The seminarian events and Serra Club events always get me thinking, putting little bits together from varied sources. I think it was among the dotCommonweal commentariat that I heard from someone who posited that smaller dioceses, regardless of the neo-orthodox or conservative nature of their bishops, were doing relatively well with priest vocations. That doesn’t surprise me.
I recall a cynic suggesting that if a young man’s choice was between farming, ranching, or such and the seminary, some otherwise borderline guys might think the priest’s life was a fair mite better if one was looking at life in contemporary frontier America. Or Africa, I guess.
I trend toward pragmatism over cynicism, though I can often appreciate the latter. But if dioceses are serious about generating new priests (and I’m not sure all of them–conservative or liberal–are) maybe sociological trends in the US and in particular dioceses are worth a serious look from the bishop, his vocations office, and a few well-placed consultants who might be able to tell them how to develop vocations beyond the ones cultivated from a very early age.
In previous generations, say before WWII, Catholic culture in both cities and rural areas might have worked in favor of those early vocations. Heavy industrialization, the GI Bill, and the cultural shift to the suburbs was already draining seminaries from their highwater mark of 1947. That’s well before Vatican II for you trads in the reading audience.
My suspicion is that vocations offices and the church in general felt they were entitled to those priest recruits. Those recruits should be knocking at the doors. In some minds, heaven forbid that actual sweat equity would need to be put into place. Rather than alter their ministry emphasis with chaplaincies on college campuses, they sat back in their offices and blamed. Vatican II and liberals became an easy scapegoat.
I still hear terms such as “delayed vocations,” when applied to older guys. Delay, rubbish! Lots of these guys were waiting for clergy to get off their duffs and discern with them. The only “delay” in many of these cases have come from the chanceries and the clerical culture itself. When you maintain a culture of entitlement and put the blame outside the system, it’s easy to be blinded by reality.
Small dioceses do well, it is said, because the bishop can be a personal figure for seminarians and those discerning. An active priesthood is part of the picture too, no doubt. Greeley thinks the lack of support from parents, especially mothers, has taken a toll, too. I think all the factors should be looked at.
I suspect the sense of today’s young priests being a conservative lot is probably accurate to a point. The missing vocations are those from non-Catholic colleges and universities. It’s sad to note that many Catholic leaders, lay and clerical, are lost because of ill-advised budgeting priorities that drain diocesan campus ministry.
There’s probably more to say, but I’ll turn it over to the readers for now.