Maynooth College - National SeminaryThe Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference revealed in a statement yesterday that 12 men will begin studies for the priesthood this year at the national seminary in Maynooth. Although there seems to be some confusion about official figures regarding numbers of seminarians beginning their training in Maynooth for the past number of years, this year's intake will be the lowest number entering the national for some considerable time.
While we naturally congratulate these twelve men for taking this step, there is little that can be done to put a positive spin on what should be a 'good news' story for the Irish church. This small number of entrants is quite worrying and follows a downward trend for the past few years.
Over those years this blog has commented on the numbers entering the national seminary and has consistently praised the work of the diocesan vocation directors around the country. This blog has also questioned the attitude of dioceses about taking the priestly vocation question seriously. There is little evidence to show that the promotion of the vocation to priesthood is a priority in the majority of the dioceses in our country.
There is so much that can and should be done - particularly if we believe that the Lord continues to call labourers to the harvest. For some years now, I have been suggesting and advocating four key strategies to try and deal with this emerging crisis.
Firstly, the dioceses need to begin to think about releasing a priest whose primary task is to promote vocations in that diocese. This is a difficult one considering the huge demands made on diocesan clergy. However, there is enough evidence from various parts of the world to demonstrate that having full-time vocations directors is an important contributor to increasing vocations.
Secondly, dioceses need to create a 'culture of vocations'. This is not something new, but clearly has not been taken seriously in Ireland. Creating a culture of vocations means that a diocese take every opportunity to seriously ask the question of men that they come into contact with whether they have thought of priesthood as a way of serving the Lord. This does not cost anything and has proved to be very effective particularly in some dioceses in the United States and Australia.
Thirdly, dioceses need to pray for vocations. How simple that seems but try and think about how often the opportunity is given to people to pray on a regular basis for vocations. Without being simplistic, if we are not on our knees praying for vocations, then we can be sure that there will be no vocations.
Fourthly, the call to priesthood is a unique calling and should be promoted vigorously. In Ireland, a new culture within the church has emerged where the vocation of the of permanent deacons is often highlighted more vigorously than that of priesthood, where parish pastoral workers are presented as a new form of ministry to point where they are regarded as almost as important as considering vocation to the priesthood. These two examples demonstrate that the call to priesthood is being drowned out while the promotion of other forms of ministry are encouraged. Why are dioceses afraid to promote the vocation to priesthood?