Big Families Big Vocations

Big Family

Big Catholic families produce vocations to the priesthood at disproportionately higher levels than the majority of smaller Catholic families. No disputing. Simply the truth.

In recent decades a majority of Catholics have bought into the secular notion of the small, “modern”, family. The Gallup organization has conducted polls for years asking Americans the question, “What is the ideal number of children for a family to have?” Responses are nearly the same every time: 2.5 children on average.

How do Catholics specifically respond to Gallup? Nearly identical to Protestants, with 54 percent of Catholics stating that zero, one or two children is the ideal size.

With 82 percent of American Catholics telling Gallup that birth control is morally acceptable to them, maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised. However, what is more interesting is the make up of the families who are giving Holy Mother Church her next generation of priests.

As I have previously written about, each year Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) conducts a survey of ordinands to the priesthood. The 2013 survey received a response rate of nearly 75 percent from these soon-to-be ordained men. It is interesting to note the correlation between big families and priestly vocations captured from recent surveys.

2013 Survey of Ordinands Siblings Chart
Source: Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, Georgetown University, 2013

In direct contrast to our current culture and to the previously mentioned Gallup survey, 52 percent of ordinands in the 2013 survey come from families in which they have 3, 4 or even 5 or more siblings. An additional 24 percent are one of 3 children. Even more interesting is that 1 in 5 ordinands have at least 5 siblings!

38 percent of the ordinands in the 2012 survey had more than 3 siblings.

25 percent of ordinands surveyed in 2011 were from families with at least 6 children.

Back in 2010, 55 percent of ordinands came from families with 4 or more children, with 24 percent of ordinands having at least 5 siblings.

There are many inferences we can draw from such data as this. As I stated at the beginning of the post, it is irrefutable that big Catholic families are producing big vocational results for the priesthood.

Is this because their acceptance of more children also manifests itself with a deeper love for, and acceptance of, God’s will?

Are these impressive results a reflection of families who practice their faith in such a way that they actively participate in the life of their parish?

Or could these vocations simply be the statistical results of these families having more children, thereby improving the odds that one of their sons will discern a calling to the priesthood.

Of course, short of further research we can’t know for sure. That all three of these answers may play a part seems rather likely.

I personally have seen many parishes in which the faithful frequently pray for an increase in vocations to the priesthood. However, many of these same parishes mirror our current, contraceptive, culture when it comes to their view of family and children. The faithful speak of the need for more priests, but it often seems that they expect them to come from somewhere other than their own family.

Posted on October 13, 2013, in holiness, life and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Call me crazy, but I see a correlation between those open to participating in creation history and those open to participation in salvation history. I think it has something to do with inviting God into EVERY aspect of your life that makes such a big difference. When the parents are open to and listening to the whispers of God our childer have a greater opportunity to tune in and line up for service.

    • Very well said Steve. Couldn’t agree more. I had suspected something like this prior to coming across this data, but when you see the actual numbers and the size of the families from which we are getting our holy priests, it is compelling indeed. What grace we receive when we cooperate with God’s plan and purpose for our families.

      God bless!

  2. These stats can be looked at in a variety of ways. For instance, 67% of the priests had only 1-3 siblings, with the largest group overall (24%) having only two. There are many Catholic families with fewer than five children by God’s design, not contraception, and they are certainly making their contribution, too.

    • Thank you for your comment. I completely agree with your last sentence.

      This post begins by reflecting upon two key points: first, many Catholics state the “ideal” family only has 1 or 2 children; second, 82 percent of Catholics believe contraception to be moral. Unlike yourself, these individuals are having fewer children (it would seem) not because of God’s design, but instead because of a contraceptive mentality.

      As for the family size of these ordinands in 2013, the fact is that a disproportionate number of them come from big families. 20% of American families do not have 6 or more kids; and yet, 20% of this past group of ordained men do come from families of 6 or more.

      By far the majority of Catholic families have 1-3 kids, therefore most ordinands should come from this family background. However, a majority of ordinands (52% in 2013) actually come from homes where they are AT LEAST one of four kids. That is counter cultural, which is ultimately the observation I was making. This is simply a correlation we are seeing; not necessarily a causation.

      God bless!

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