Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The New Breed

The press pool might've been kept out of the National Shrine's Crypt Church as B16 addressed the US bishops last month, but it still wasn't hard to hear a good few of the assembled groaning -- at least, on the inside... not to mention afterward -- as the Pope shared his assessment of Stateside Catholicism's ministerial recruitment efforts.

"Let us be quite frank: the ability to cultivate vocations to the priesthood and the religious life is a sure sign of the health of a local church," Papa Ratzi said.

"There is no room for complacency in this regard," he added.

"God continues to call young people; it is up to all of us to encourage a generous and free response to that call. On the other hand, none of us can take this grace for granted."

Thirty years ago, the American dioceses ordained close to 800 new priests a year. These days, the national figure's a shade more than half that.

That doesn't mean, however, that Boomtowns aren't to be found. Memorial Weekend saw a couple dioceses ordain their largest classes in years. For example...

...nine in St Louis (the Gateway City's biggest intake since 1983):
Once or twice a year, each student at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary will drop by Archbishop Raymond Burke's residence in the Central West End at 4:30 p.m. From there, they set off down Lindell Avenue and into Forest Park..

"The walks," as the seminarians call them, are opportunities for young men to have heart-to-hearts with a man who regularly meets with the pope, a heady prospect for a young priest-in-training. The conversations are usually casual, and the seminarians get to see a more personal, human side of Burke — like when he gets a little skittish around off-leash dogs.

Kenrick officials organize the walks using time sheets. When the sheets are posted, there's a rush to sign on.

"It's like when you throw pellets at the Japanese fish at the Botanical Gardens," said seminarian Edward Nemeth, 26. "Guys falling over each other to get their names on the list."...

On Saturday, Nemeth and eight of his colleagues at Kenrick will be ordained as priests in the St. Louis Archdiocese — the largest St. Louis ordination class in 25 years and one of the largest in the U.S. It's also the same number of ordinations in St. Louis as the last three years combined....

The archdiocese officially attributes its recent success with vocations — Latin for vocare, which means, to call — to a higher power. More men are hearing God's call to the priesthood, they say. But God has had a hand from Burke, who decided vocations would be a high priority since he arrived in St. Louis in 2004.

"A bishop's principal responsibility is to provide priests for the people in his pastoral care," Burke said in an interview last week from Rome. "Ordinations have to be absolutely right at the top of my priorities."

During a Vatican meeting just months before his death in 2004, Pope John Paul II told Burke and other Midwest bishops to do more to increase the number of men training for the priesthood.

"No one can deny that the decline in priestly vocations represents a stark challenge for the church in the United States," the pope told the bishops.
...four in Madison:
It was the largest ordination class the [270,000-member] diocese has seen since 2000, when five men were ordained. By 2015, the diocese expects that 28 new priests will be ordained.

It 's a hopeful sign at a time when the Roman Catholic Church nationwide faces a crisis in the shortage of priests, and as the church still struggles to deal with the aftermath of scandals involving the clergy and sexual abuse.

"Many, many dioceses have this uptick " in the number of seminarians, said Msgr. James Bartylla, director of vocation for the Madison diocese, adding that only four years ago the diocese had just six seminarians. "Our situation is not unique. I think things look very promising."...

For the men newly ordained as priests, accepting the call to service is a small but hopeful step in stemming what some see as society-wide resistance to commitment.

"I think people are failing to respond to God 's call for whatever their vocation is: marriage, family, relationships, " Schneider said.

Dulli said he hoped to be "a joyful priest, to give that joy to other people.

"There is so much negativity floating around in people's lives, " he said. "I really hope to see new flourishing of a healthy, Catholic culture where we have a good sense of what it means to be Catholic. We have so much to offer to the world, and I can 't wait to be on the front lines, to be leading people into our future as a church. "
...and another four in Saginaw:
This is the first time since 1982 that at least four priests have been ordained for the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw. Four men were ordained that year by Bishop Kenneth E. Untener, however, those ordinations did not take place on the same day. June 7, 1969 was the last day in which at least four priests were ordained for Saginaw on the same day by Bishop Francis F. Reh at St. Mary Cathedral in Saginaw....

Bishop Carlson also is set to ordain two transitional deacons during a 10 a.m. Mass on Saturday at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Midland.
The Saginaw ordinations bring to seven the number of new priests ordained by Bishop Robert Carlson... that is, just within the last year.

For the record, the Michigan diocese counts a Catholic population of somewhere around 140,000.

The litany of vocational wonder-workers is well-known: Carlson's 30-odd candidates (up from two on his 2005 arrival in Saginaw); Bishop Robert Morlino's six-to-30+ over his five years in Madison; Bishop Art Serratelli's nearly forty in Paterson -- a 900% increase during his four years in the North Jersey diocese... etc.

And though it wasn't much of a secret before, it's recently been proven again that the "black rain"-makers bring the magic with 'em.

Word from Louisville says that, come September, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz -- whose "farewell gift" to the 50,000-member Knoxville diocese was East Tennessee's first/largest-ever class of three new priests (alongside 29 new permanent deacons) -- will see Derbyland's number of men in priestly formation zoom from three to double-digits... just one year after taking the reins in Bluegrass Country.

Given that, and the state of things in the River City, a curious song's already been heard emerging from the hometown trenches: "Bishop Kurtz, you'd make a lovely Pharaoh / guys as sharp as he are something rare...."

Sure, the sentiment might be somewhat premature 'round these parts... but so it goes.

SVILUPPO: As an addendum to the above, for the first time in a decade, the nation's largest diocese also has its largest priesthood class -- 12 will be ordained Saturday for the archdiocese of Los Angeles.

PHOTO: Mary C. Weaver/East Tennessee Catholic