THE large drop in the number of vocations to the priesthood is ``beginning to bite'' at parish level, a spokesman for the Catholic hierarchy said last night following the announcement that one of the country's best-known seminaries is to close.THE large drop in the number of vocations to the priesthood is ``beginning to bite'' at parish level, a spokesman for the Catholic hierarchy said last night following the announcement that one of the country's best-known seminaries is to close.
Bishop Brendan Comiskey of Ferns announced closure of St Peter's Diocesan Seminary I in Wexford town and the relocation of eight candidates for the priesthood to other seminaries at home and abroad.
St Peter's had too few students to provide a healthy environment for academic studies and the personal formation of future priests, he added.
``The environment of a seminary with very small numbers runs the risk of becoming too inward-looking,'' declared the bishop
St Peter's is the second seminary to close as a result of the fall in vocations. The seminary at St Kieran's College in Kilkenny was closed some years ago.
There are seminaries in Maynooth, Dublin, Thurles, Waterford and Carlow. However, the number of students currently studying for the priesthood is only around 220.
Fr Martin Clarke, spokesman for the hierarchy, said the number of seminarians was substantially down on 20 years ago. Vocations had hit ``a high water mark'' around the time of the papal visit. Maynooth alone would at one time have had 600 seminarians.
More lay people than ever were now studying theology at colleges like the Mater Dei Institute, added the spokesman. More lay people were beginning to work in the ministry, which was no longer confined to priests.
Fr Clarke said some dioceses were experiencing a reduction in the number of priests available each year. In a diocese like Dublin, for instance, about 15 priests would die each year, along with seven or eight retirements.
``This year in Dublin there have been three ordinations. This means that some parishes are being cut back from a parish priest and three curates to a parish priest and two curates.
``I certainly would not say the Church is in crisis in this country. But it is a cause for concern.''
The decision to close St Peter's, a landmark in Wexford for over 100 years, was taken after months of consultation with priests, seminarians, deans of the diocese and diocesan consultative bodies.
Bishop Comiskey said the six candidates who have been studying for the priesthood at St Peter's and two new candidates will be relocated at other seminaries, depending upon the gifts and needs of each individual as well as the needs of the Church.