590 new priests for the US Catholic Church in 2017

Rev. Dennis Lewandowski

The number of seminarians scheduled for ordination in 2017 is up! According to the Ordination Class Of 2017 Report priestly ordinations are up by 50 men over last year. This annual report from the Georgetown University Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), presents the findings from the National Survey of Seminarians scheduled for ordination to the Priesthood every year. The survey is conducted in collaboration with the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Secretariat for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations and CARA.

For several years, people in our country and around the world have read, or heard about, the declining number of Catholic priests.  So, it is certainly encouraging to see the number of seminarians and prepared ordinands go up.

Church statistics are important. CARA gathers data from several sources including The Official Catholic Directory (OCD), the Vatican’s Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae (ASE), and other CARA research and databases and makes it readily available.

I have been a diocesan priest since September 1985. That year 533 new priests were ordained in the United States, the total number of priests then, was 57,317 (35,052 diocesan priests, and 22,265 religious priests). Fast forward to 2016, the number of newly ordained priests was 548 for a total of 37,192 priests in the US (25,760 diocesan priests and 11,432 religious priests).

While the number of parishes without a resident pastor has continued to increase from 1,051 parishes in 1985 to 3,499 parishes in 2016, there is a silver lining. The Catholic population has grown from 59.5 Million to 74.2 million during the same time frame. Therefore, it’s time to get creative with the resources we have.

Newly ordained diocesan priests will most likely have to hit the ground running. Most of them will not have the benefit of “on the job training” for their role of pastor of a parish community.

Seminaries by design are equipped to prepare men for priesthood, but not necessarily for being pastors. Yes, candidates receive Academic, Human, Spiritual and Pastoral Formation for their ministry. However, ministry experiences in the field and academic courses together allow students to grow as they learn.

To be a pastor is a complex function with many responsibilities. The best way for a priest to learn how to be a pastor is through hands-on experience. Getting to know the people he serves is essential to his ministry for a pastor wears many hats. He is first a shepherd to the People of God, as Pope Francis calls us to be. And he must also be a good steward of the gifts received, a good manager of the time and talent of the parish pastoral council, deacons, parish staff and the lay ministers in his community.

The role of parish administrator, personnel manager and developing leadership are all functions that most priests have little to no experience in. For this reason, spending time working side by side with a seasoned pastor offers new priests the opportunity to learn and gain experience.

In the past, priests had the opportunity to spend several years effectively training as a parochial vicar before receiving their first assignment as pastor. However, it has become increasingly necessary for current pastors to reach out and offer support to newly appointed pastors in neighboring communities.

Throughout my priestly life, I have been the pastor of three very different parish communities. Each parish has offered me opportunities to grow in my love of Jesus, my commitment to shepherd the People of God, and enabled me to nurture the desire to serve the Church and make a difference.

Though today’s number of priest per parish may not be conducive to effective hands-on training, I encourage new priests to reach out to veteran pastors. Many of us will make time to share our experiences and offer guidance to you.

Father Dennis Lewandowski is a priest of the Diocese of Joliet, IL. Currently the pastor of a large corporate parish in Naperville, IL, he is known for facilitating a positive working environment and empowering others to grow. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Lewis University; a Master’s in Divinity from Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, and a Masters in Organizational Development from Loyola University Chicago.