Survey: New priests are young and involved in their community  — By: Catholic News Agency

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CNA Staff, Apr 16, 2024 / 13:30 pm (CNA).

The incoming class of seminarians who will be ordained in 2024 is young and involved in their community, an annual survey released April 15 found.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops commissioned the Center for Applied Research (CARA) at Georgetown University for an annual survey. From January to March of this year, CARA surveyed almost 400 seminarians who are scheduled to be ordained to the priesthood in 2024. 

More than 80% of respondents were to be ordained diocesan priests, while almost 20% were from a religious order. The largest group of respondents, 80%, were studying at seminaries in the Midwest.  

The survey found that half of the graduating 2024 seminarians, “ordinands,” will be ordained at 31 years or younger — younger than the recent average. Since 1999, ordinands were on average in their mid-30s, trending slightly younger. 

This year’s ordinands were involved in their local communities growing up. As many as 51% had attended parish youth groups, while 33% were involved in Catholic campus ministry. A significant number (28%) of the ordinands were Boy Scouts, while 24% reported that they had participated in the Knights of Columbus or Knights of Peter Claver.

Involvement in parish ministry was also a key commonality for this year’s ordinands. Surveyors found that 70% of ordinands were altar servers before attending seminary. Another 48% often read at Mass, while 41% distributed Communion as extraordinary ministers. In addition, just over 30% taught as catechists. 

The path to priesthood

Most seminarians first considered the priesthood when they were as young as 16 years old, according to the survey. But the process of affirming that vocation and studying to be a priest takes, on average, 18 years. 

Encouragement helps make a priest, according to the CARA survey. Almost 90% of ordinands said that someone (most often a parish priest, friend, or parishioner) encouraged them to consider becoming priests. 

Discerning the priesthood is not always an easy path, and 45% of ordinands said they were discouraged from considering the priesthood by someone in their life — most often a friend, classmate at school, mother, father, or other family member.

The survey also found that most ordinands had Catholic parents and were baptized Catholic as infants. Eighty-two percent of ordinands reported that both their parents were Catholic when they were children, while 92% of ordinands were baptized Catholic as an infant. Of those who became Catholic later in life, most converted at age 23. 

Catholic education and home schooling were also factors for this year’s ordinands. One in 10 ordinands were home-schooled, while between 32% and 42% of ordinands went to Catholic elementary school, high school, or college. 

Seeing religious vocations in the family also helped seminarians find their vocation, the survey indicated. About 3 in 10 ordinands reported that they had a relative who was a priest or religious. 

Eucharistic adoration was the most popular form of prayer for this year’s graduating seminarians. Seventy-five percent reported regularly attending Eucharistic adoration before entering seminary. The rosary was also important to those discerning vocations: 71% of ordinands said they regularly prayed the rosary before joining seminary. Half said they attended a prayer or Bible group, and 40% said they practiced lectio divina.

The survey also found that 60% of ordinands graduated college or obtained a graduate-level degree before joining the seminary. The most common areas of study were business, liberal arts, philosophy, or engineering. 

This leads to many seminarians — about 1 in 5 — carrying educational debt into the seminary. On average, each ordinand had more than $25,000 in educational debt. 

Most seminarians don’t come straight from school, however. Seventy percent reported having full-time work experience before joining the seminary. Very few served in the military, with only 4% reporting having served in the U.S. armed forces. 

About a quarter (23%) of ordinands were foreign-born — down from the average of 28% since 1999. Ordinands not born in the U.S. were most commonly born in Mexico, Vietnam, Colombia, and the Philippines. The survey found that 67% of ordinands were white; almost 20% were Hispanic or Latino; about 10% identified as Asian, Pacific Islander, or Native Hawaiian; and 2% were Black. 

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