One of the biggest hurdles today for young people to enter formation to the priesthood and religious life involves student loans. As all are aware, it is easy for a student to amass thousands of dollars in loans as the cost of higher education continues to increase exponentially. When I went to college 22 years ago, my private university was considered expensive, and it cost about $25,000. Today, it costs almost $60,000!
Religious communities for the most part require that a candidate pay his or her loans completely before entering formation. Since someone in religious life takes a voy of poverty, he or she will not have a future source of income, and religious communities will not assume the personal debt of novices. It may take years for a candidate to pay off student loans, and at times, it is so demoralizing that he or she simply gives up in the possibility of religious life.
I know a case where a generous benefactor paid off the debt of a young man wishing to enter the Benedictines. I know a young man who worked tirelessly as a bar tender in New York City for three years until he paid off his loans, and entered religious life.
Formation for diocesan priests is a bit different since diocesan priests will have a source of income after ordination. That being said, the total amount of the loan cannot be too high. There is no magic number when it comes to the maximum loan amount tolerated, so each diocese must decide what is appropriate. Some dioceses pay off student loans after ordination, but I estimate that most do not do that.
Organizations have emerged that help young men and women to pay off student debt so they can enter seminary and religious life. The best well-known is the Labouré Society. It has developed a model where each year a cohort of future religious is created and they all raise money for the total amount of debt held by the cohort. I know two women who participated in the Labouré Society’s program and are now in a religious community. This is a a great organization to support if you wish to support future vocations to religious life.
As a Vocation Director for eight years, and now Director of Seminarians, I am grateful that men and women considering the priesthood and religious life will find relief from student loans. It will allow them to get a step closer to responding to God’s call.
There has been much debate and talk about the recent loan forgiveness. I wish everyone could rejoice and be glad that some in our society are receiving assistance. Can’t we be happy for the good fortune of others?
I remain grateful for the men and women who will find it a bit easier to enter seminary and religious life.