Although last year’s Pew Research Center's study “America's Changing Religious Landscape” was used by some pundits as evidence for a steady decline in Catholicism, the evidence points to differing trends. As I noted last May, “the Northeast losses for the Catholic Church are attenuated by gains in the southern part of the country where Catholics have increased from 25% of those living in the South in 2007 to 27% of the population today, and in the West where the percentage of Catholics has increased from 23% in 2007 to 26% in 2014.”Share
Even more significantly, in 2015 there was a 25% increase in ordinations to the priesthood as 595 men were ordained last year, up from 477 the previous year. According to Mary Gautier and Thomas Gaunt, authors of The Class of 2015: Survey of Ordinands to the Priesthood, commissioned by the Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the average age of those ordained in 2015 to the priesthood is 34—continuing a pattern of younger men entering the priesthood earlier than in previous decades.
More than half (60%) of those ordained in 2015 have completed college before entering the seminar, and one in seven (15%) entered the seminary with a graduate degree. One in three entered the seminary while in college. Most respondents to the USCCB survey reported that there were about 17 years old when they first considered a vocation to the priesthood and were encouraged to consider their vocation by an average of four people. Seven in 10 of them said they were encouraged by a parish priest, while 46% were encouraged by friends, 45% were encouraged by parishioners, and 40% were encouraged by their mothers. (Read more.)