The Catholic Church in the United States will celebrate National Vocation Awareness Week, November 1-7, 2020. This annual week-long celebration is an opportunity for dioceses and parishes in the United States to uphold and promote vocations to the priesthood, diaconate, and consecrated life and encourage the faithful to renew their prayerful support for those currently discerning one of these calls.
This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about unforeseen challenges in the lives of many throughout the country. Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, offered that these current challenges provide an opportunity for genuine discernment fully rooted and dependent upon Christ. “These unusual and difficult times have brought much uncertainty and fear into our lives, but we know in faith that Christ’s powerful hand extends over all of us in mercy. I invite those discerning a vocation to use this time to prayerfully renew your love for Christ and recognize your complete dependence upon Him who loves and calls you uniquely.”
Data from recent studies show an encouraging picture for vocations. The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) released its annual study on seminary formation enrollment in June 2020, showing steady enrollment over the past decade, despite experiencing a slight decrease in 2019-2020 compared to 2018-2019. In fact, the retention rate for the college seminary class of 2020 is expected to be 75%, which is higher than the average of 71% over the last 12 years. In addition, pre-theology students continue to make up about 22% of total theologate enrollment – another trend that has remained unchanged in the last decade.
Another study conducted by CARA in conjunction with the National Religious Vocation Conference (NRVC), indicates that vocations to religious life are also continuing to flourish. The “2020 Study on Recent Vocations to Religious Life,” released earlier this Spring, revealed that the number of men and women religious in initial formation is not significantly different from that reported in 2009. In addition, while 87% of perpetually professed religious are over the age of 60, this statistic has remained steady for the last decade, which suggests that the influx of new vocations has helped to offset the number of religious who are aging out of their communities. Finally, the study also found that nearly half of those currently in initial formation are under the age of 30, an increase of 43% since 2009.
Observance of Vocation Awareness Week began in 1976 when the U.S. bishops designated the 28th Sunday of the year for the celebration. In 1997, the celebration was moved to the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord and in 2014, the USCCB’s Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations moved the observance of National Vocation Awareness Week to November in order to engage Catholic schools and colleges more effectively in calling attention to the importance of vocations.