Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley, archbishop of Boston, celebrated the ordination of deacons from the Pontifical North American College in Rome at St. Peter's Basilica last year.
What can we learn from the newest priests?
WASHINGTON — Members of the newest priestly ordination class in the United States were closely connected to the Church growing up through their Catholic school or parish, according to a survey of the 2017 ordinands.
"They're much more likely than Catholics in general to have attended Catholic school. A third of them have a relative who's a priest or religious. They come from pretty active Catholic families," said Mary L. Gautier, co-author of "The Class of 2017: Survey of Ordinands to the Priesthood."
"They have more opportunity to be aware of and around priests," she added.
The annual survey of ordinands is conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University (CARA).
This year's survey featured 444 respondents, 343 of whom are entering the diocesan priesthood, from 140 dioceses. 101 of the respondents are entering the religious priesthood. The survey was conducted in March 2017.
According to the U.S. bishops' conference, CARA compiles data every year for the Secretariat for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations.
The average age of ordination has continued a slight, yet steady downward trend in age from 1999, as the 2017 class average was 34 years, down from 36 years in 1999. Sixteen was the average age the ordinands first began considering the priesthood.
Most of this year's ordinands — 82 percent — were "encouraged to consider the priesthood by someone in their life," most often by a parish priest, although others reported being encouraged by a friend, family member, parent, teacher or parishoner.
That "staggering number" should spur the faithful to be aware of their role in encouraging vocations, Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, chair of the bishops' Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, stated in response to the survey.
"That statistic should motivate all the faithful to be sensitive to the work of the Holy Spirit, who may wish to use them to extend the invitation to ordained ministry," he said.
Conversely, almost half the respondents (48 percent), including 60 percent of those in religious life, reported being dissuaded from entering the seminary by someone else.
Encouragement of young men to enter the seminary is indeed a "very important" factor in their decision, Gautier said, encouragement "from family, friends, the parish priest, the teachers in the school, all of that makes a difference.
Seminarians were more likely than the average Catholic child to be involved in their parish and attend Catholic school, according to several statistics taken together.
"Between 40 and 50 percent" of the respondents went to Catholic school at some point in their life — anywhere from kindergarten through tertiary education — and almost 6 in 10 (59 percent) received religious education at their parish, "for seven years, on average," the study said.
They were much more likely than the average Catholic adult to attend Catholic school, especially as they grew older.
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