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Posted October 17, 2013

What do those who are ordained
for the priesthood look like?

A report from the Secretariat for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations
(The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops)


In December 2005, the Secretariat for Vocations and Priestly Formation (now the Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations) of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) commissioned the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University to conduct an annual survey of ordinands to the priesthood. The survey was initially developed by the Secretariat in 1998 and has been administered online since 2005. CARA assumed responsibility for the project in 2006, using the online survey developed by the Secretariat. CARA worked with the Secretariat to upgrade the online survey and to incorporate it into the data collection process for CARA's annual survey of priestly formation programs. This report presents results of the survey of ordinands of the Class of 2013.

Major Findings

The average age of ordinands for the Class of 2013 is 35.5. The median age (midpoint of the distribution) is 32. Three-quarters of responding ordinands are between 23 and 39. This distribution is slightly older than in 2012, but follows the pattern in recent years of average age at ordination in the mid-thirties.

On average, diocesan ordinands lived in the diocese or eparchy for which they will be ordained for 16 years before entering the seminary. Religious ordinands knew the members of their religious institute an average of nine years before they entered the seminary.

Background and Country of Origin

Two-thirds of responding ordinands (67 percent) report their primary race or ethnicity as Caucasian/European American/white. Compared to the adult Catholic population of the United States, ordinands are more likely to be of Asian or Pacific Islander background (10 percent of responding ordinands), but less likely to be Hispanic/Latino (15 percent of responding ordinands). Compared to diocesan ordinands, religious ordinands are less likely to report their race or ethnicity as Caucasian/European American/white.

Three in ten ordinands (31 percent) were born outside the United States, with the largest numbers coming from Mexico, Vietnam, Colombia, Poland, the Philippines, and Nigeria. On average, responding ordinands who were born in another country have lived in the United States for 14 years. Between 20 and 30 percent of ordinands to diocesan priesthood for each of the last ten years were born outside of the United States.

Most ordinands have been Catholic since birth, although 9 percent became Catholic later in life. Eight in ten report that both of their parents are Catholic and a third (34 percent) have a relative who is a priest or a religious.

Almost all ordinands in the Class of 2013 (97 percent) have at least one sibling. Around half (52 percent) report having more than two siblings, while one in five (20 percent) have five or more siblings. Ordinands are most likely to be the oldest in their family (40 percent).

Education, Ministry, and Work Experience

Before entering the seminary, six in ten ordinands completed college (63 percent). Almost one quarter (23 percent) entered the seminary with a graduate degree. Among those who completed college before entering the seminary, five in ten (46 percent) entered the seminary at the pre-theology level and 17 percent entered at the theology level. One in three (29 percent) report entering the seminary while in college.

The most common fields of study for ordinands before entering the seminary are theology or philosophy (23 percent), business (17 percent), and the liberal arts (16 percent).

About four in ten responding ordinands (42 percent) attended a Catholic elementary school, which is a rate equal to that for all Catholic adults in the United States. In addition, ordinands are somewhat more likely than other U.S. Catholic adults to have attended a Catholic high school and they are much more likely to have attended a Catholic college (44 percent, compared to 7 percent among U.S. Catholic adults).

Just over a quarter (26 percent) carried educational debt at the time they entered the seminary, averaging a little over $20,000 in educational debt at entrance to the seminary.

More than six in ten ordinands (62 percent) report some type of full-time work experience prior to entering the seminary, most often in education or accounting, finance, or insurance. Four percent of responding ordinands report having served in the U.S. Armed Forces. About one in six ordinands (13 percent) report that one or both parents had a military career in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Ordinands of the Class of 2013 have been active in parish ministries, with two-thirds (67 percent) indicating they served as an altar server and about half (47 percent) participating in a parish youth group. One-fifth (20 percent) participated in a World Youth Day before entering the seminary.

Nearly seven in ten ordinands report regularly praying the Rosary (68 percent) and participating in Eucharistic Adoration (62 percent) before entering the seminary.

Vocational Discernment

On average, responding ordinands report that they were nearly 17 when they first considered a vocation to the priesthood. Two in three (67 percent) say they were encouraged to consider a vocation to the priesthood by a parish priest. Other frequent encouragers include friends (46 percent), parishioners (38 percent), and mothers (34 percent).

Almost half of responding ordinands (48 percent) indicated that they were discouraged from considering the priesthood by one or more persons. Most often, the person who discouraged them was a friend or classmate or a family member other than their parent.