A new report shows that while a significant number of Catholics are considering religious vocations, more education and outreach are needed to foster encouragement, especially among Latino populations.
“Although many speak of priest shortages and steep declines in the number of men and women religious, the survey reveals that there is no shortage of individuals who seriously consider these vocations among never-married Catholics in the United States,” the report said.
On Oct. 9, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced the release of a study on the consideration of vocations, conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.
The study, entitled, “Consideration of Priesthood and Religious Life Among Never-Married U.S. Catholics,” was commissioned by the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations.
It found that among never-married Catholics, 12 percent of men and 10 percent of women have considered a vocation “at least a little seriously.”
Three percent of male respondents said they have “very seriously” considered entering the priesthood or becoming a religious brother, and two percent of female respondents said they have “very seriously” considered becoming a religious sister.
“This is equivalent to 350,000 never-married men and more than 250,000 never-married women,” the report explained.
“Shepherding more of these individuals on the path to seeking a vocation would likely require a combination of greater outreach from the Church, encouragement from others, assistance in obtaining educational prerequisites, and dealing with other issues such as student loan debt and citizenship status,” it suggested.
The report revealed “generational differences in the consideration of vocations,” with a low point falling in the Post-Vatican II Generation, those born from 1961 to 1981, and a slight increase among those born after 1981.
Catholic education also played a significant role. Male respondents who attended Catholic high school were more than six times more likely to have considered a vocation than those who did not, and female respondents who attended a Catholic elementary school were more than three times as likely to do so as those who did not.
Participation in a parish youth group was also related to higher vocational consideration.
“Encouragement from others is also important,” the survey found. Both men and women were almost twice as likely to consider a vocation if someone had encouraged them to do so.
Other positive factors in considering vocations were participation in a World Youth Day or National Catholic Youth Conference, the use of traditional media to access religious or spiritual content and knowing someone who was living a religious vocation.
Most of the adults in the survey who had considered a vocation “did so between the ages of 13 and 24,” the report said, and “one in four Catholic females who have considered becoming a religious sister did so before they were a teenager.”
The survey found “few differences related to race and ethnicity” and said that “Hispanic respondents – both male and female – are no less likely than others to say they have considered a vocation.”
However, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has warned of an “urgent” shortage in Hispanic clergy and religious. While about 35 percent of U.S. Catholics are Hispanic, “only 15 percent of the 2012 ordination class and 9 percent of the 2011 religious profession class were Hispanic,” the conference said.
The study found that citizenship requirements and educational prerequisites could be challenges facing Hispanic vocations. Hispanic respondents were the least likely to report having a college degree or being enrolled in Catholic schools at any level of education.
In addition, while Hispanic respondents were “among the most likely to participate in devotional practices and other prayer” associated with higher levels of considering a vocation, they were also “among the least likely to report that they have ever been encouraged to seek a vocation.”
“The good news is that more than 500,000 never-married men and women have seriously considered a vocation to priesthood or the religious life,” said Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations.
“The challenge is to pastor and guide these individuals more effectively,” he continued. “This will require greater and more consistent encouragement from others, particularly within the family, and a more urgent focus on access to Catholic education for our young people.”