Increasing Vocations isn’t Rocket Science


A recent column by Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island highlighted the ongoing vocations crisis in his diocese.  Bishop Tobin noted:

Some clergy numbers in the Diocese of Providence to think about: Since the beginning of this decade we’ve lost 58 priests from active ministry in the Diocese, due mostly to retirement, and we’ve ordained just 18. That’s a net loss of 40 priests from active ministry in the Diocese. The median age of active priests is 59; the median age of all priests, including retirees is 67. There are just 21 priests under the age of 40.

Of course the dire conditions facing faithful Catholics in Providence isn’t unique to them alone. Priest shortages, anemic ordination classes, and underwhelming statistics for seminary enrollment do not bode well for the coming years. In response to these bleak conditions, much of the Church hierarchy looks for the latest program, initiative, or marketing scheme to solve their vocations crisis.

Increasing vocations isn’t rocket science. We already know the answer: wherever traditional Catholicism blooms, vocations boom.

In the past I have written of the blueprint provided by the Dioceses of Lincoln, Nebraska and Charlotte, North Carolina. Despite their modest size (less than 100,000 registered Catholics in Lincoln and 200,000 in Charlotte), both dioceses are experiencing vocational success stories:

  • In a recent 24 month span Lincoln ordained 17 men to the priesthood.
  • Lincoln is the only diocese in the United States to place in the Top 20 for the ratio of ordinands to population in every survey conducted from 1993-2012, often ranking #1.
  • Last year Charlotte opened St. Joseph’s College Seminary for those young men discerning a priestly vocation. They immediately filled up with 8 seminarians.
  • While the Charlotte diocese ordained 5 men to the priesthood this year, they have also had to expand St. Joseph’s in only its second year due to an additional 9 college seminarians enrolling.

Both dioceses are known for their orthodoxy and embracing of tradition. The Diocese of Lincoln has never permitted girls to serve at the altar, and an increasing number of parishes in Charlotte have done the same. This has helped to emphasize the male only sanctuary (with the possible exception of readers), increasing the liturgical participation of young men.

Both dioceses also embrace our liturgical tradition. The Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP) has their North American seminary in Denton, NE, having been invited into the Lincoln diocese by (then) Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz in the 1990’s. The Fraternity offers the Mass and other sacraments using the 1962 liturgical books.

The diocese also has many Masses offered ad orientem (facing the east), including those offered by Bishop James Conley at the cathedral each of the last two years during Advent.

The Diocese of Charlotte has seen a steady increase in Traditional Latin Masses offered over the past several years, including a Sunday High Mass offered weekly at St. Ann’s. It’s interesting to note that 48% of Charlotte’s seminarians in 2016-2017 were from parishes that are most closely viewed with the reform of the reform and tradition friendly pastors.

It’s also worth noting here the success of the previously mentioned Fraternity of Saint Peter. While dioceses like Providence bemoan their immediate future, the Fraternity is experiencing the opposite. 2017 has been a record year for the Fraternity, having just ordained 19 men to the priesthood. To provide some perspective for this success, the FSSP currently has a presence in only 45 North American diocese (35 in the United States and 7 in Canada).

An addition to the liturgy , however, there is also another traditional component present wherever vocations boom: an authentically Catholic education.

As I’ve written about before, Lincoln has spent decades making a Catholic education affordable and orthodox. With habited religious sisters teaching (many having fled other dioceses in the Seventies and Eighties) and priests often serving as theology teachers and principals, the students enrolled in Lincoln parish schools are 96% Catholic. This continues through high school and onto an orthodox and thriving Newman Center at the University of Nebraska.

Think about that. Young men are attending orthodox Catholic schools for K-12, all the while many continue altar serving in a male only sanctuary, then they head off to university, where they are met by a vibrant (and authentic) Newman Center. At the same time, the diocese is home to two solidly orthodox seminaries: St. Gregory the Great (diocesan) and Our Lady of Guadalupe (FSSP).

It’s important to also highlight the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas as well. Much like Lincoln, an affordable and authentic Catholic school system is helping to increase vocations.

In 2017 Wichita ordained 10 men to the priesthood, one of the top ordination classes in the entire country. Next year they are set to ordain another 10. This means that in just two years they will have increased their number of diocesan priests by 20%. The role of (authentic) Catholic schools in this boom can’t be overstated.

In their 2008 publication “Who Will Save America’s Urban Catholic Schools?”, the Fordham Foundation noted:

Wichita might be home to one of the strongest
Catholic school systems in the nation . . .

As explained at Wichita’s diocesan website:

…Catholic schools are parochial; they belong to the parish. They are not private schools that are owned and operated by those who use them. Therefore, every school family is encouraged to be an active parish steward.

Because the entire Diocese is committed to Stewardship, parishes make every effort to make a Catholic education, from kindergarten thru high school, available to active parish stewards without charging tuition. As far as we know, the Diocese of Wichita is the only diocese in the United States where every child of active parish stewards can attend Catholic grade and high school without paying tuition.

Wichita’s diocesan newspaper recently identified the prominent role Catholic schools have played in their vocations boom. Unlike the rest of the country, which has seen decline and closures, Wichita has seen enrollment increase since 1985, including at the kindergarten level where they also exceed the national average.

Prior to this year ordinations, the diocese had 58 seminarians, or one for every 1,845 registered Catholics, far exceeding the ratios of archdioceses like Los Angeles or New York.

And yet, too many dioceses still behave as if they are searching for a way out of their vocational desert, as if the path eludes them.

Simply put, tradition and orthodoxy are not optional. Reverent liturgies, incorporating traditional disciplines such as ad orientem Masses and altar boys serving, aren’t merely a preference. They are foundational.

Successful diocese also promote and encourage the Traditional Latin Mass instead of simply tolerating it, or worse, discouraging it. Traditional orders, as example, are booming while struggling dioceses are seeing retirements far outpace ordinations.

Further, we cannot afford to lose our Catholic children to the culture. As was always our belief, a Catholic child needs a Catholic education. Orthodox and affordable Catholic schools, such as we find in Lincoln and Wichita, as well as tradition friendly minor seminaries like St. Joseph’s in Charlotte, help to keep our Catholic kids Catholic.

Of course, there must always be prayer. Pray for vocations. Parishioners praying from the pews. Young men spending time before the Blessed Sacrament in prayer, listening and discerning. We must humbly ask God for priests.

But that prayer, and this is key, must be in conjunction with traditional liturgies and orthodox schools. To pray for priests while rejecting that which forms our young men and assists them to discern, is nothing less than tempting God. We are guilty of presumption.

Let us hope that more dioceses look to imitate Lincoln, Charlotte, and Wichita in the coming years so that all of the faithful might again witness an increase in priestly vocations.



Posted on July 14, 2017, in holiness, liturgy and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 39 Comments.

  1. Yet Bishop Tobin prides himself on his orthodoxy and is a failure. It seems you are cherry picking numbers. The religious order in my parish is very pastoral and uses the current Mass, yet is doing well in vocations.

    • Kurt, I’ve provided specific dioceses, statistics and examples. Further, the vocations success stories which I have listed are undeniable and universally recognized. On the other hand, you have not provided any details validating your claim. Your final sentence is vague & completely subjective.

    • Murray Fullerton

      What is “the current” mass? There is only one mass. There are two rites.

      • John D. Horton

        Wrong. There are two “forms” or “usages” of the one Roman or Latin or Western Rite. See “Summorum Pontificum” where these terms are explained.

    • Matthew M. Robare

      Stop it. You’re being very uncharitable, as well as illogical. The presence of a few outliers doesn’t disprove any of Brian’s facts, or the existence of a trend.

      Moreover, New England and Nebraska arte quite different places. Bishop Conley in Lincoln inherited and has maintained a diocese with a strong committment to being Catholic. Bishop Bruskewitz and Bishop Flavin provided leadership and a committment to God’s holy Church. It’s probably fair to say they implemented what the Council actually mandated and not some farcical Modernist “Spirit of Vatican II”. Not only that, but Nebraska is a conservative state in a part of the country with high levels of religious belief and church-going.

      The dioceses of New England, on the other hand, have a history of diffident, if not indifferent bishops more concerned with maintaining their political influence instead of saving souls, they have a population with European-levels of irreligion and strong attachments to the Democratic Party and the things it represents. Quite frankly New England also suffered more than Nebraska from the abuse scandal. Our pastors are baby boomers, our EMHCs are older women in pantsuits who voted for Hilary Clinton.

      Even with a capable and committed staff and curia, I doubt that Bishop Bruskewitz could turn any New England diocese around in just 12 years. But you know what? Praise God, things are improving. The Archdiocese of Boston ordains 6-8 men a year now. St John’s Seminary has increased enrollment from 34 in 2005-06 to 139 this year.

  2. “Male Only Sanctuary”. Please do your homework. Are you aware there are times when women are called to be in the sanctuary? For example, when a virgin is consecrated by the Bishop, the Rite specifically calls for her to “take her place in the sanctuary” after she is consecrated.

    • Lilly, do my homework? Really? An article which addresses diocesan Masses and the impact/influence of traditional liturgies upon the formation of young men serving, and you reference the occasion of when a bishop consecrates a virgin. Not what’s being addressed here, correct?

  3. Franklin P. Uroda

    I love the remarks about children in Catholic communities. In the article there is no mention of Jesus-The Priest-or His Name. C’mon we are in His Church. He founded it and Catholicism is all about Him. I’ve found that where there is scant mention of Him or His Holy Name, the religious trajectory is downward.

    • From start to finish this article is about Our Blessed Lord: the gift of Himself back to the Father at Calvary (the Mass), His holy ordained (the ministerial priesthood), and the catechesis of the next generation, so that they may know Him, love Him, and serve Him. If this article isn’t about Our Lord, then it’s about nothing.

  4. While this is not the primary subject of this blog entry, priestly societies that exclusively form men the Traditional Latin Mass and preconciliar faith are exploding with vocations. This is without exception, even for those are supposedly “canonically irregular” (the SSPX has 600 priests and 200 seminarians currently).

  5. As a seminarian myself this topic hits very close to home and I completely agree with what your saying, Orthodoxy within the Mass (both Forms) is incredibly important and I know for a fact that parishes that only allow young men to serve have a substantially larger amount of serves and also more vocations coming from these parishes. And this question of how do we foster and nurture vocations is something that gnaws at me quite a bit. The reason for this being that the dioceses that you site seem to be of one mine and are in agreement on how to go about growing the faith as a whole but also their numbers of priests, but unfortunately this doesn’t seem to be the norm. from my experience the norm for a diocese is that there are different conflicting views within the dioceses and her priests which leads to a lack of substantial action or a kind of ignorant blindness from one group of priests or another about how to successfully foster vocations. Because within the communities and circles of priests and seminarians its well known that Lincoln NE, and Charlotte SC have become powerhouses or kinds of models for getting more vocations. The problem though is the inaction and conflict between different generational and/or theological groups within the church that seem to resist to even acknowledge these dioceses success. So then the question becomes how do we, those of us in diocese of then Lincoln NE implement these types of changes that so clearly lead to a flourishing Church and an explosion of vocations?


  6. The Diocese of Charlotte (which includes everything in NC from Greensboro west to the Tennessee line) needs priests!

    Charlotte is one of the fastest growing dioceses in the country, primarily due to migration, that includes everything from suburban mega-parishes, to isolated mountain missions. They have had to pull in priests from other dioceses to staff all the parishes.

    Bishop Jugis is also from Charlotte and was a priest in the diocese before his appointment. He’s committed to the diocese and is not looking for his next promotion.

    Western NC is in the middle of the Bible Belt (home to Billy Graham), but historically there have been few Catholics. (About 2% of the population when the diocese was formed in the 1970s.) As a result, there is little existing infrastructure from which to create an school system, like in Lincoln or Wichita.

  7. I find it depressing that men, based on stats listed in this blog, must dominate the sanctuary in order for vocations to increase. In my own life I have found that men don’t share well in general; this blog sure confirms my experience! Even more discouraging is the idea that we must have the mass in Latin to be authentic, that only Latin can communicate the truth of the gospel—–PATHETIC!!! The English mass has always been a thing of beauty in worship for me. Moreover, I have never seen any liturgical abuse in it! It is so sad that people are still fighting Vatican II.

    • We have a beautiful image of the Blessed Mother in our sanctuary. I fear she is the next to go with the rule some promote. I’m also troubled by the “all-male sanctuary” which seems a move beyond the “altar servers are for vocations” theory.

      • Not to be rude, but both of these comments are so telling, and so nonsensical, as not to warrant a serious rebuttal.

      • People are still discussing Vat II because its only been about 50 years since the council, which in terms of the church and how fast it moves is like yesterday. If we look back through history we can see that theologians, etc would work through encyclicals for hundreds of years to see what the Chruch is fully saying. So that is the main reason for the conflict “Still” around Vat II. And just to be clear there have been plenty of abuses on the Novus Ordo, I can recall in my own diocese stories of where the priest would dress up like a clown to celebrate the mass, so the notion that there hasn’t or isn’t abuses in the new form of the mass is completely incorrect

  8. Shawn Marshall

    Such a great article – so much encouragement to be found there – I cite Lincoln and Wichita as exemplars all the time while praying that each parish should establish 501(c)3 endowments for the nearest Catholic school to pay teacher salaries only and at the proportion of Catholic students. If our bishops were not so (whatever) would this not be the second greatest mission in every parish?

  9. While I have no quarrel with anything you wrote, Brian, there may be one aspect of the vocations boom in conservative circles that you may be missing.

    When we first came out here to Oregon 2008 we discovered a Latin Mass parish here in Portland, St. Birgitta’s, from which came many vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Based on this discovery, I wrote a letter to the Catholic Sentinel here suggesting that the Latin Mass promoted vocations. They published it, and I triumphantly sent a copy to my Carmelite daughter. Very relevant is the fact that two of the young ladies from that parish were in the same convent with her, a convent that is overflowing with vocations, the Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Valparaiso Nebraska (Lincoln Diocese, of course). These young nuns discussed my letter at recreation, and they disagreed with me. Rather, their conclusion was ( attention bishops and directors of vocations!) that for the most part their vocations came from families where the parents read the children bible stories and lives of the saints from a very early age.

    As you very probably know, Brian, in response to the vocations crisis those in the vocation promotions biz have been pushing the “culture of vocation,” which has come to mean “the vocations cross” being handed off to a new family at Sunday Mass every week, “come and see” weekends and the like. Yet in Avvenire many years ago I saw in italian an article heading which illuminated our situation vis a vis vocations perfectly: “The Culture of Vocation vs. The Culture of Distraction.” The parents of the nuns in my daughter’s convent very effectively implemented a culture of vocation, probably without intending to do anything of the kind, primarily by replacing mass media with the lives of the saints etc.

  10. (my post continued)

    And one might presume that a similar culture in many Catholic homes of an earlier era gave many priests and nuns to the Church. Then came movies, radio, TV, the internet, Distraction on steroids. So, perhaps we have mistaken our crisis altogether and do not have a vocations crisis so much as a parenting crisis. One looks into the home of Louis and Zellie Martin and finds the same sort of thing in the evening,a family gathering around the parents, the lives of the saints being read . . .a culture of vocation that produced St. Therese.. The same was true of the home of Solanus Casey. From his biography, Thank God Ahead of Time by Michael Crosby:

    “At a time when television and movies were not even imagined…stories and songs provided the Casey family with sufficient entertainment. Especially when snows landlocked the family, this kind of entertainment kept spirits from becoming morose. Often the children played games. Other times Barney Sr. and Ellen gathered everyone around the dining room for an evening of literature. Barney Sr. would read the poems of Tom Moore besides those of Longfellow and Whittier. Stories like Cooper’s The Deerslayer held the children fascinated for long periods of time.
    “Bernard and Ellen Casey were creating a caring environment which enabled young Casey to become well-integrated and balanced. For their role in his spiritual formation, the future Solanus would be forever grateful… In many ways Solanus was able to be who he was precisely because of the way his parents nourished him in his youth.”

    THAT is the culture of vocation. It was surely the seedbed of Solanus Casey’s vocation, the sine qua non of his sanctity and of his being raised to the altars. Yet, this sort of program does not require a benevolent and wise bishop, nor a Catholic school system available to every child, nor even a conservative parish and traditional liturgy ( though all of this is very desirable), but simply parents intent on seeing their children given the formation, the culture and the baptism of the imagination that will carry them to heaven. It is within the reach and within the budget of virtually every parent in the Church, and both incredibly simple and delightful to implement. if even 1% of Catholic parents implemented anything of the kind, we would have a vocations crisis of another kind: seminaries, convents and rectories full to overflowing.

    • I agree with this whole heartedly! We belong to the same parish we always have, but when we began homeschooling our children (and yes we have a parish school- but that does not interest me at all- good as it may be) THAT is when we as parents grew in our faith, began sharing it more effectively and joyfully with our children- and then (and only then!) did my children begin seriously talking about vocations. My 5 year has expressed that she may want to be a nun! My oldest daughter now in college probably didn’t even know what a nun was at 5!! And why? Reading Saints stories and the Bible. Yes- their heroes are now people worthy of emulation instead of movie stars or the like. We did religious Ed. Made sure they had their sacraments, etc. – but shamefully we weren’t living it in the home the way we should. That’s where it’s at- you are right on point with this 🙂

      • Thanks very much . This is one of those things that is so perfectly obvious that one has to conclude after a time that there is some sort of enchantment on the Church, a cloud over our minds, or an entrenched vice that makes us completely unwilling to see the truth of our captivity to mass media and to utterly reform our lives-to get the bad stuff out and the good stuff in.

        I have gotten some pretty astonished responses over the years to the thesis that since fathers are the gatekeepers for their families and the ” culture” that enters their homes is their responsibility entirely, but they seem completely unwilling to assert their authority and to exercise that responsibility. And why? It sounds ridiculous, especially to this particular demographic, but I am convinced that the underlying problem is that Catholic fathers are by and large hooked on televised sports. Am I wrong? And why will no one challenge them from the pulpit on this? Could it be that our priests are similarly hooked, or are afraid of being drummed out of the corps of “real men”? I think perhaps THAT is the vocations crisis.

        In my cynical moments I think the key to success here is to monetize the crisis, to develop a program called, say, “Family Evenings Together” complete with speakers, materials for small groups and etc. and then to sell it to our bishops for $350,000 per diocese.

  11. I never said there have been no abuses of the English mass, just that I, fortunately, have never experienced these abuses; I am sorry for others who have not been so fortunate. I think most people have not seen liturgical abuses, depending on what one calls abuses. Also, fifty years is a long time to still be complaining about the English mass, in my considered opinion. To each his\her own on time perception. In any case, it would depress me, to see a widespread return of Latin; I so disliked it in my youth.

    • The “clown Mass” myth has been discredited. There is more evidence of Tridentine Masses that included Nazi salutes and other Fascist imagery than of a Catholic Clown Mass every taking place.

      • Well as a seminarian and when I talk with some of the older priests in my diocese and they say that these type of things took place I tend to believe them. My only point was that the broad notion of there being no abuse after Vat II is incorrect, but I will also agree that prior to the council there were most likely abuses taking place as well. Thats all I’m trying to say.

      • If you do a Google image search on Clown Mass, you won’t come up empty, believe me. I’d love to know where, “The “clown Mass” myth has been discredited. ” It is simply an absurd statement, Kurt. You can’t make statements like that without discrediting yourself.

    • Geoff Jablonski

      Linred, the problem is that the conversation over Vatican II isn’t just about the OF. There are discussions on ecumenism, religious liberty, collegiality, and a whole host of other issues where Vatican II GREATLY, if not wholeheartedly, changed how the Church approaches these topics. These are not just discussions being had between the Holy See and the SSPX, but ones that engross a lot of bishops, theologians, and members of the hierarchy.

      The Liturgy is being talked about because of how the OF came into existence. The abuses that became a mainstay (nonstop use of “Extraordinary” Eucharistic Ministers, female altar servers, and banal music to name a few) were never even so much as hinted at in the Documents of the Second Vatican Council. However, traditional things like Gregorian Chant and the Preservation of Latin most certainly were. Furthermore, the unjust (if not illicit) suppression of the Tridentine Mass as well as the continuous mention of the “reform of the reform” have led to a continuous conversation on the Liturgy itself, especially how it changed following the Council.

      Finally, as one poster already stated, 50 years is HARDLY a long time, especially when viewed in the life of the Church. The Arians were condemned at Nicaea in 325, yet bishops like St. Ambrose were pressured into giving Arians their own churches near the end of the 4th Century, almost 70-80 years later. No Council is implemented, understood, or figured out overnight; it takes time. While I am not saying this is an excuse for the doctrinal and liturgical chaos that has reigned since 1965, I am stating that your observations on the “long time” since the end of the Council do not stand up to scrutiny, whether it be from a historical or catechetical perspective.

  12. The type of guys who have a problem serving next to altar girls are not the type of guys I want entering the seminary. Quality over quantity.

  1. Pingback: Increasing Vocations isn’t Rocket Science – sanctusdominusdeus

  2. Pingback: MONDAY CATHOLICA EDITION | Big Pulpit

  3. Pingback: Increasing Vocations isn’t Rocket Science | Blithe Spirit

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: