Laborers for the Vineyard: A National Symposium on Vocations

Butler, Francis J. "Laborers for the Vineyard: A National Symposium on Vocations." Washington, D.C.: Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities, 1983.

"Laborers in the Vineyard," a national symposium addressing the decline in vocations to the Catholic priesthood and religious life, was held in Chicago, Illinois on December 1st and 2d, 1983. The symposium was sponsored by Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities (FADICA), the Committee on Vocations of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Serra International, and the Lilly Endowment. The conference provided one hundred and twenty five Church leaders, scholars, and grant-making organizations with research, analysis, and replicable models of action relative to the problem of declining religious vocations in the Catholic Church. There was little disagreement with the conclusion that there has been a severe decline in vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Between the late 1960s and the date of the conference, seminary enrollments had declined 74%, religious novitiates 68%, and theologates 58%. In 1983 membership in women's religious orders was 60% of what it had been in 1966; the number of religious brothers had declined by 36% over the same period. Consensus on means of responding to vocational decline was harder to achieve, however. A panel of vocation ministers and others involved in recruiting young people into the religious life differed widely on the extent to which recruitment to the priesthood should be aggressively pursued, but all agreed that more full time, qualified, and specially educated persons needed to be involved in vocations ministry. Family and parish influences were also considered. Delores Curran reported that research shows that families no longer actively encourage their children to enter the religious life. Fr. Philip Murnion argued that changes in the vocational structure of the Church reflect dynamic social changes that are altering the relationship between Church and community; he argued that ministry in the future will be more community centered, and that parish ministry and vocations would continue to change as a result. It was pointed out that the Church needs to improve its record on minority recruitment; in particular, more culturally sensitive relations with Hispanic recruits are needed. Participants considered the symposium an important indication of a growing awareness in the Church that a problem exists with vocations to the priesthood and religious life, but also that more research on the issue is needed to determine the causes of the trend and to test the various solutions that have been proposed.