Vocation Crisis? Not What You Might Think…

Yesterday, a study was released by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) of Georgetown University titled, “Consideration of Priesthood and Religious Life Among Never-Married U.S. Catholics”.  A survey was taken of approximately 24,500,000 single Catholics in the U.S. on whether they had ever discerned a religious vocation and why or why not.  The results are amazing.

The study found that there are an abundance of potential priests and religious; approximately 600,000 young men and women have seriously discerned a priestly or religious vocation.  “There is no vocation shortage,” states Fr. Daniel Mahan to the National Catholic Register.  “There is a shortage in those who respond to God’s call.”

So why do we still have a shortage of priests and religious?  The authors of the study summarize: “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 education prerequisites and dealing with other issues such as student loan debt.” 

Interestingly, student loan debt also factored in as a reason why men and women do not seriously discern a priestly or religious vocation.  Of the 87% of the men who responded they had not discerned a vocation as a priest or religious brother, 14% agreed somewhat or very much that student educational debt was a reason.  That translates to 2,984,100 men saying student loan debt played a role in their not discerning a vocation to the priesthood or religious life.  Three percent, or 639,450 men, strongly agreed it was a reason they did not further discern a vocation in the Church.

For women, of the 90% who responded they’d never seriously discerned a vocation as a religious sister, 10% or 2,205,000 said student loan debt was a factor.  Five percent, or 1,102,000 strongly agreed student loan debt kept them from seriously discerning a religious vocation.

That means for 1,741,450 single Catholic men and women, student loan debt was identified as a strong reason for them not further discerning whether they are called to the priesthood or religious life.  The study points out other reasons are more frequently cited for not discerning a priestly or religious vocation: not feeling called, not feeling “holy” or “religious enough”, never being encouraged or invited, among others.  A copy of the entire study may be found here.

As a whole, the study confirms what many have known for some time – as a Church, we need to do better at evangelizing and forming disciples so we understand and live our Catholic faith, no matter our vocation in life.  We need to help young people understand what “vocation” means – the particular way God calls us to grow in our universal call to holiness.  This applies to all vocations – marriage, ordained life, religious life, and dedicated single life.  Each one of us has a responsibility to support vocations, personally inviting, encouraging, and supporting young people to prayerfully consider a priestly or religious vocation.  Interestingly, the study pointed out the peak age for women to first consider a vocation was in primary school, for boys, it was secondary school.  In talking with those involved in promoting vocations, the target ages for discussing vocations is at 11 years old and again as juniors in high school; but certainly, that shouldn’t stop us from encouraging boys or girls and young men or women of any age. 

Finally, as the study points out, we need to realize there are practical concerns that keep men and women from seriously discerning a priestly or religious vocation, much less entering formation to the priesthood or religious life – educational requirements, citizenship requirements, and educational loan debt.  Other studies and vocation directors indicate almost half of the aspirants who are seriously discerning the priesthood or religious life are prevented from entering formation due to educational loans.

There are currently two organizations in the U.S. that exist because their founders saw the problem of educational loans as a hurdle to religious vocations and wanted to do something about it: The Labouré Society and Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations (MEFV).  The Labouré Society was founded in 2003 and has issued grants totaling over $2 million to assist over 230 young men and women resolve their educational loans and enter formation.  MEFV has issued grants totaling $1.3 million to 128 young men and women so they are free to enter formation.  Even at that, MEFV reports they have to turn down about half of their grant applicants each year due to lack of grant funds.

My Labouré Society classmates and I are almost two-thirds the way through our class term.  To date, we’ve raised almost one quarter of our class goal and we are so grateful for the gifts made in support of our vocations!  To our Friends, thank you.  But we still have a ways to go to make our December 31, 2012 goal and deliver 10 more vocations to the Church. 

Please consider becoming a Friend of the Society and inviting friends, family, colleagues, and your parish groups and organizations to do the same – this is not just providing financial resources; your prayers and encouragement are a blessing to those aspiring to the priesthood or religious life.  Also, you can help spread the word about The Labouré Society.  People need to know how they can practically help support vocations to the Church.  Young people need to know educational loans do not have to prevent them from seriously discerning a vocation to the priesthood or religious life.  For more information on becoming a Friend of The Labouré Society, check out this page.

In conclusion, take a moment and think about the impact priests and religious have had on your life.  Perhaps it was a parish priest, or a religious sister who taught in your school or took care of you or a family member in a hospital.  Perhaps you find solace in the quiet peace of a nearby monastery and from the prayers of the monks or nuns who reside behind the cloister walls.  Now, imagine if they were no longer there…

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