March 20, 2024 at 11:07 a.m.


Paulists, who are set to leave RPI, say whole church must do better to increase religious vocations

By Gina Christian | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

An order of priests is revamping its ministries due to a downturn in vocations -- and the move highlights the church's need to "triple the ask" for young men to consider religious life, said the congregation's communications director.

The Paulist Fathers, a missionary society of Catholic priests - which has a campus chaplaincy at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy - announced March 13 that it would wind down its presence at two universities and three parishes in the U.S., while folding three other initiatives.

At the end of the 2023-24 academic year, the order will return Newman Hall-Holy Spirit Parish at the University of California at Berkeley to the Diocese of Oakland, where the order had served since 1907.

The Paulist campus chaplaincy at RPI, located at Christ, Sun of Justice Parish, also will conclude in June. The parish itself, which is in the Diocese of Albany, is set to remain open, a staffer told OSV News.

The Paulist presence at three parishes will be reduced as the order scales back from two full-time active priests to one full-time priest, assisted by local Paulists in senior ministry, at Immaculate Conception Church in Knoxville, Tenn.; Old St. Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco; and the Paulist Center in Boston.

The order noted in its release that the national offices of three longtime, Paulist-run ministries -- Paulist Evangelization Ministries; Landings International, a reconciliation ministry for returning Catholics; and the Paulist Office of Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations -- will reach an "upcoming completion of (their) work."

Paulist Father René Constanza, the order's president, said three flagship media ministries -- Paulist Press, Paulist Productions and Busted Halo -- "will continue to be key expressions of our mission to the United States and around the world.

"At Paulist Productions and Busted Halo, Paulist priests will remain in leadership roles," he said, adding that Paulist Press will conduct a national search for a new president and publisher "to carry forward the vision and legacy of our founder, Servant of God Isaac Hecker, who began our publishing arm in 1865."

In February, Father Constanza had released a letter stating that the order had since June 2022 "discerned that change is coming" due to an aging congregation and a decline in new vocations to their order.

"Our number of Paulists in active ministry (ordained but not yet retired) has gone from 98 in 2004 ... to 85 in 2014 ... to 50 active Paulists in 2024," he wrote. "The last time we had 50 active men in our community was in 1910. Of those 50 active right now, almost two thirds are in their 60s, 70s and 80s. In ten years, we project that we'll be down to about 31 active Paulists."

While "people live longer these days, and many of our beloved senior priests have generously and selflessly continued working well into their 70s and beyond ... it is obvious that the current situation is not sustainable," Father Constanza wrote.

According to Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, in 2022 there were 34,344 priests (24,110 diocesan, 10,234 religious) and 451 priestly ordinations in the U.S., serving 16,429 parishes and 66.5 million "parish-connected" Catholics. Just 66 percent of the diocesan priests were in active ministry, with an average of one active diocesan priest per parish.

At present, there are 101 Paulist Fathers, including six seminarians and one novice, said Paul Snatchko, the order's communications director.

Snatchko told OSV News the Paulists are redoubling efforts to "do better" in cultivating vocations to the order.

"We've hired for the first time full-time lay professional recruiter in the vocations office," said Snatchko, noting the order's use of social media, including Google Ads, to reach a wider audience.

Speaking as an individual Catholic, Snatchko told OSV News that "the bottom line ... is that the whole church has to do more asking" of young men to consider religious life.

"Every Catholic in the world (and every) ... Catholic in the United States ... (has) to double and triple the amount of times we say to (a young man) ... 'I think you might be a good priest.' That has a huge impact."

Equally important are seminary "come and see" weekends, which offer a low-pressure opportunity to inquire firsthand about priestly formation, said Snatchko.

"We need to triple the ask (to attend such weekends)," he said, stressing that attendance at such events "does not mean you're going to become a priest. It just means you are taking the first step of discernment."

Catholic families should intentionally "encourage vocations," said Snatchko.

"And we need to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit," he added.

In the March 13 announcement, Father Constanza echoed the need to discern the Spirit's guidance -- and to remain confident of it.

"The Paulist Fathers remain committed to sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with missionary zeal, especially with people beyond the Church walls and with Catholics who feel apart from the Church," said Father Constanza. "Rooted in hopefulness, we trust that the Holy Spirit is actively breathing life into all things."

Gina Christian is a multimedia reporter for OSV News. Follow her on X (formerly Twitter) at @GinaJesseReina.


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