Vocations View: Where Will Our Future Priests Come From?

by Nicholas Duncan, Diocese of Shreveport Seminarian

Great News! The Diocese of Shreveport has more seminarians studying in a major seminary than it ever has. There are five of us enrolled at Notre Dame Seminary, which is bursting at the seams with 141 students – a number that has doubled over the last five years. This reflects a national trend of growth. Now for the Bad News: in the last 25 years we have rarely had more than one or two seminarians, with long gaps between priestly ordinations. So even though our numbers are up, we still need more men to serve the people in our diocese.

You might be wondering where the men are going to come from to answer the call. Most people assume the bulk of seminarians come from our Catholic schools and universities, but this is not where the recent bump has come from. Instead, young Catholic men have heard God’s call at secular, public universities like Georgia Tech, Texas A&M and even our own Louisiana Tech and ULM. But not all public universities are sending their graduates off to seminary, only the ones with active Catholic centers that promote vocational awareness.

Georgia Tech, for example, sends four to five men to seminary annually. How is it that a public university in downtown Atlanta, in the middle of the Bible Belt, turns out so many seminarians? These young men aren’t just showing up there already thinking about going to seminary. What if every university produced seminarians the way Georgia Tech does? We wouldn’t be talking about a priest shortage any more, the problem would be solved.
What secret do these schools have? What strategies have their dioceses implemented? How much did they cost? Which expert consultants have they brought in to develop a culture of vocations?  Well from my research, I have come to a rather simple conclusion: They just ask them! That’s it! In our pragmatic society, college students are constantly questioned about what their major is and their plans for after graduation. When they were children, they were asked what they wanted to be when they grew up. They were told to be doctors, lawyers, engineers; but when a priest at their campus Catholic center asks them if they have ever thought about being a priest, they typically laugh and say, “Me? A priest?!”

In our culture young men are never confronted with the possibility of being a priest. It seems unrealistic, unattainable. But discernment (thinking about) one’s vocation in life to become a diocesan priest, a religious brother or sister (monk or nun), or living life under the sacrament of matrimony is of primary importance to who we are. Our vocational occupation (teacher, doctor, nurse, lawyer…) is of secondary importance, despite society’s attempts to place one’s success in their career above faith and family. When the process of discernment is taken seriously and students are encouraged to attend retreats and discernment groups about one’s vocation in life, the results are more men entering seminary, more women entering religious communities, and marriages that are fruitful and lasting.

So, we have to ask ourselves, “What are we doing in our own churches, schools and universities to foster vocations? What are we doing in our homes, which are the most important places of learning, the first place children hear the Gospel proclaimed by their parents?”

Vocations are not only to the priesthood, but also to often overlooked religious communities of monks and nuns, and the holy sacrament of marriage. Everyone is called to a vocation as a way of sanctifying our fallen natures, in order to be sanctified.

“For God has not called us to impurity, but to holiness.” (1 Thess 4:7.)

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