success stories

Annual survey shows more new priests
from Mexico, Vietnam

By Catholic News Service

The ordination class of 2002 reflects an increase in the number of priests born outside the United States, particularly in Mexico and Vietnam, according to the U.S. bishops' annual survey on men ordained to the priesthood.

According to the survey, 15 percent of the class of 2002 nationally are Hispanic, a higher figure than in recent years and more than double that of 1984, when that percentage was 7 percent. Of the class, 7 percent were born in Mexico. The increased percentage, however, is still lower than the percentage of Hispanics in the U.S. church, a figure estimated to be 25 percent to 30 percent.

The survey showed that 9 percent of the class are Asian or Pacific Islander, even though the percentage of Asian Pacific Islanders in the church in the United States is estimated at 2 percent to 3 percent. Six percent of the ordination class was born in Vietnam. One of them, Ly Chu, who was ordained for the Diocese of Des Moines, Iowa, attended an underground seminary in Vietnam for seven years.

Of all the seminarians in this year's ordination class, 32 percent were born outside the United States, the highest percentage since research on the ordination classes began in 1998, when the figure was 24 percent. The survey data was analyzed by Dean Hoge of the Life Cycle Institute of The Catholic University of America. Of the estimated 500 men who were ordained in 2002, 326 seminarians completed the survey questions by March 31.

"The ordination of these fine men offers hope for the entire church," said Auxiliary Bishop Kevin M. Britt of Detroit, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Vocations. "In a noisy world, they heard the voice of God calling them to serve his people in this unique way. As a church, bishops, priests, religious and laity, we need to help more men listen to hear the call to embrace the priesthood."

The survey of this year's ordained also revealed that:

-- 47 percent were under the age of 35.

-- 64 percent were of European American background.

-- 68 percent were born in the United States.

-- 4 percent were African-American, the same percentage as African-Americans in the church in the United States.

-- 57 percent had graduated from college with a bachelor's degree before entering the seminary. Twenty percent had earned a master's degree; 2 percent, a law degree; and 3 percent, a doctorate.

-- 61 percent attended a Catholic elementary school; 52 percent, a Catholic high school; and 53 percent, a Catholic college.

In his report on the survey, Hoge noted three significant changes, including the increase in the number of seminarians born outside the United States since the research began in 1998:

Other findings include:

-- The average age at ordination rose from 34.8 to 36.7.

-- The level of education prior to entering the seminary also rose. In 1998, 30 percent had less than a bachelor's degree, but in the 2002 sample that figure was only 17 percent.

Correspondingly, the percentage who had received a master's degree or professional degree rose from 13 percent to 27 percent.

The survey also introduced a series of questions asking the seminarians about their own experience with vocation programs. The encouragement to consider a vocation often remembered was personal contact, especially by a priest, friend or seminarian. The second most common were retreat programs. Most of the seminarians ordained this year had been actively involved in their parishes as altar servers, lectors, and eucharistic ministers.

The most effective means of encouraging vocations were personal contacts and advertisements.

The number of men ordained in each diocese or for a religious order varied. The Diocese of Raleigh, N.C., for example, ordained five men, including four Hispanics from Colombia. The Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Mo., ordained one man, a Nigerian who holds a doctorate.

The Congregation of the Priests of the Sacred Heart ordained one man who was born in Vietnam and came to the United States when he was 16.

In this year's ordination class there were several lawyers, including Peter Ignatius Hahn, 45, also a marathon runner who was ordained for the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pa.

The new priests hold advanced degrees in a variety of areas. One has a doctorate in education and was a high school principal, two taught at the college level and one had worked as an optometrist.

Some also had military experience. One spent four years in the Coast Guard, another was on active duty in the U.S. Air Force. One had a career as an officer in the U.S. Army and another was in the Army for 34 years.