Ordination Class of '04: Older, More Educated, More Foreign-Born

Sociologist Tracks a Trend Among New Priests in U.S.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

WASHINGTON, D.C., AUG. 20, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Yuvan Arbey Alvarez doesn’t seem like the typical, newly ordained priest in the Newark Archdiocese.

He is a native of a foreign country — Colombia — and the youngest of 20 children.

But Arbey Alvarez, who attended the Neocatechumenal Way’s Redemptoris Mater Seminary in his archdiocese, is in fact part of a growing trend of foreign-born priests in the United States.

The ordination class of 2004, in fact, reflects a trend toward older, more educated and more foreign-born men entering the priesthood in this country.

Sociologist Dean Hoge, of the Catholic University of America Life Cycle Institute, identified the trend in his Report on Survey of 2004 Priestly Ordinations.

Hoge, who has examined data related to ordinations for several years, said he found “three changes in the ordinands since the research began in 1998.”

“First, the average age at ordination rose from 34.8 to 37.0,” he said.

“Second, the level of education prior to entering seminary rose,” the sociologist said. “Whereas in 1998, 30% had less than a B.A. or B.S. degree, in the 2004 sample it was only 22%. Correspondingly, those who had received a master’s degree or professional degree beyond the B.A. rose from 13 to 28.”

“Third, the percentage born outside the U.S. rose from 24 to 31%,” Hoge said. “The four principal countries of birth today [outside the United States] are Vietnam, Mexico, Philippines and Poland.”

The study also noted that involvement in parish ministries, primarily as altar servers, lectors and Eucharistic ministers, preceded seminary for the vast majority of men.

There were 126 dioceses and 32 religious orders that provided 336 respondents to the survey by March 31. The survey contacted 194 dioceses and 59 religious orders of men.

The largest numbers of ordinations were in the Archdioceses of Chicago and Newark, which each ordained 14 men. The New York Archdiocese ordained 13. The archdioceses are the third, ninth and second largest dioceses in the nation, respectively.

Some smaller dioceses marked a significant increase in numbers ordained. The Diocese of Columbus, Ohio, ordained six, the largest group in 20 years. The Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island, ordained seven, its largest number in 10 years.

The Newark Archdiocese in New Jersey exemplifies the increasing number of seminarians from other countries. Of the 14 men ordained for the diocese, 11 were born outside the United States: three in Poland, two in Africa, and one each in Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Nicaragua, the Philippines and Singapore.

Over half of the seminarians attended Catholic schools and about 46% of the ordinands attended Catholic colleges. These percentages are much higher than the percentage of Catholics overall who attend Catholic schools and colleges.

Some in the ordination class grew up in other churches. Robert Conway, a businessman from the Diocese of Charlotte and a widower, was first a Quaker, then raised as a Methodist. After converting to Catholicism he was drawn to the priesthood as he saw his wife’s parish community rally round her as she died of multiple sclerosis. Conway was one of three men from the Charlotte Diocese in this year’s ordination class.

In the Washington Archdiocese, Carter Griffin, one of eight men to be ordained, grew up Protestant and converted to Catholicism in college. He is a former naval officer and served in the Persian Gulf.

Three percent of the ordination class of 2004 is over 60 years old. Among them are two from the Diocese of St. Augustine, Joseph McDonnell and Richard Perko, both 62. Father McDonnell is an attorney; and Father Perko, a funeral director and embalmer. Patrick Forsythe, also over 60, was ordained for the Birmingham Diocese. He studied for the priesthood after 40 years in medicine.

Hoge noted that 12% of the class is Hispanic and 12% Asian or Pacific Islander, a figure higher than in recent years.

He noted that a 1984 study of Catholic seminarians found that 7% were Hispanic. Still, he added, the figure is lower than the percentage of Hispanics in the U.S. Catholic population today, estimated at 25-30%.

The 12% Asian or Pacific Islander rate is higher than the estimated 2% to 3% of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the U.S. Catholic population.

Only 1% of the class is black. Blacks are estimated to comprise 2% to 3% of Catholics in the United States.

While the mean age for the ordinands is increasing, 49% were under 35, and 22% under 30.

The ordinands reveal a variety of professional backgrounds. Responding to a question about their full-time work experience, 20% cited the field of education. Seven percent were in Church ministry; 9% cited engineering and computer programming fields; and 7% were in the military. Four percent were in law.

Bishop Blase Cupich, interim chairman of the episcopal Committee on Vocations, states: “The Church, with both joy and gratitude, celebrates the ordinations of these men for priestly service. These men … reflect the richness of the Church in our country. They are faithful, dedicated and committed men.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry


Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation