One is the loneliest number: meet New York’s only new priest

The New York Times profiles the only priest ordained in the Archdiocese of New York this year, Fr. Patric F. D’Arcy:

Being the archdiocese’s sole member of the Class of 2012 is a slightly uncomfortable distinction for Father D’Arcy, 33, a soft-spoken man who prefers to stay out of the spotlight. He is not a native New Yorker, nor even an American citizen. Father D’Arcy comes from a small suburb of Toronto, about 80 miles northwest of Niagara Falls, and transferred to the seminary here three years ago, he said, because he had a special interest in working with Latin American immigrants, and had heard that New York needed such priests.

Normally, young priests turn to their classmates for support as they navigate the transition from seminary to parish. Father D’Arcy, who lives with two more-senior priests in the rectory of Our Lady of Angels Parish in Kingsbridge, hopes that the years ahead will bring him such friends.

“That is a very real problem, that I don’t have brother priests my age: for me, it’s a little sensitive,” he said, sitting in the rectory’s quiet living room on his first day in residence there. Parishes, he added, are busy places, and to cultivate friendships with other priests, “you need time and leisure, and priests don’t have so much time to do that.”

“That’s why you really have to get that done in the seminary,” he said…

…The number of seminarians has been declining, in New York and nationally, since the 1960s. St. Joseph’s, the New York Archdiocese’s stately limestone seminary in Yonkers, opened in 1896 with room for 180 students. It graduated 25 or 30 men annually through the mid-1970s, but since the mid-1990s, most graduating classes have had fewer than 10 priests. Before this year, the archdiocese’s smallest graduating class was in 1998, with two priests.

The archdiocese estimates that it would need 20 new priests a year to fill all open positions and allow priests to retire as they age. But church officials say they see some signs of hope: nationally, as well as in New York, the number of seminarians has begun to inch up in the last several years, in part because of an increase in foreign-born priests.

Next year, eight men are expected to graduate from St. Joseph’s to become new priests of the archdiocese, and in 2014, six are expected. “I think the pendulum is beginning to swing back up,” said Bishop Gerald T. Walsh, the rector of the seminary.

This year’s small class was in some ways an anomaly: several men who would have been in the class were delayed from entering the seminary because of additional philosophy and theology study required by the Vatican beginning in 2006, archdiocesan officials said.

But the numbers are consistently low enough that the archdiocese has decided to make a change. Starting next year, all seminarians from the Brooklyn and Rockville Centre Dioceses, who currently study in Huntington, N.Y., will study at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, along with the seminarians from the New York Archdiocese, which does not include Brooklyn or Queens, but extends northward nearly to Albany.

Last year, there were a total of about 50 seminarians at St. Joseph’s, including foreign priests doing advanced studies. Next year, about 90 are expected.

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