(OSV News) – Ahead of an annual day of prayer for vocations, a newly released report shows what one researcher called greater “consistency of age,” more diverse educational backgrounds and a commitment to Eucharistic adoration among men preparing for priestly ordination.

On April 25, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University released the 2023 “Survey of Ordinands to the Priesthood,” a report made directly to the Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

New deacons from the Pontifical North American College are pictured during their ordination in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Sept. 29, 2022. Twenty-two seminarians from 17 U.S. dioceses and one from the Archdiocese of Sydney were ordained to the transitional diaconate. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The report coincides with the 60th annual World Day of Prayer for Vocations, celebrated April 30, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, which is also known as Good Shepherd Sunday in the Latin Church. The Gospel passage (Jn 10:1-10) for the Mass highlights Jesus’ role as the Good Shepherd.

The online survey, which CARA has overseen since 2006, was completed by 334 of the 458 total ordinands from both diocesan and religious order seminaries who were invited to participate. The ordinands represented 116 U.S. dioceses and 24 religious institutes.

CARA’s executive director, Jesuit Father Thomas Gaunt, told OSV News the age of men set to be ordained this year has “started to level out,” with “more consistently younger men entering seminary and beginning their theological studies in their early 20s — basically after having finished college — and then being ordained four to five years or so later.”

Overall, this year’s ordinands are on average 33 years old, with ordinands from religious institutes generally four years older than their diocesan counterparts.

That trend contrasts with “a notable number of older vocations” seen some “20 to 30 years ago,” said Father Gaunt. “Now, it’s a little more unusual to see a seminarian or someone entering the novitiate for a religious community entering at age 40 or 45.”

Among 2023’s ordinands, the elementary school (32%) and high school (26%) years were the peak periods for them in first considering a vocation, followed by the college years (19%).

The data also showed what Father Gaunt called a “steady increase in Hispanic ordinands year over year,” with 16% of the 2023 class identifying as Hispanic/Latino — a trendline set to rise to about 20% by 2028.

White ordinands accounted for 64% of the 2023 class, with 10% Asian and Pacific Islander, 6% Black or African, and 3% representing other ethnic backgrounds.

A significant number of the 2023 ordinands (25%) were born abroad. After the U.S., the most common countries of birth were Mexico (5%), Vietnam (3%), Nigeria (3%) and Colombia (2%).

That statistic is “basically on par” with one showing that “fully one quarter of all Catholics in this country are foreign born,” explained Father Gaunt.

While the majority (89%) of ordinands were not homeschooled, the data indicated the 11% who were educated at home (for an average of 8 years, among the 2023 class) could rise to an estimated 13% by 2028.

Ordinands who attended Catholic elementary school represented 43% of this year’s class; 34% of the 2023 ordinands attended Catholic high schools, and 35% attended Catholic colleges. Two thirds of the class (66%) had attended parish religious education programs.

The majority of 2023 ordinands had obtained a college (42%) or graduate (16%) degree prior to entering the seminary, with 18% having had some college or trade school study.

An array of pre-seminary areas of study among the ordinands have “added a whole richness to the priesthood,” said Father Gaunt.

“They begin this study with college degrees in their fields of interest or specialty, so you have a number of men coming in with bachelor’s degrees in business, finance, chemical engineering, English, education, history,” he said.

Such diversity also was reflected in the full-time work experience of ordinands prior to entering the seminary, with 21% employed in business, 18% in education, 14% in sales or customer service, and 13% in restaurant or food services.

Most of the 2023 ordinands (74%) had no educational debt upon entering the seminary. The remaining 26% averaged just over $29,500 of debt, with the lowest amount reported at $1,500 and the highest at $126,000.

Diocesan ordinands (averaging $26,579) tended to have more than double the educational debt of their religious order counterparts (averaging $11,887). Family members (44%) provided the greatest amount of assistance in paying down ordinands’ debt, followed by the Knights of Columbus Fund for Vocations (24%) and parishes (10%).

Regular Eucharistic adoration figured heavily in the pre-seminary prayer practices of the class of 2023, cited by 73% of the survey participants. Following adoration was the rosary (66%), prayer group or Bible study (45%), high school retreats (37%) and “lectio divina” (35%).

Survey respondents listed among their pre-seminary activities parish youth groups (52%), Catholic campus ministry (27%), Boy Scouts (25%), parish young adult groups (23%) and the Knights of Columbus (23%).

A majority of the 2023 ordinands, 72%, had been altar servers; 51% had been lectors, 40% extraordinary ministers of holy Communion and 33% catechists.

Most cited parish priests (63%) as those who most encouraged their vocation, followed by parishioners (44%), friends (40%), mothers (37%) and fathers (29%).

Just under half of the ordinands (48%) reported being discouraged from pursuing their vocations, with another family member (21%) or friend (21%) usually cited.

Seminary “come and see” weekends were attended by 49% of the ordinands, particularly among those entering religious orders (75%).

Overall, the report offers “hope” regarding priestly vocations, said Father Gaunt, especially as demographers continue to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on religious practices.

“We want to get a couple of more years out from the pandemic,” he said. “We’re still not sure what’s an ordinary response, and what is more pandemic-related. … We’ll tell you in five years.”

The Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, celebrates the Chrism Mass on April 4, 2023, at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton with priests, deacons and laity from around the Diocese of Scranton. (Photos/Mike Melisky)


SCRANTON — A brilliant spring afternoon was matched by the radiant joy emanating from the Cathedral of Saint Peter for the celebration of the Diocese of Scranton’s Chrism Mass on April 4, 2023 – Tuesday of the holiest week of the Christian calendar year.

While the heavens provided a most comfortable day for the venerable gathering, the Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, as principal celebrant and homilist, warmly welcomed to the Mother Church of the Diocese the hundreds of worshippers of all ages who turned out for the annual Eucharistic liturgy concelebrated by the priests ministering in the 11-county local Church.

The traditional Holy Week observance and gathering of the priests of the Diocese — customarily the largest of its kind each year — celebrates their clerical brotherhood and shared divine vocation.

During the Mass, priests and deacons, along with lay representatives from Diocesan parishes, acknowledge the Bishop’s role as the unifying symbol for Church governance and pastoral guidance.

All of the priests also recommit themselves to their office by renewing the promises they made on the day of their ordination to the priesthood, including their vow of obedience to the Bishop.

Before saying the Prayer of Consecration of the Chrism Oil, Bishop Bambera breathes upon the opening of the vessel.

Father Paschal Mbagwu, who serves as administrator of Saint Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Pocono Pines, said prior to the liturgical celebration, “The Chrism Mass is so important since it shows the unity and communion in the Church. It is very symbolic of the oneness Christ prayed for under one shepherd — our Bishop.”

Holding to age-old tradition, the Mass is highlighted by the blessing of the Holy Oils used during the conferral of sacraments throughout the Church year. They include the Sacred Chrism, the Oil of the Sick, and the Oil of Catechumens, which are used in the celebration of Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders, the Anointing of the Sick, and the Rites of the Catechumenate.

As he joins Bishop Bambera in celebrating his 40th anniversary of ordination this year, Father Don Williams, pastor of Saint Matthew Parish, Stroudsburg, noted, “By being here today we bring everything together in this beautiful gathering of clergy, deacons, women and men religious, and laity.”

Father Williams continued by emphasizing the importance of the renewal of priestly vows that the Chrism Mass affords the concelebrants.

“It is always very special how the blessed oils go out to the four corners of the Diocese with the priests, who are sent forth to return to their parishes for the Sacred Triduum and the celebration of Easter,” he added.

In addressing the faithful during his homily, Bishop Bambera implored all to heed Jesus’ words from Saint Luke’s Gospel that had just been proclaimed: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; therefore he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind and release to prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord.”

“The good news for us, brothers and sisters, is that the same Spirit that set Jesus apart for mission during his inaugural address in the synagogue of Nazareth rests upon us as well,” the Bishop imparted. “We are not alone on this journey. Every experience, no matter how hopeful or challenging, is an opportunity for growth and a deepening of God’s life within us.”

Among the lay faithful in attendance was Jennifer Dunn, a member of Saint Robert Bellarmine Parish in Wilkes-Barre, who arrived early to participate in her first Chrism Mass.

“I am here to support the Diocese and our pastor, Father Richard Cirba, who has done so much for our parish and our community,” she said. “I’m honored to be here to support our Bishop. It is really humbling to be in the presence of all these great priests.”

Currently in his second year of formation for the Permanent Diaconate program, Frank Fanelli of Lackawaxen was invited, along with his wife Nancy, to be at their first Chrism Mass last year. “This Mass is just so impressive,” he said. “Even if we weren’t invited we would be coming back this year.”

Nancy added, “We’re just so honored and privileged to be here for such a great celebration, with all of the beautiful music.”

Sara Jenkins of Larksville and a parishioner at All Saints Parish, Plymouth, remarked, “It is really impressive to be able to see all the priests of the Diocese come together as one. It’s always great to experience the loud round of applause they receive on their way out of the Cathedral after Mass.”