The wake of World Youth Day has brought an increase in interest in religious vocations, as demonstrated in the response to Catholic Australia’s National Vocations Awareness Week.
Fr. Michael De Stoop, Director of Vocations for the Archdiocese of Sydney, said in a press release from the archdiocese that there has been a strong response from young people who want to know more about the life of a priest or a religious sister. There have also been inquiries about vocations in married and single life and vocations as a consecrated lay person.
One of the aims of National Awareness Vocations Week was to communicate to young people and their families the joy and deep happiness generated by living a religious life supported by the grace of God, Fr. Michael explained.
Fr. Michael said he believes the increase in interest in the priesthood and religious life is due to both the excitement and renewed faith generated by World Youth Day 2008 and the recent Vocations Expo in Martin Place which was part of the successful Sydney Congress Embracing the New Evangelism (SCENE).
At the July Vocations Expo, many young people filled out cards asking to know more about specific vocations. The Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia reported more than ten requests from women wanting to know more about becoming a religious sister.
"This is a very big increase when you consider the annual number of those taking solemn vows as religious sisters within the Archdiocese over the past several years has seldom been more than one or two," Fr Michael said.
He suggested that the declining numbers of both priests and religious sisters, evident throughout the 1980s and 1990s, was due to an increasingly secular society. He said he and others in the Church believe this trend is now changing because young people search for a deeper meaning to their lives and turn to their faith to guide and give them sustenance.
The number of trainee priests at the Seminary of the Good Shepherd Homebush as more than tripled in recent years.
"When I entered St Patrick's College at Manly, which was operating in 1994 when I began my training, there were 39 students - and this number was the whole of New South Wales," Fr. Michael reported. "By my second year this number had dropped to 29 and by my third year, was down to just 19."
The Seminary of the Good Shepherd now has 42 seminarians in training for the priesthood not for the whole of New South Wales but for Sydney alone.
"Those from the Dioceses of Broken Bay, Wagga and other areas of NSW now either have their own Seminaries or train in Brisbane or Melbourne," Fr Michael explained.
In April four priests were ordained by Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney. These higher numbers are expected to be repeated over the next several years.
"A religious vocation is a happy and very fulfilling life and filled with joy," Fr Michael added. “While many outside the priesthood or religious orders imagine it is a life of sacrifice. But when you do something out of love it is never a sacrifice."
He said that he has never regretted his decision to become a diocesan priest, saying his vocation is inspiring, rewarding and constantly evolving.
As part of National Vocations Week, parishes and diocese will be provided with extensive resources and information to help those discerning a religious vocation. There will also be religious forums for schools across Australia to help students in school years seven to eleven learn more about life as a priest, religious sister or consecrated layman.
Clergy, vowed religious, consecrated laypersons and seminarians will lead the forums either for the entire school body or for individual classes. They will give individual testimonies about their particular vocations and how they live them out.
Australia’s National Vocations Awareness Week web site is at http://www.vocationcentre.org.au