Vocations crisis worse than in England and Wales

Four times more men studying for priesthood across Irish Sea

A total of 57 men have entered seminaries to study for the Catholic priesthood in England and Wales this year, compared to 14 in Ireland.

This is despite the fact that England and Wales have a combined Catholic population of four million compared with 4.65 million Catholics on the island of Ireland.

England and Wales, served by one episcopal conference, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, has six seminaries, whereas there is one in Ireland, at St Patrick's College Maynooth. Some Irish priests may undergo some training at St Malachy's in Belfast and the Irish College in Rome.

The six England and Wales seminaries are St Mary's College, Oscott; St John's Seminary in Wonersh; Allen Hall Seminary, London; the Venerable English College and the Pontifical Beda College in Rome; and the Royal English College in Valladolid, Spain.


In a survey the Irish Catholic newspaper established that the six seminaries admitted 57 men for formation this year.

Figures published by the Catholic Church last June disclosed that the number of Catholic diocesan priests in Ireland dropped 13 per cent in the decade between 2002 and 2012. The number dropped from 3,203 in 2002 to 2,800 in 2012, a fall of 403 in the decade.

Over the same period, the number of religious priests – members of congregations and orders – dropped from 2,159 to 1,888 in 2012, a fall of 271 (12.5 per cent). In the same decade the number of nuns fell by 23 per cent, from 8,953 in 2002 to 6,912 – a fall of 2,041. The figures are contained in the Statistical Yearbook of the Church, a Vatican Library publication.

Last June the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, said that in the archdiocese just two priests were under 40, while 44 were aged between 70 and 75 and “in the next four or five years will be going into a more retired sort of life”.

This week he announced a greatly enhanced role for lay people in pastoral planning in the archdiocese.

For the first time lay people will participate in its 16 deanery meetings which, until now, were mostly attended only by priests. Deaneries meet four times a year to look at pastoral planning for the next quarter.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times