CINCINNATI – The Archdiocese of Cincinnati marked a milestone Saturday when it ordained nine seminarians - the largest class in almost 40 years.
That's coupled with a nationwide reversal of a decades-long trend in the priesthood, which spent years watching its new groups of priests grow older and smaller and struggling to capture the attention of younger Catholics.
This year they ordained twice as many seminarians as last year, and their seminary more than doubled over the past seven years.
“It’s a large number,” said Jennifer Schack, archdiocese spokesperson. “We’re really excited about the trend in increase in vocations locally and it’s also happening nationally.
“The entire church has been praying for this and working for this, and here in Cincinnati it’s coming to fruition.”
One of the men came from St. Joseph North Bend, one each from St. Gertrude and St. Susanna; and two from St. John Neumann. Outside Greater Cincinnati, one is from Dayton, Ohio one is from Springfield, Ohio and one is from Piqua, Ohio. Two are originally from Africa, one was born in Spain and one is a convert.
Recent groups were much smaller, with between two and six men being ordained.
"They've been ticking up, so that's good news," Schack said.
Although the general climate of the United States has become increasingly secular and even many self-identified Christians are not as devout as they might have been decades earlier, those who do enter religious life often do so in response to a perceived shallowness of modern culture.
Schack credited the archdiocese's Office of Vocations for helping men and women make that choice.
"Creating a culture of vocations if what they're working toward, which means every Catholic is called to discern their God-given purpose in life. And so, allowing people the opportunity to discern if they're called to the religious life or the priesthood is countercultural in general," she said.
Class sizes at the Athenaeum of Ohio, one of the oldest Roman Catholic seminaries in the United States, has been growing too: The current class of 82 men is expected to grow to 90 next year. That would be the largest class since 1978-79, when there were 97 seminarians.
Schack also credits the power of prayer: Archbishop Dennis Schnurr asked all Catholics to begin a prayer for vocations when he came to Cincinnati in 2008. A decade later, Schack believes, the archdiocese is seeing the fruits of that effort.