New Priests: Reviewing the Class of 2013

The median age of men ordained to the priesthood in 2013 is 32; two-thirds are Caucasian; and 26 percent carry educational debt. These figures stand out in “The Class of 2013: Survey of Ordinands to the Priesthood,” the annual national survey of men being ordained priests for U.S. dioceses and religious communities. The study, conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, a Georgetown University-based research center, received responses from 366 of 497 potential ordinands nationwide. Three in 10 respondents were born outside the United States, the largest numbers coming from Mexico, Vietnam, Colombia, Poland, the Philippines and Nigeria.

Mexico is the most frequently mentioned country of birth among the responding ordinands born outside the United States. The ordinands identified a total of 35 different countries of origin. On average, respondents who were born in another country have lived in the United States for 14 years.

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Most of the ordination class were baptized as infants, but 9 percent became Catholic later in life. Eight in 10 report that both parents are Catholic, and more than a third have a relative who is a priest or religious.

On average, respondents report that they were nearly 17 years old when they first considered a vocation to the priesthood. Two in three say they were encouraged to consider a vocation to the priesthood by a parish priest. Others who encouraged them include friends (46 percent), parishioners (38 percent) and mothers (34 percent).

Two-thirds of the respondents report their primary race or ethnicity as Caucasian/European American/white. Compared to the U.S. adult Catholic population, men to be ordained are more likely to be of Asian or Pacific Islander background (10 percent), but less likely to be Hispanic/Latino (15 percent).

More than half of the class of 2013 (52 percent) report having more than two siblings, while one in five report having five or more siblings. Ordinands are most likely to be the oldest in their family (40 percent). Before entering the seminary, 6 in 10 ordinands completed college (63 percent). Almost one quarter (23 percent) entered the seminary with a graduate degree. One in three (29 percent) entered the seminary while in college.

Ordinands of the Class of 2013 have been active in parish ministries. Two-thirds indicated they served as an altar server and about half (47 percent) participated in a parish youth group. One-fifth participated in a World Youth Day before entering the seminary.

More than 4 in 10 of respondents (42 percent) attended a Catholic elementary school, which is a rate equal to that for all Catholic adults in the United States. In addition, ordinands are somewhat more likely than other U.S. Catholic adults to have attended a Catholic high school, and they are much more likely to have attended a Catholic college (44 percent, compared with 7 percent among U.S. Catholic adults). Many ordinands specified some type of full-time work experience prior to entering the seminary, most often in education, accounting, finance or insurance. Four percent of ordinands indicated that they had served in the U.S. Armed Forces.

The survey also found that new priests in dioceses and religious orders have educational debt. Just over a quarter (26 percent) carried debt at the time they entered seminary, averaging just a little over $20,000.

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