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Increase in numbers for seminaries

Young men are returning to the Catholic priesthood, with leading seminaries reversing a steady decline in numbers to record one of their best intakes for almost a decade.

The Australian reports that the Sydney seminary enrolled 14 new seminarians this year, taking to 41 the total number studying for the priesthood. Its numbers have been increasing over the past three years since its worst ever year, 1996, when only four new seminarians entered the college.

"It's small at the moment but I am hoping that it is the beginning of a turning of the tide," said Bishop Julian Porteous, the rector at Sydney's Seminary of the Good Shepherd.

The trend was echoed at Corpus Christi College in Melbourne, which recruited 10 new seminarians this year to take its total to 41, an increase of six seminarians from the previous year.

"The profile of the students is getting younger," said dean of students at Corpus Christi, Father Paul Stuart. "The average age is around 27 but some new enrolments are school leavers or just out of university.

"It's a pleasing result when you consider the church has undergone various scandals."

Father Stuart said that numbers at the college had declined dramatically since its hey-day in the 1970s when the seminary attracted older candidates. Like the Sydney college, Melbourne's worst year was 1996, when it enrolled just four new candidates.

"These new seminarians are different in that they seem to have fewer problems with the authority of the church.

"About 15 years ago we were getting people in their 30s, 40s and even 50s, and we weren't getting school leavers, but we're seeing that trend come back."

Seminarian Daniel Attard, 24, a former property valuer currently in his first year at Corpus Christi, said that his decision to join priesthood was a slow but considered process of choice.

"I'm from a Maltese background and I come from a very devout family," he said. "My immediate family was very supportive but some of my relations were openly hostile and I have lost friends at work through it. They said I had a good career and that I was going into the priesthood, which was a dead-end career in a dying church, and that I was wasting my time."

Mr Attard said he was happy to take the vows of celibacy despite having had a serious relationship for several years prior to entering the seminary.

"I do miss the closeness and intimacy of a relationship but in the church you gain other things," he said. "The total dedication of being part of the church puts you on a different platform."

Father Stuart said that seminaries suffered their greatest attrition rate from problems with celibacy.

"About 50 per cent in any given year don't go on to the priesthood," he said. "Wanting to get married is the No1 reason for leaving the seminary."

Both seminaries believed the emphasis that Cardinal George Pell had placed on increasing the profile of the colleges had influenced the intake numbers.

"There is also a renewed interest in spirituality that is feeding into the mainstream church," Father Stuart said.

Young men back to study as priests (The Australian 14/1/05)

OzVocations: Life choices for Catholics
Vocations to the Priesthood (Archdiocese of Adelaide)
Catholic Priesthood (Archdiocese of Brisbane) | Holy Spirit Seminary
Vocations (Archdiocese of Hobart)
Catholic Vocations (Archdiocese of Melbourne) | Corpus Christi Seminary
Vocations (Archdiocese of Perth) | St Charles Seminary
Vocations Centre (Archdiocese of Sydney) | Good Shepherd Seminary

Pope asks for prayer and support for vocations (CathNews 12/1/05)
Clergy Commission head says priest drought overstated (CathNews 2/12/04)
Sydney seminary head claims vocations "worst is over" (CathNews 16/4/03)
Vocation Centre invokes spirit and place (CathNews 23/1/03)
A seminarian's perspective (CathNews 2/1/03)
Pope says standards must be maintained during vocations crisis (CathNews 29/5/02)
Pope says seminarians who finds chastity difficult should forget priesthood (CathNews 18/3/02)

14 Jan 2005