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New Boston College Report Looks At Ways to Encourage U.S. Vocations to the Priesthood

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. (June 2014)--A new report from Boston College's division of University Mission and Ministry examines what variables promote vocations to the Catholic priesthood and calls for a more interconnected approach from dioceses, parishes, and colleges to foster such vocations. The report, College Experience and Priesthood, encompasses both a study of more than 1,500 men in the seminary or recently ordained and the analysis of that study conducted at a national summit of bishops, college presidents, campus ministers, vocation directors and other spiritual directors.

The report finds that men who pursue vocations to the priesthood were likely to have been encouraged by a priest, friend or other supporter and more likely to have attended a Catholic college or university, where they encountered priests as professors and had more access to Mass and a spiritual director as compared to those who attended a non-Catholic college.

In fact, access to spiritual direction—one of the key indicators of a future vocation—differed significantly between the two groups. Only 30 percent of non-Catholic college attendees had a regular spiritual director, compared with 62 percent of Catholic college attendees.

Other findings include:
•    Among never-married Catholic men, 350,000 have “very seriously” considered a vocation to priesthood or religious life, a figure much higher than previously expected.
•    High school is the period when many young men report thinking seriously about the priesthood, and that college seems to be an “amplifier” to these earlier experiences.
•    Respondents who have one person encouraging them are nearly twice as likely to consider a vocation as those who are not encouraged. The effect is additive. 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.
•    Hispanics are particularly underrepresented in the priesthood (15 percent of 2014 ordinands are Hispanic) and only 14 percent of students in Catholic schools today are Hispanic, meaning that the majority of Hispanics miss that potential source of vocational encouragement.
•    Many men enter the seminary after college; one third of serious inquirers had educational debt that averaged some $30,000.

In general, the report calls greater cooperation and communication among different members of the Church community to encourage vocations to the priesthood. The report offered specific directives for bishops, diocesan and religious order vocation directors, and college and university leaders. For example:

•    Have a pastoral plan at the diocesan level to developing a culture of vocations on college campuses. This plan might mean releasing talented priests, brothers, and sisters to teach courses and developing a vibrant and welcoming campus ministry program.

•    Have bishops develop a strategy so that student debt will not be an obstacle to priestly vocation.

•    Have diocesan vocation directors or parish priests build connections with college campuses by celebrating Mass on campus or attending retreats, especially at non-Catholic colleges and universities.

•    Have college presidents, campus ministers, and leaders within offices of student life or mission create a culture of vocations on their campuses, increase awareness of local diocesan and religious communities, and ensure Eucharistic devotion opportunities (Mass, adoration, etc.).

•    Have Catholic college leaders train spiritual directors from the local diocese, offer programs for the formation of lay leaders (especially in the Hispanic community), or reach out to non-Catholic campuses with few resources.

The report can be viewed online at

The report’s study, The Influences of College Experiences on Vocational Discernment to Priesthood and Religious Life, was conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) on behalf of Boston College and the Jesuit Conference USA to assess the impact of Catholic higher education on the vocational discernment of men entering the seminary and religious life. In 2013 Boston College convened the Summit on Vocations to the Priesthood to discuss the results of the study with bishops, diocesan and religious order vocation directors, college and university leaders, and representatives from lay organizations whose missions are to support vocations. Summit attendees discussed what promotes and what hinders vocations to the priesthood, and directions and strategies for fostering such vocations at a national level. This report represents a summation of the study’s findings and the bishops’ summit on vocations.