I see that the number of priests available for ministry in parishes is shrinking significantly and wonder why priests from monasteries or even other countries can’t come and help us?
Monasteries are usually understood to be places where rather large groups of priests and other non-ordained community members live. There are no large monasteries within the six counties of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
Since its founding in 1843, our diocese has been served by many religious order priests. Historically, these priests largely followed European immigrants to the United States and provided ministry for them. Today, however, much has changed.
Following the Second Vatican Council, each religious order was asked to carefully examine the charism of the founder and assess how that should be lived in the Church today. Some orders have repositioned the ministries of their communities believing that full-time parish ministry is the work of diocesan priests. Other orders continue to generously provide priests for pastoral work in our diocese.
Obtaining priests from other countries to serve here is complicated. In fact, what seems to be a surplus of priests in those regions is really not. If one looks at the number of priests in relation to the Catholic population, other parts of the world are also in need of more ordained clergy to provide appropriate pastoral care for large numbers of Catholics.
So, it does not seem that we can easily depend on other countries for priests. For example, in Ireland last year, there were more bishops ordained than priests (two bishops, one priest).
What is clear is that in our country, while the number of Catholics has increased, the number of priests to serve them has decreased. For example, in 1972 there were 15 priests ordained for the Diocese of Pittsburgh; the year before that there were nine and the following year 27. In the timeframe of those three years, 51 men were ordained to the priesthood in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. The challenge is that those numbers will likely not be seen in the near future.
What is the answer? What is happening? Clearly, our Catholic faith teaches us that God is in charge and the Holy Spirit is still active in our world. It is God who initially provides the call to the priesthood.
Some contend that young people today are not generous with their lives. I don’t believe that young Catholics are necessarily self-centered or lacking in generosity. They are willing and able to sacrifice and many do so for various missions and ministries.
The reality is that healthy, faith-filled Catholic communities should be able to provide the ordained leadership needed for that community. In recent years, several factors have impeded that process. But we cannot afford to cease our prayers for vocations and must continue to provide the support and encouragement young people need to consider serving the Church in this full-time capacity. Every family, every parish must ask “Who will take the place of the priests we now have?” This cannot be just for Church leaders to consider but something for every Catholic to ponder.