The priest shortage: perhaps not as new as we thought
New US survey shows today's levels the same as in 1950
Picture: Wikimedia Commons
August 19, 2013
It is a common notion that the number of priests has plummeted in this country [USA]. Many speak of the halcyon days when there were four and five priests per parish, and the seminaries were packed. And while some of these memories are accurate, they are drawn from a time in this country that was very brief.
The fact is, the number of priests per parish spiked sharply after 1950 and has now leveled back to the levels of 1950 and before.
Note the graph from the Center for Research in the Apostolate (CARA). It depicts the number of priests per parish. In 1950 there was an average of one priest per parish. Last year there was an average of one priest per parish. Welcome to 1950.
Mark Gray, writing at the CARA blog says:
There was about one active diocesan priest per parish then as there is now. The late 1950s into the 1970s represent an exceptional period in American history when there were significantly more active diocesan priests available than there were parishes. Age and mortality has and continues to diminish the size of the diocesan clergy population. Although ordinations have remained stable for decades, these are not sufficient to make up for the number of priests lost each year to retirement or death.
Frankly, even in the glory days, America did not produce the number of priests we need to fill our needs. Back in the 1950s through the 1970s a tremendous number of FBI (foreign born Irish) priests were enlisted to meet American needs. My own diocese had a large number of them brought in, beginning in the 1950s.
Many ethnic groups in the Urban North also brought large numbers of priests to serve them from overseas. Today there are many dioceses that rely on Nigeria and other booming Catholic countries to supply extra priests.
It is true, most American seminaries were bursting at the seams especially after World War II. But that boom would seem to be as short as it was impressive.
Source: Archdiocese of Washington
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