Surge in student priests 'is not due to recession'
THE highest number of student priests in a decade have enrolled at seminaries this year -- but the Catholic Church insists it has nothing to do with the recession.
Thirty-eight new seminarians are to study for the priesthood this September. It is the highest number since 46 student priests enrolled at the national seminary at St Patrick's College in 1999.
The promise of a secure future in the midst of the worst economic crisis in living memory may appear to be part of the lure. But the Catholic Communications Office attempted to play this down, saying the student priests had to apply a year ago to enter the vocation.
Twenty-six of the seminarians will study at Maynooth, followed by seven who will study at St Malachy's College in Belfast, two will study at the Beda College in Rome and one will enter the pre-seminary discernment year in Valladolid, Spain.
The new candidates range in age from 18 to the mid-40s and hail from dioceses across Ireland, with the largest number coming from the Dublin diocese and the Down and Connor diocese in the North.
They will return to work in their own dioceses upon ordination, which can take between five and seven years. The new priests will also join seven seminarians from Scotland who have transferred their studies to Maynooth following the closure of Scotus College in Glasgow.
All of the seminarians were working or studying full-time before embarking on their vocation and their reasons for wanting to join the priesthood vary, according to a spokesman for the Catholic Communications Office.
President of St Patrick's College, Monsignor Hugh Connolly, told them: "You are about to begin a new and exciting journey, one that we share with you. This will be a time of tremendous personal growth as you enter formation: a new learning phase that will help you to fully realise your potential spiritually, pastorally and academically."
Father Michael Kelly (34), who entered the seminary himself exactly seven years ago today, said the student priests have a long journey ahead of them that may or may not end in ordination.
But after being ordained himself last year, Fr Michael, a priest at St Agnes' Church in Crumlin, south Dublin, said he made the right decision.
Fr Michael said he knew he wanted to be a priest since the age of 21 but didn't actually take the plunge until he was 27. "Each man has his own story," he said.
"But my advice (to the new seminarians) is to take one day at a time and to enjoy your time," he told the Irish Independent.
But Fr Paddy Rushe, National Co-odinator of Diocesan Vocation Directors, said that while the Church would welcome more priests into the fold, the days are gone for the record number of clergymen in the 1950s and 1960s.
"We're never going to get back to the numbers we had in the 1950s and 60s. We're in a different reality," he said.