Seminary numbers highest in over 20 years

From NCR:

U.S. Catholic seminary enrollment in theology this year is the highest in almost a quarter-century, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate reported in the spring issue of its quarterly newsletter, The CARA Report.

The reported growth in seminarians, however, does not begin to match the growth in the U.S. Catholic population, which has increased by about 25 percent in that time period.

“This year’s total of 3,723 is the highest enrollment since the 3,788 reported for 1988-89,” CARA said.

“During the academic year 2011-12, enrollment increased by 63 diocesan seminarians and religious enrollment by 52 seminarians” over the 2010-11 figures, the report states.

CARA, based at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., has been reporting yearly enrollment figures and other data on U.S. Catholic seminaries and seminarians since the 1967-68 academic year.

At that time, there were more than 8,000 seminarians studying theology, more than 13,400 students in college seminaries, and almost 16,000 high school seminarians.

Since then, U.S. high school seminaries have almost disappeared — down to four programs enrolling 448 students in the current school year, according to the latest CARA study — and college seminary enrollment has dropped almost 90 percent, to 1,355 students in the current academic year.

CARA said the current year’s total of college seminarians was down 105, or 7 percent, from the previous year, and high school enrollment dropped by 84, or 16 percent.

The lower high school and college figures reflect long-term U.S. Catholic cultural trends toward later vocational discernment that CARA and other sociologists of religion have been analyzing and discussing for many years.

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  1. Midwestlady says:

    I’m very glad to see the increase in seminarians. But I wonder if the 25% increase in Catholics isn’t a red herring. We keep track of people who enter the Church, but I’m not sure how well we’re keeping track of those who leave. I suspect we’re not and that this headcount is just “additive.”

  2. Midwestlady, I’m not sure whether it’s reflected in the CARA figures, but most US dioceses conduct an annual “October count” (tallying attendance at Masses during the month of October) to get a more accurate sense of how many Catholics are active than you can get from baptismal records and parish registers alone. The 25% Catholic population bump does sound large in comparison to a trend toward declining October counts here in the Midwest, but areas of population growth and high immigration, such as the West and Sunbelt, may indeed be more than offsetting the losses.

  3. Art ND'76 says:

    It appears to this observer that the later discernment of vocation in general is a good thing. After all, Jesus, our perfect example and teacher, did not begin His public ministry until age 30.

    That said, this trend of later vocation discernment to the priesthood seems to correspond with later decisions on getting married, so this could simply be part of a larger trend in the U.S. to delay making decisions involving permanent commitments.

  4. Deacon Norb says:

    My first reaction is that this is “old news.” I have known about this admissions/enrollment spike for several months and I had it affirmed by a number of close friends who are seminary administrators.

    –In my diocese, there were five celibate men ordained to the diaconate (transitional) about a few weeks ago. If all of them stick it out through their final year of formation, five new diocesan priests at one time will be some sort of a recent local record.

    –HOWEVER, also in 2013, there is a cohort class of married men — if all of them stick it out — who will be ordained permanently to the diaconate. I think it is 20 in size. That is a four-one ratio.

    Ordinations in my diocese between married men moving into the diaconate and celibate men moving into the priesthood has been close to 4/1 or 5/1 for the past ten years or more.

  5. Midwestlady says:

    That seems like an awful lot of deacons to me, Deacon Norb, unless you’re in a really big diocese.

  6. Midwestlady says:

    I mean I hope they all are put to good for the good of the Church, because we all need them to set up and run programs, as I’ve said elsewhere, but that’s a lot in one year. Does your diocese get 20 permanent deacons every year?

  7. Deacon Norb says:

    Midwest lady:

    It is NOT ENOUGH deacons. We have over 120 parishes and slightly less than 120 deacons. My parish sits at 4,000 head count. We have two “active” deacons and we are getting “burned out.” There are also two “senior-status/retired” deacons who live in our parish boundaries — one in a nursing home and the health of the other restricts his service. I am eligible for “senior status/retired” far sooner than my pastor would like. He needs three-five applicants/candidates in the next cohort or he will be hurting in about five years.

    The weird thing is that none of the twenty who could be ordained in 2013 would automatically be coming our way. They are heading to other parishes with more importan t needs.

  8. Deacon Norb says:


    We do not cycle classes annually. Each class is a cohort; it starts in year one and ends in year three with the next class starting in year four. You get the picture. These twenty deacons will be the first in three years. Last ordination was nine.

  9. Fiergenholt says:

    Twenty-nine “rookie” deacons in six years? That is almost five/year. Do those 29 deacons cover the number of your deacons who would have died during those same six years ? What about those who have to retire into nursing homes ? It seems as if all you are doing is “marking time.”

  10. Midwestlady says:

    Ah, you have a very big diocese. I live in a smaller one.

  11. What’s relatively new in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is emphasis is now also given to Hispanic Catholics preparing for Diaconate Ordination whose primary language is Spanish. Diaconate formation classes now include instruction in Spanish and workshops provide translators. There is a growing need for Deacons to serve in the Spanish speaking communities. Spanish-speaking formation classes are large in number.

    We are very blessed to have Archbishop Chaput. He has been with us only a short time. He did much to increase vocations to the priesthood while he was in Denver and I have no doubt that he will be just as successful in Philadelphia!

  12. Deacon Norb says:


    I’ll have to keep an eye on the Philadelphia experiment here and see how it works. We do need more bi-lingual Spanish/English deacons — whether culturally Hispanic or culturally Anglo.

    I have been told that the reason we do not have more from the Spanish-Speaking Roman Catholic community is NOT because of their lack of bi-lingual language skills in that group but that very few Hispanic-American Catholic men are college graduates much less have some graduate level education.

    That wasn’t an issue up to ten or so years ago but when the new Vatican academic norms for the academic preparation of deacons were implemented, in 2003/04 or so, a lot of men — both Hispanic and Anglo — no longer personally considered the possibility of a vocation to the diaconate because the academic pre-requisites scared them off.

  13. We have an inordinate number of deacons, too. Our parish has 2 seminarians and I bellieve, they are the only seminarians in our diocese. We had 4 last year but 2 dropped out. Our new priest are imports from other countries.

  14. Fiergenholt says:


    Some DEEP background might help you understand this better.

    –The reason you have two seminarians working in your parish is that your bishop — or his staff — believe that you parish provides an ideal training ground for the very practical and everyday issues of a celibate priest/pastor needs to experience. NOW, that choice is not so much “parish-oriented” as much as it is “pastor-oriented.” Over the past 40 years (1972-2012) that I have been close to one very specific parish in our area, it has had five priest/pastors. The first and second one were assigned to be mentors to seminarians and transitory-deacon-interns (for very good reasons — they were very good priests). Pastors three and four were not given that assignment (also for good reasons, I’m sure). Two days ago, that parish’s newest pastor welcomed his seminarian-in-training. He will be with them until Fall when he returns to school.

    –The issue of importing foreign-born priests is a very controversial one. The diocese that seem to have the most success here are those who — at least at first — have those priests work in “nationality” parishes. For instance, Polish priests in parishes that have deep Polish roots seem to work just fine. Even Irish priests seem to work well also. One bishop in our area, however, has had horrible luck importing Mexican priests. He made the assumption that he could use them in parishes where a large portion of the members are of Tex-Mex heritage. WRONG ANSWER.

  15. Deacon Norb says:

    “F”: Here’s some current stats:

    From 2006 and including the class to be graduated and ordained in September 2013; my diocese will have called 49 married men to the diaconate. That averages to a bit over six a year. Since 2006, we have lost 23 deacons who were called home by their Risen Lord. Net increase: 26 or a bit over three a year. If you now suggest that at least three a year “retire” due to ill health — you are right, WE ARE MARKING TIME

    During that same period of time — including the class to be graduated and ordained in May 2013 — my diocese will have called 21 celibate men to the priesthood. That averages to less than three a year. Since 2006, however, we have lost over 28 priests who were called home by their Risen Lord. Net LOSS is seven — one a year. When you add those priests who retire due to ill health, the counts are not good.

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