Addressing the shortfall of priests

Addressing the shortfall of priests

Michael Gilchrist

While the number of priests and seminarians worldwide continues to grow, their distribution remains uneven, with declining numbers evident in Western nations like Australia.

Here numbers are also unevenly distributed, with the seminaries in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth enjoying encouraging growth following recent reforms.

However, even in these centres the number of priests leaving active service continues to exceed ordinations so that the shortfall keeps growing, with various temporary measures having to be implemented.

Some have suggested inviting priests from overseas to make up the shortfall, but the number of Catholics per priest in Third World countries - where vocations are plentiful - remains much higher than in the West.

One solution has proved successful in Perth, and now in Sydney, via Neocatechumenal Way seminaries. This involves recruits from overseas countries being educated here and following ordination serving for a few years in Australian dioceses before returning to their native lands or working as missionaries.

This approach has the twofold benefit of providing seminary training and pastoral experience for the overseas recruits while helping to meet Australia's shortfall of priests on a rotating basis.

The concept deserves to be expanded across all Australian dioceses to ensure that there are priests in every parish. At the same time, one hopes the numbers ordained from Australia's seminaries will continue to increase.

Meanwhile, in the US, two religious orders have turned to Africa to recruit new priests. The Cincinnati-based Glenmary Home Missioners and the Baltimore-based Josephite Fathers and Brothers are recruiting seminarians from vocations-rich Nigeria. Glenmary also recruits in Kenya.

Father Steve Pawelk, vocations director for Glenmary, which serves primarily rural Southern parishes, said the order currently has three Nigerian and three Kenyan seminarians studying in the United States.

  • Michael Gilchrist: Editor (email -

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