Monday, August 10, 2009

A Good News Story about the Increase in Vocations

Having just celebrated "Vocations Week" here in Australia, it is good to see the Herald Sun running a good news story with the heading "Catholic seminaries full as religion resurges".

I am firmly convinced that the Catholic Church in Australia (and indeed the world in general) is "heading in the right direction". Even if you are not prepared to grant that, you have to admit that the Good Ship Ecclesia is well into the 180 degree turn required to get her travelling on the right course.

Like any massive ocean going vessel, the Church is no ballerina. A permanent change in direction takes time. Four priests per year may not sound like very many. The point is that, as the story says, that is the largest single group of candidates that Sydney has had since 1983. Nor may sixty seminarians sound like many. But that is, again as the story points out, three times as many as in 2000.

There are a lot of factors that have become institutionalised over the last 50 or 60 years (which could be described as "momentum") still trying to keep the Old Girl on the old course (full steam ahead towards the iceberg, as it were), but the engines of the Spirit are behind this new orientation, and I hope to see the complete turn about in my own lifetime.


At Monday, August 10, 2009 10:00:00 pm , Anonymous Tony said...

What's the basis of your optimism David? I'm not asking to be negative, I'm just wondering are there any reliable statistics around to back up your conviction?

I suspect that even taking into account a slight (or greater?) upward trend in vocations, we still have to prepare for a very different church (esp in terms of the priest/people ratio) in the next 10 to 20 years.

At Tuesday, August 11, 2009 8:17:00 am , Anonymous PM said...

Not only vocations, but the continued existence of congregations for our new priests to serve, will depend greatly on whether we can stop Catholic schools from remaining the graveyards of faith they have become in the last 40 years. Now there's a 180 degree turn! Is there any research on the effect of the efforts of (regrettably only some) of our bishops in the last decade?

At Wednesday, August 12, 2009 1:31:00 am , Anonymous Louise said...

The schools are hopeless. In most dioceses, they ought to be cut loose from the Barque of Peter altogether.

At Wednesday, August 12, 2009 10:58:00 pm , Anonymous Tom said...

Do you mean you want a statistical report?

I'm not sure where one would find such numbers: I suspect the ABS doesn't keep track records of numbers of seminarians, however I found an article talking to various priests/rectors/spiritual directors who are intimiately familiar with the workings of a seminary.

That article talked largely about the Good Shepherd Seminary in Sydney, but it doesn't mention the Redemtoris Mater Seminary (founded in 2003) also in the sydney arch-diocese, which has around 15 seminarians in it, bringing the total to nearly 60 seminarians, just in the Sydney archdiocese alone. This does not include various other chapter houses and formation houses run by the Capuchins, Jesuits and Dominicans; these are just the diocesan seminarians. I know that the sydney capuchin novitiate has at least 6 novices (my former parish priest is now the formator for the novitiate; he bought 6 novices with him to mass a few weeks back to introduce us) - and the article mentions that last year 4 priests were ordained, as opposed to what had been 1-2, (or sometimes none) ordained each year for several decades.

I think these numbers give very good reason for hope Tony.

At Thursday, August 13, 2009 12:48:00 am , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

The ABS doesn't have these statistics, but the church does. Seminaries, etc, have to make their reports and returns just like other church bodies. So the data exists, and could in theory be mined to compare between dioceses, or over time, or whatever other way you want to slice it.

But the church doesn;t generally publish the data, except in very "big picture" terms, and then only in relatively inaccessible places. (How many of us subscribe to the Annuario Pontificio?) And, although the figures would be interesting, on the whole I think it's wise not to draw too much attention to them, or place too much importance on them. Firstly, it's easy to be selective with figures and choose the ones you want to bolster what you want to think. Secondly, there's too much tendency to attach weight to what can be easily measured, and to overlook what cannot.

Incidentally, I note your point about the various religious houses of formation. But wouldn't all novices in religious orders at some point be enrolled as seminary students? If we count the seminary students and then say "and there's all the novices in religious orders as well", are we not double-counting? Or have I got that wrong?

At Thursday, August 13, 2009 3:21:00 am , Anonymous Tom said...

I don't think they are enrolled as seminarian students because they aren't formed or educated by the diocese. Diocesan seminary's are run by the diocese and paid for by the diocese, but various chapter houses, formation houses, novice houses etc. are run by their respective orders, not under the auspices of the Bishop, but under the auspices of the authority in each order. So they aren't going to be double-counted for the purposes of statistics. There are actually 42 seminarians at The Good Shepherd seminary.

At Thursday, August 13, 2009 3:23:00 am , Anonymous Tony said...

If you want the statistical basis, I need only point to the fact that the upward turn in vocations in Australia is as consistent and across-the-board in the last 10 years as it was consistent and across-the-board in the other direction in the twenty years previous to that ...

These are strong statements esp in the context of Louise' despair and previous assertions that only 'faithful' bishops preside over increases.

Notwithstanding Pere's words of caution, I'd still love to know where the figures are at.


At Thursday, August 13, 2009 3:49:00 am , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

Doesn't this involve needless and wasteful duplication? If I understand you correctly, the religious houses of formation are operating in parallel with the seminaries and presumably duplicating for their 1, 2 or 3 novices courses and programmes whcih those seminaries provide. Is there no element of shared formation as between regular and secular students (or, indeed, as between regular students of different contgregations)?

At Thursday, August 13, 2009 5:35:00 am , Anonymous Tom said...

It's not really duplicating. You have to remember that the way study is undertaken today is not like the seminaries of old, which were more like schools (and more often than not, attached to schools/universities).

In fact, the first schools (in the modern sense of the term) were Jesuit schools with mass-education provided by the Jesuits with text books first written by Suarez (the Jesuit philosopher/priest). This was a key part of the Church's counter-reformation.

Today seminarians and novices et. al, undertake their philosophy and theological studies at universities, the same as every other student wanting to study these courses. There are about 9 or 10 seminarians studying at my university, (some from the diocesan seminaries, some from the Franciscan novitiate) several did the same courses as I did last year.

The difference between the various houses of formation and seminarians is their vocational and spiritual formation. Diocesan seminaries usually have a Rector, a Vice-Rector and a Spiritual Director, along with dedicated formaters and catechists. (These roles can overlap).

The various other (that is order related novitiates etc.) have their own spiritual directors, and tend to follow the spiritual formation of their name sake. The Jesuits put emphasis on Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises, the Capuchins/Franciscans put emphasis on the meditations of St. Francis, etc. etc.

To put it analogously, diocesan seminaries are like 'public schools' run by the 'diocese' and the various orders have their own 'private schools'. I say this without any reference to the debate about the quality of public vs. private schools; just to illustrate, they all receive a spiritual formation; each place just does it a little differently according to the traditions of each order. Dominican spiritual formation is different to Jesuit, is different to Cistertian, is different to Franciscan etc.

In terms of the actual 'education' of philosophy and theology, yes, this is taught by lecturers at universities (generally Catholic universities, in Sydney this means Australian Catholic Uni, Catholic Institute of Sydney, Campion College and Notre Dame). But in keeping with the richness of the various traditions and the spirituality in each order, these are formed separately by each order.

Each order has different educational standards as well; the Jesuits for example, are famous for requiring a very high level of education; I have heard of Jesuit priests who have spent over 20 years before becoming priests. I believe the church does set a minimum requirement though, which is something like a BA in philosophy & theology.

At Friday, August 14, 2009 12:43:00 am , Anonymous Tony said...

In fairness to Sharon, Tony, she is not alone in being able to make sweeping statements about schools. And to be rather pointed: grouping people into such categories doesn’t engage with the questions at hand.

OK. I consider myself suitably admonished! :-)

However, although not a teacher myself, I know many in the Catholic system and get tired of the way they are so often dumped on because ... well, we've heard it all before.

They are, in so many ways, the ones who have to mediate between youthful idealism and energy and the crass materialism and superficiality of our culture, esp our 'yoof' culture.

Because I'm not in there doing it myself and because I see so many working their butts off to 'make a difference' (to use a hackneyed phrase) -- very much in the Bl Mary MacKillop tradition -- I'm particularly reluctant to be one of the 'dumpers'.

At Saturday, August 15, 2009 10:07:00 am , Anonymous Louise said...

The chief educator in faith is, of course, the family.

Let's be quite clear here. Of course the chief educator is the family - so why did the families suddenly fail their kids? In short, because their own training in the Faith did not prepare them for the onslaught of the New Heresy - Secularism.

So ultimately, Sharon, I agree with you and not with those who defend the schools. For the most part, the schools have allowed any amount of heresy to be taught as fact and faith in the schools. Parents have permitted their children to be brought up by the TV and this New Heresy is alive and well.

Decent adult catechesis, prayer, commitment to holiness, orthodoxy (ie the teachings as summarised in the catechism) and orthopraxy are all required to turn things around.

Pray, fast, give alms.

Become saints.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home