National symposium on vocations to the Catholic priesthood

Project Number: 
Start Date: 
Tue, 08/23/1983
End Date: 
Tue, 12/27/1983

In the early 1980s it became clear that a serious decline in the number of men preparing for the priesthood had occurred since the mid-1960s, and that this decline would soon significantly affect the shape of the Catholic Church's mission in the U.S. The number of diocesan priests declined by 18%, and the number of nuns by 30%, between 1965 and 1982. While many observers thought this trend might be temporary, the statistics on seminarians showed it would continue for some time: in 1966, there were 48,000 Catholic seminarians; in 1972, 22,963; in 1983, 11,500. One study predicted that there might be fewer than 30,000 priests active in the U.S. by the first years of the next century. By the early 1980s the decline in vocations among priests and nuns was being felt not only by parishes, but by Catholic hospitals and schools also; in 1981 Pope John Paul II described the decline in vocations as the fundamental challenge facing the Catholic Church at the end of the millennium. <p>The Lilly Endowment was among the first organizations to recognize that this phenomenon required serious attention, but was also concerned to broaden awareness of the vocational crisis among other foundations. To that end the Endowment together with Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities (FADICA) and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops sponsored a major consultation on the issue in December of that year. The consultation was organized by FADICA and convened by Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago. The conference brought together Catholic bishops, priests, members of religious orders, diocesan personnel, campus ministers, and trustees of Catholic foundations to review the then current research on Catholic vocations and to explore possible plans for responding to the vocation crisis.</p> This meeting marked the first time that persons involved in recruitment for the priesthood, scholars researching the factors relevant to this trend, and the grant makers interested in funding this research would be brought together to exchange views and information. The organizers of the conference expected to explore practical strategies to meet the challenge of the vocational crisis They hoped to develop models drawn from case studies of successful recruitment programs, identify the crucial points in the recruitment system, and bring grant making agencies into contact with programs addressing the problem.