Growing numbers train to be priests


IT IS “a myth” to say there is a continuing dearth of vocations to the Catholic priesthood in Ireland, the church’s national co-ordinator of diocesan vocations, Fr Paddy Rushe, has said.

Noting that 30 men entered seminaries to train as priests in Ireland last September, with 31 having done so in September 2007 and 30 in September 2006, he contrasted this with the situation at the beginning of the decade when, in 2000 for instance, 13 men entered. Of that number nine were ordained last year.

Of those entering in recent years, he expected that at least 18 would be ordained in each year. “The problem is that when people sign up, it takes six or seven years for them to be ready,” Fr Rushe said.

This meant that “we are only starting to see people emerge who signed up in 2001, which was a bad year for the Catholic Church as scandals broke and we were at the height of the Celtic Tiger”.

Should the numbers of seminarians continue to rise, he expected an influx of new priests to the Irish Catholic Church by 2014.

He forecast that “in 2014 we will see twice, if not three times as many new priests emerging”.

Another factor, Fr Rushe added, was that while the average age of seminarians in Maynooth now was about 34, this was coming down. In his own diocese of Armagh the average age of entrants was 24. Currently there are 70 men training for the priesthood at St Patrick’s College Maynooth.

Others are training for service in Ireland at St Malachy’s College, Belfast, in Rome and in Spain.

Despite increased seminarian numbers Fr Rushe believes that church structures will still have to be changed. “Some parishes these days have only one priest, making it impossible for someone to take a holiday,” he said.

He said the church’s vocations drive was now pro-active and contemporary. “We have a YouTube site, a website, we go to recruitment shows, whatever has to be done.”