How’d that happen? Some answers:
Encouraged by a proactive vocations office and a supportive bishop, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Scranton’s class of men studying to be priests has doubled in the last two years to 17 seminarians.
The diocese last had as many seminarians in 2004, when 20 men were studying for the priesthood.
The welcome increase comes after the number of seminarians dropped to single digits in 2008 and 2009 and at a time when more than a third of the diocese’s complement of priests has reached retirement age.
In 2008, the diocese had six men in the seminary. In 2010 – the first time in 13 years that the diocese did not have a new priest to ordain – the number grew to 10.
The Rev. Christopher Washington, the former diocesan vocations director who is now studying in Rome for a position with the Holy See’s Secretariat of State, said the diocese never lacked for men being called to the priesthood.
“What it took was a very focused and concerted effort to go out and find them,” he said. “These candidates have always been there, and there are still more of them.”
In recent years, the diocese has modernized the tools it uses to recruit men considering the priesthood through a stylish website and a positive marketing campaign about the lives of local priests. It has also created regular opportunities for potential candidates to meet and discuss their experiences.
The Rev. Washington said those efforts have been complemented by the “very positive presence” of Bishop Joseph C. Bambera “in the local community.”
“In every diocese where there’s been an increase in seminarians, there has always been a two-pronged approach,” he said. “It’s an active vocations office but it’s also an active bishop.”
The current number of seminarians is being promoted as the diocese embarks on its 2011 Annual Appeal fundraiser, the proceeds of which go to priest education, outreach by the vocations office and many other diocesan programs.
The diocese’s seminary, St. Pius X in Dalton, closed in 2004 because of declining enrollment. At the time, four seminarians from the Scranton diocese were studying there. Now, seminarians study at the St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa., or the Pontifical North American College in Rome.