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New Priests Younger, Were Altar Servers, Lectors, Carry Debt

May 17, 2012
Two-thirds between 25 and 34 years of age
Most were altar servers, lectors
Many carry student debt into priesthood

WASHINGTON—The average age of men ordained to the priesthood in 2012 is trending younger with the median age for the 2012 class at 31. Two-thirds of the class are between the ages of 25 and 34. This is slightly younger than last year and follows the trend over the past six years.

These figures stand out in The Class of 2012: Survey of Ordinands to the Priesthood, an annual national survey of men being ordained priests for U.S. dioceses and religious communities. The study was conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), a Georgetown University-based research center. The entire report can be found at

The report is the 16th annual survey of ordinands commissioned by the Secretariat for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). About 63 percent of an estimated 487 potential ordinands in the United States responded to the survey.

Data show that on average, most of the ordination class have been Catholic from birth, but six percent became Catholic later in life. More than four in five report that both parents are Catholic, and more than a third have a relative who is a priest or religious.

Ordinands of the Class of 2012 have been active in parish ministries. Three-quarters indicated they served as an altar server and more than half (53 percent) participated in a parish youth group. One-fifth (22 percent) participated in a World Youth Day before entering the seminary.

The survey also found that new priests in dioceses and religious orders have educational debt. The debt is higher on average among men being ordained for the diocesan priesthood.Diocesan ordinands averaged $19,614 in educational debt when they entered the seminary.Several reported that their educational debt is now paid, but those still with educational debt average $20,966 at the time of ordination.

Religious ordinands averaged $29,364 in educational debt when they entered their religious institute.Among those who still have educational debt, the average amount is $14,100 but the median amount is $2,500.

In other findings:

• Seven in ten responding ordinands (71 percent) report their primary race or ethnicity as Caucasian/European American/white. Compared to the U.S. adult Catholic population, ordinands are more likely to be of Asian or Pacific Islander background (nine percent), but less likely to be Hispanic/Latino (15 percent). Compared to diocesan ordinands, religious ordinands are less likely to report race or ethnicity as Caucasian/European American/white.

• Almost three in ten ordinands were born outside the United States, with the largest numbers coming from Vietnam, Colombia, Mexico, Poland, and the Philippines. On average, responding ordinands who were born in another country came to America in their early twenties.Between 20 and 30 percent of ordinands for the diocesan priesthood for each of the last ten years were born outside the United States.

• More than half of the Class of 2012 (55 percent) report having more than two siblings, while nearly three in ten (28 percent) report having five or more siblings. One in three (33 percent) is the oldest child and one in five is the youngest child (22 percent) in the family.

• Before entering the seminary, six in ten ordinands completed college (61 percent). Sixteen percent entered the seminary with a graduate degree. One in three (29 percent) entered the seminary while in college.

• Almost half of responding ordinands (47 percent) attended a Catholic elementary school, a rate slightly higher than that for all U.S. Catholic adults (42 percent). In addition, ordinands are somewhat more likely than other U.S. Catholic adults to have attended a Catholic high school and they are much more likely to have attended a Catholic college (45 percent, compared to seven percent among U.S. Catholic adults).

• Many ordinands specified some type of full-time work experience prior to entering the seminary, most often in education or management. Six percent of ordinands indicated that they had served in the U.S. Armed Forces at some point.

• On average, responding ordinands report that they were nearly 17 when they first considered a vocation to the priesthood.


Keywords: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, priests, seminary, student debt, Class of 2012, Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, CARA, Secretariat for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations , dioceses, religious orders

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Sr. Mary Ann Walsh
O: 202-541-3200
M: 301-325-7935

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