In the time of Pope Benedict’s youth, junior seminaries were a common feature in western countries; today it is thought wiser to encourage some experience of adult living before the decision to enter a seminary. 63% of these US ordinands have been to university and 62% have worked fulltime before entering the seminary. Another statistic: 67% had served as altar servers. We are not told if these were in more traditional parishes where girl altar servers are not permitted. I mention this because it has been argued that female altar servers discourage boys from serving, whereas in the past, altar serving has often been the first step to the priesthood. Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury, in an interview in the Herald, stated that altar serving had been an important part of his own growth in his vocation to the priesthood.

From an ethnic perspective, the survey seems fairly typical: 67% of these men are white, 15% are Hispanic, 10% are Asian and 5% are African-American. And after decades when traditional Catholic devotions have been seen as old-fashioned and out of place in the post-Vatican II Church, it is also encouraging that 68% of these men regularly prayed the Rosary and 62% regularly participated in Eucharistic adoration before entering the seminary. It has been said that where parishes begin to have Eucharistic Adoration on a regular basis vocations will happen. In a talk I attended in March this year, Fr Alexander Sherbrooke of St Patrick’s, Soho Square, said that when he took over the parish it was the very first thing he initiated.

Some conservative opinion in the Church has poured scorn on World Youth Days, seeing them as an excuse for youthful immorality rather than as an intensive experience of international prayer. Yet 20% of these ordinands have taken part in a World Youth Day and have come away from them obviously richer rather than poorer in their faith. Another figure: 67% were encouraged by their parish priest to consider a vocation. I like the thought that while the media may be dominated by stories of abuse by the few, the fact is that over two-thirds of these young men were influenced for the good by the example of a kindly father-figure – their parish priest.

The last statistic I particularly noted was that 40% of these men are the oldest children in their families. Young Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Now Pope Francis, was himself the oldest of five siblings; in addition, he came from a close and devout Catholic family; he had been an altar server; and had earned a chemistry degree before ordination as a Jesuit when in his 30s. Perhaps typical new priests in the US are not so very different from typical older priests in Latin America after all?

  • Mustang

    Eucharistic adoration is an absolute must in parishes. Why don’t so many have it?? I simply don’t understand. My uni chaplaincy during undergrad (outside the UK) had an hour of adoration EVERY DAY. At least six of my friends actively tested a religious/priestly vocation once graduated. It’s not rocket science.

  • Chrysoprase

    Well yes, of course – but haven’t you noticed that the Holy Father is asking all the parishes to join him in a worldwide Holy Hour in June? There’s no need to be so negative!
    Eucharistic adoration has been increasing steadily for the past twenty years or so. But the clergy will have to bring the people along with this trend and that will be a slow, slow process. Why? Because traditional pious practices have been forgotten by whole generations of Catholics. We first have to “pray for the grace to choose a life of prayer!” It’s not rocket science, no. But it requires an act of the will on the part of millions.

  • Cestius

    Very interesting, although I’m surprised about how few priests are converts from non Catholic backgrounds. Both our priest in charge and the retired priest who sometimes stands in for him are Anglican converts with no Catholic background. Converts have gifts and perspectives that cradle Catholics do not have and vice versa, I think a healthy and growing church should ideally have a mixture of both.

  • Matthew Roth

    In the USA, the rank of Eagle Scout is earned by 1% of members of the Boy Scouts of America. 3 out of 5 members of one recent ordination class earned their Eagle Scout Award. Outside of a Mormon mission (all Mormon boys join the BSA) that’s unheard-of. I was curious to know who was in the Order of the Arrow, the BSA’s honor society for active Scouts who are skilled campers.

  • sarah

    Its wonderful to sit still in the presence of the Lord and let him put your head in order. We never outgrow our need for the one to one attention from God. Then we can go out and serve Him.

  • JFJ

    What an uplifting and encouraging article. Prayers for vocations are being answered and the source may be stable good families of Catholics who live the faith.

  • ThereseZ

    I think that worldwide hour was B16′s thing and I can’t find any info on it, too bad for us all.

  • mikethelionheart

    Say Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaattttt!!!!!

  • moodystrikenahab

    Why do Americans consider “Hispanic” to be non-White? Hispanic means “of or pertaining to Spain”. Do the Spanish people think that they are not White?

  • Matthew Roth

    I don’t, and neither does the government. The first question on this topic asks if you are Hispanic/Latino, since the government wants to know how many people ‘belong’ to one of the largest ethnic groups in the country being built up with recent immigration. The next is about race, and asks you to identify by geographic groupings. But, Hispanics do often have African and Indian heritage…

  • Matthew Roth

    Fr Z’s Blog has a post about it.

  • JoFro

    Interestingly, most Hispanics in America happen to be mostly fully white, the next being mixed race, though that may become smaller as the mixed-race become more representative of the Hispanic community while the White Hispanics disappear into the American populace..

  • Jack Haggerty

    A well-researched piece. Can I recommend to your readers ‘A Priest in Changing Times’ (Columba Press 1998) by Michael O’Carroll? Born in Limerick county in 1911, Father O’Carroll was an ecumenicist long before Vatican ll, but an ecumenicist well-grounded in historic Catholic doctrine. He seems to have met everyone. As well as giving a charming description of his rural upbringing, and the tragedy of his mother’s early death, Fr. O’Carroll has memorable portraits of, among many others, Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, Pius Xll, John Paul ll, Frank Duff founder of the Legion of Mary, Dr Herzog Chief Rabbi of Ireland, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, Fr. Alfred O’Rahilly and Martin Gillet, a layman and Catholic convert who was instrumental in the Ecumenical Society of the Virgin Mary. ‘He proceeded from the simple truth that the Mother of Christians would want to see her children united.’ I can’t think why Fr. O’Carroll’s wise and witty book isn’t more well known. Finola Kennedy’s biography of Frank Duff ought to be on everyone’s book list.

  • Bryce

    While it is true that Pope Francis was ordained a priest in his 30′s, it should be noted that the Jesuit formation takes a long time; from entrance in the novitiate to ordination, it is is usually 10-15 years. So while Pope Francis was ordained in his 30′s, his formation as a Jesuit began 10+ years prior.

  • aspiring lay capuchin

    A typical priest – there is no such thing. Every priest is different. I only see two categories those that are academic theologian and those that are pastoral. rarely do we get a hybrid combination of both.

  • Jo

    “Again, larger families tend to produce more vocations than smaller ones.”

    That is not true – the figure for “5 or more siblings” was only 20%. That means that 80% came from a family of 4 children of less.
    And when adding the figures together: 20% for 5 or more siblings, 10% for four and 22% for three siblings, the total is only 52%. That means the remainder of men come from only-child families. So the figures between only children and sibling-children entering only has a 2% difference. Therefore, the above statement means very little. 2% is nothing, really.

  • Agnes

    Let us pray that these priests will not:
    1.) Do their best to avoid contact with the parishioners; especially adfults.
    2.) Will not seek “peace” in the parish, at any cost, sacrificing truth, in order to make everyone happy.
    3.) Will not look away when they see that parishioners calumniate one another or soak themselves in unabashed envy.
    4.) That the priests themselves are not unhappy about others who, in one way or the other,
    are more talented.
    4.) That the priests do not rush into hiding, in their office, immediately after Mass is finished.
    5.) That new priests will understand that it is not an offense to offer a little smile.
    6.)That new priests learjn how to listen to a parishioner.
    7.) That they treat parishioners with the same dignity and respect that they themselves expect.

  • Helen

    We have seen far too many priests who have acted very unlovingly. It is not unusual that parish priests are impolite, sometimes even very much so! This has caused much anxiety and uneccessary suffering.
    It is not unusual that parish priests act arrogantly and “hide” themselves, often using a number of (not always too meaningful) activities with children and “youth” to avoid contact with adults.

  • Christina

    Parish priests should not allow themselves to be manipulated by rich/well off parishioners who seem to pay their way to favourable treatment.

  • Beatrice

    I do hope that new priests will look very different from what many parish priests now look like!

  • Beatrice

    We have visited a church regularly for six years; in all those years,(we attend mass there quite often), the parish priest(who seems very sincere and with a strong faith) has not even one, single time, looked at anybody, nor offered a single smile. He never, ever, greets any parishioner after Mass, but rushes into hiding immediately, closing the door behind him.s
    Not so few parishioners are lonely and I can only say that it HURTS to see a priest acting like this.

  • Elisabeth

    Why would a priest with a “cradle catholic” background be a better priest?
    We have comke across far too many “cradle catholics” who are:
    extremely uninformed
    not caring at all to pass on the churchs glorious music tradition
    who treat one another very badly

  • Margaret

    New priests should get rid of the damaging influence that all those women, usually poorly educated, have been allowed to have in the parishes!

    They(not all of them, but far too many!) hate other women, especially those who have what they are lacking themselves; women are very primitive in this sense. And dangerous!

    I would personbally never, ever, go to confession to a priest who is living together in the same apt with his house keeper, like for ex German priests, where this odd custom seems to have a long tradition.

    Why should Germany wish to be so different in this, as in many other cases?

    We do not se “house keepers” living with priest in other countries.

    These house keepers, helpers, or whatever they are called, have far too much influence. It sometimes even gives one the impression that they are running the parish and deciding what to do, whom to favour- or, rather, whom not to favour.

  • AK P

    It’s still on – I’ve seen an article recently on the Vatican Year of Faith website.