Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Parish Closings? Priest Shortage? Vocations Crisis?

You might be asking yourself here, "What in the world am I looking at?"  This is a graphic produced and distributed recently by Fr. Steve Giannini, our Vicar for Clergy, the priest who helps oversee priests in the Archdiocese.  The graphic is actually simpler than it first appears.  This is a graph showing all of the priests currently serving in the Archdiocese.  Each number represents a priest, and it is that priest's birth year.  (I am the lone "'79er").  Each column represents a ten year grouping of priests by their age.  I, being 32, am thus in the "30-39" column.  The yellow are already retired, the green are active, and the gray are those that will likely be ordained the next two years.

What does this show?  Obviously, most of the priests 70 and above are retired, as is expected.  Some decide to keep serving in a limited way, but most of them are retired.  What ought to be of major concern for the people of the Archdiocese is the really tall bar.  That bar on the graph represents the 39 priests who are between the ages of 60 and 69 as of today.  What that means is that 10 years from now, 39 of our current priests will be retired.

I'll say it again, 39 priests will retire in the next 10 years.

Two things are happening this year in relationship to this
1) Next year we will not have any priest assigned full time or half time as a chaplain to our Archdiocesan and Parish High Schools (Cardinal Ritter, Bishop Chatard, Father Scecina Memorial, Roncalli, Providence, Father Shawe Memorial Madison, Seton Catholic Richmond)

2) the 4 deaneries of Indianapolis (North, South, East, and West deaneries) will begin asking the simple question of "is there a better way to structure our service to the people of Indianapolis than our current parish infrastructure?"  Some will say this is just a nice way of saying "what parishes should we close" but that really ISN'T the question.  I believe this is a question that needs to be asked even if we had a 100 more priests than we had parishes.  This question of "how do we distribute our priests and parishes throughout the city to best serve the Church" should always be examined, and one could make a case that this discussion has needed to take place for some time now.

When I say that we, as an archdiocese, ought to be asking these difficult question regardless of how many priests we have, I mean this: let's say we have a parish of 400 families that is 5 miles from a parish with 500 families.  Even if both parishes had a priest not working any other jobs, we should still, as stewards, be asking "is there a better way to set this up for greater effectiveness."  Does it make sense, regardless of a priest shortage OR surplus, to have two parish councils, two finance councils, two Churches with all of their maintenance, two secretaries, two youth ministers, two DRE's, two... could we combine those parishes to still have a very manageable parish of 900 families, freeing up the other priest to be more present in a high school or at a college or at a hospital or to send to a mission country?  We should be asking this question as an archdiocese ALL the time.

Add on to that the problem we face now where priests are largely ministering on their own and living alone, a scenario not even envisioned by the 2nd Vatican Council.  If you want healthy priests, then it is important to look for ways to isolate priests less, and bring them together, at least for the purpose of communal living, more and more.

All of this, again, is why we are having this discussion now.  In the next 10 years, 39 priests will retire.

A second highly important reason that I post this graphic is because it illustrates the idea that we have a vocation to the priesthood problem that needs more from our local parishes than the occasional Sunday petition.

I was SHOCKED when I went to the seminary and found the number one obstacle for most men to enter the seminary was the resistance from family, especially parents.  How can that be?  Some of the same people who have discouraged their children from becoming priests will be complaining if their parish is closed someday.

I firmly believe every parish has multiple people God is calling to the priesthood and religious life at any given time.  As in most areas of our life, we often don't really understand that something is real until it impacts us.  Well, the impact is coming.  The Terre Haute and Batesville deaneries have already had the tough conversation and have made tough decisions in revamping the Catholic presence in those dioceses, and now Indianapolis is up for its turn.

What we need to do is
a) keep praying for holy priests "The harvest is plenty but the laborers are few"  I think we need some petitions to address the parents and community as well - "that God may grant us a spirit of generosity of love that we be a people who SEEK to FOSTER and NOURISH those that God is calling to serve Him as priests and religious in our midst...let us pray to the Lord..."

b) ACTIVELY seek out young men and women and physically tell them "you would make a great priest/sister."  The NUMBER ONE reason guys enter the seminary is because someone suggested it.  We have to get over any embarrassment we might feel and just start saying it, and saying it to multiple people.  Over the next ten years, let's see if we can't get two people in formation for the priesthood from every parish

c) If you are parent, let your children know that if they pursue religious life and/or the priesthood that you would support them fully in that decision.

39 priests retire in the next 10 years.

Is someone from your parish studying for the priesthood?  My challenge is for every Catholic to find 5 people that they think would make a great priest or religious sister and simply tell those 5 people that.


  1. Father, I have two boys and two girls (so far) and I would be delighted if one or two or all of them made the choice to enter religious life.

    1. We're just beginning our family, one 2&1/2 yr. old daughter and one 6mo. old son, but we too would be so proud if our children chose a religious vocation. I really like your idea of telling 5 people. Now I just have to figure out who!

  2. I was SHOCKED when I went to the seminary and found the number one obstacle for most men to enter the seminary was the resistance from family, especially parents. How can that be?

    Something that rhymes with "Schmontraception"?

    1. Scott - exactly. It is the same mindset in both limiting births and limiting priests - preventing realities from coming into existence which God is desiring of.

  3. Father,

    I am so glad you have brought this up. I along with other people at my parish are quite concerned about our Parish priest. Our priest has two parishes and until recently we had a weekend associate, that would come in an help on weekends, but now our one priest is solely in charge of the two parishes. Our priest is in his mid 60's and is not very healthy and we have noticed he is even more ragged and has sometimes fallen asleep between masses in his chair in his office, and they have to wake him up. My wife has gotten quite upset at him, but in reality any 60-something person that has to drive 20 to 30 minutes between parishes and then do mass is going to be quite tuckered out. Our priest is a magnificent man, but I'm worried that this additional pressure will ware his body down to much.

  4. Sorry for being nosy, what do the other colors stand for, like what does the Red stand for and the light blue and the dark green on 1981. Also why are the priest in 1976 and 1975 have yellow and other priests that are not old enough to retire, but are marked as such as yellow? I'm just curious.

    1. I don't remember, I'll try and track the handout down. The one question I do know the answer to is that some guys are granted early retirement.

  5. Thank you again Father for discussing this. I am the poster Anonymous and I was wondering should I talk with my priest about our concerns for his health, should we contact Fr. Giannini? What is the best path? Your guidance would be appreciated.

  6. Fr. Giannini is one of our finest priests. I'd definitely not hesitate to contact him because he does a great job trying to work with us priests and trying to help us if we're struggling

  7. Father, I generally like the stuff you have put out and this post is the reason why. It is so important that we talk about both the crisis, and the fact that many families are matching it hard for their children to discern a vocation.
    It is extremely difficult to discern God's call for us when our families don't understand the need to find what God wants us to do, or prioritize their own expectations for us.

    It's also important to think about the number of young Catholics who truly want to be actively engaged with the Church, build a relationship with Christ and discern God's callbut find it hard to do so because of their parents' own mild view of the Church, and sadly, though probably specifically, the priesthood.

  8. One of the most important jobs parents have is to try to help their children get to Heaven. (It ranks right up there with helping your spouse get to Heaven.) Wouldn't the surest way to do this to be to encourage children to listen for God's call and then follow that call, whatever the vocation--Priesthood, Religious Life, Sacramental Marriage, Sacred Single life? What parent would knowingly stand between their child/children and God's Will for them? I understand the desire to have grandchildren, and that doesn't happen when a child joins the priesthood or religious life. This can be especially difficult when there are very few children in the family, but God never promised grandchildren. Happiness comes from doing the will of God. "Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O Lord."--St. Augustine

  9. Father,

    Thanks for this post. I'm from Seattle and I can tell you the Archdiocese is having the same problem with the number of seminarians and priests. I also read your article on the frustrations of being a diocesan priest and I whole-heartedly agree and see the same problems in my own parish. Right now I am at Notre Dame and currently discerning a religious vocation. My father is entirely against it and my mother only wants me to choose it if I end up making final vows. I have had signs pointing towards becoming a sister. Lately I have had questions like: What if I lose my family and friends? How do I live as a celibate for the rest of my life?

    I pray and hope more people hear the call to the religious life. Prayers.