CINCINNATI — Seven men were ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, maintaining a three-year streak and contributing to a growing trend of seminarians graduating to men of the cloth over the last decade.
The men were ordained in a special mass at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Chains in downtown Cincinnati Saturday.
The seven new priests have served as transitional deacons for the last year. Their ministry has included baptizing, assisting at marriages and preaching. The men graduated on May 14 from The Athenaeum of Ohio, Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, after at least seven years of formation for the priesthood.
The average age of the men ordained on Saturday is 32.
"I'm still processing," said Father Isaiah Callan. "It's a flowering of those promises that you made a year before so that was a moment where discernment was in a particular way, at its heaviest."
The 29-year-old hails from Vermont and said he was interested in the priesthood since college, but decided to pursue other "blue-collar" opportunities after graduation.
He said he has family in the Tri-State and found his way to the local seminary after a pivotal conversation with his sister.
"There isn't a seminary in every diocese in the U.S. and so I didn't have the opportunity to see one in person and it never occurred to me that I could see one," he said. "So when I found it, I just fell in love with it. I fell in love with the beauty of the grounds, the architecture. Then it was the brotherhood, the formation, the spiritual life and the education as well."
It's the third year in a row seven men were ordained for the archdiocese. The other times in the past decade were in 2022, 2021, 2016 and 2009. The largest recent class was nine men in 2019.
Archdiocese of Cincinnati spokesperson Jennifer Schack said not only do they see a consistently high number of men becoming priests but also those entering the seminary. She said it's due to Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr's focus on vocational prayer at every mass in every church.
"'Hey, have you thought about the priesthood? Have you thought about becoming a religious sister?' Our families are encouraged to have those conversations so I think that's one really important part of it and it's a little bit unique to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati," Schack said.
She said the archdiocese also has a very active office for vocations.
"Our director of vocations is constantly present in our parishes and in our schools. He's available to fill in for saying masses whenever needed to give speeches to give talks to high school students, to answer calls about what it's like to apply to the seminary," she said.
In the past 10 years, enrollment at the seminary has experienced a surge in growth, Schack said. In the 2019 fall semester, there were 90 seminarians from seven dioceses and several religious orders.
That growth prompted the archdiocese to build Fenwick Hall, a new residence and educational wing. The $12 million project was the first new building at the seminary since 1959.
Callan said coming from Vermont, which he describes as a "very secular" place, he appreciates Cincinnati's deep-rooted Catholic history.
"Coming to a more faith-filled place in the United States is very refreshing. I get to practice the faith in a way that I don't get to practice it in Vermont," he said. "People tend not to do the best job that they can when they feel like they're part of a failing plan."
Callan called Cincinnati the heart of the country and thus the perfect place to make a difference, an endeavor that could prove more challenging than ever before.
A new study finds only half of Americans now say they're confident God exists. Nearly 50% of Americans say they have no doubt about the existence of God, according to the 2022 survey. In 2008, that number topped 60%.
"I think we have a lot of work to do," Callan said. "It's possible that people don't believe in God because they haven't found what they are looking for."
Still, the call to religious life seems to ring loudly in Cincinnati. This year's graduating class bumped the number of ordained priests since 2019 to 33. It's the largest five-year total in 50 years.
Since 2010, 63 men have been ordained to the priesthood. Schack said 18 men have already applied to enter the seminary next fall.
According to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, it is the 51st-largest Catholic diocese in the country, with around 435,000 Catholics. It has the fifth-largest Catholic school system in terms of enrollment with nearly 40,000 students. The 19-county territory includes 208 canonical parishes organized into 57 Families of Parishes, and 113 Catholic primary and secondary schools.