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Study Finds Abundance Of Potential Priests, Sisters, Brothers

October 9, 2012
More than half million U.S. men, women serious about religious vocation
Catholic schools, parish youth groups critical in fostering religious call
Family, parish encouragement vital for nourishing potential priests, sisters, brothers

WASHINGTON—More Catholics would become priests and religious sisters and brothers if there were greater encouragement for them to pursue a religious vocation. Problems such as cost of Catholic schools and impediments to education, particularly among Hispanic Catholics, also stand as factors in determining who chooses to pursue a religious vocation.

Those are some of the key findings in "Consideration of Priesthood and Religious Life Among Never-Married U.S. Catholics," a survey conducted by the Georgetown University-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA). The U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations commissioned the study released in October with financial support from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. The study is available online at

The survey found that among never-married Catholics, three percent of men and two percent of women have seriously considered a religious vocation.

"This is equivalent to 350,000 never-married men and 250,000 never married women," the survey said. "Shepherding more of these individuals on the path to seeking a vocation would likely require a combination of greater outreach from the Church, encouragement from others, assistance in obtaining educational prerequisites, and dealing with other issues such as student loan debt and citizenship status."

The survey found "generational differences" with the least interest in vocations occurring among the post-Vatican II Catholics, born 1961 -1981. The survey found an increase in numbers among the millennial generation, those born after 1981, "particularly among men of this generation."

CARA found that other ethnicities, primarily Asian women, "are more than twice as likely to consider a vocation" when compared to those women who described themselves as white or Hispanic.

The impact of Catholic education is strong.

"Among male respondents, after controlling for other factors, those who attended a Catholic secondary school (grades 9-12) are more likely to have considered becoming a priest or religious brother." Those males who attended Catholic secondary schools, the survey found, "are more than six times as likely to have considered a vocation."

"Participation in a parish youth group during primary school years (grades K-8) is also strongly related to vocational consideration for men. These respondents are more than five times as likely to consider becoming a priest or religious brother than those who did not participate in a parish youth group."

Encouragement from others is also important for men, the survey found. "Respondents who had three persons encourage them would be expected to be more than five times more likely to consider a vocation than someone who was not encouraged by anyone."

Influences on women were similar. However, the study found "it is attendance at a Catholic primary school which is important for female vocational consideration."Parish youth group participation also is important for women, but "unlike males, it is participation during high school years rather than primary school years that has an effect."

"Women who participated in a parish youth group during these teen years are more than nine times as likely to consider becoming a religious sister," CARA found.

The survey also noted that "although most Catholics who are becoming priests, religious brothers or religious sisters now are typically in their 30s or even older, it is likely that the roots of these vocations were established in their teen years or even earlier."

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, chairman of the bishops' Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations, said the findings offer hope."The good news is that more than 500,000 never-married men and women have seriously considered a vocation to priesthood or the religious life.The challenge is to pastor and guide these individuals more effectively.This will require greater and more consistent encouragement from others, particularly within the family, and a more urgent focus on access to Catholic education for our young people."

The study listed several challenges in vocation work, particularly among Hispanics, a growing population of the church in the United States. About 48 percent of all Catholics in the United States born after 1981 are Hispanic. Educational requirements for religious formation programs, such as college experience and the skills to pursue advanced education, puts Hispanics at a disadvantage.

"Hispanic respondents are the least likely to report attending college or obtaining a college degree," the survey found. "Hispanic respondents are also the least likely to indicate enrollment in a Catholic school at any level of their education and the results of the study suggests that this makes it less likely that they will consider a vocation."

Despite the intensive efforts of many bishops and religious communities to make the recruitment process more inviting to and supportive of Hispanic candidates, the shortfall of Hispanic clergy and religious remains urgent. About 35 percent of all Catholics in the United States are Hispanic and yet only 15 percent of the 2012 ordination class and 9 percent of the 2011 religious profession class were Hispanic. This is a gap that continues to need urgent attention.


Keywords: priests, sisters, brothers, vocation, ordination, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, U.S. bishops, Archbishop Robert Carlson, Secretariat for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, CARA, millennial generation, Vatican II, never-married, Hispanic, Asian, education, seminary, formation, youth group

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

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