On a recent episode of Perspectives Weekly, I participated in our year-in-review panel with my colleagues Alicia Ambrosio and Cheridan Eygelaar. One of the trends mentioned was the upturn in seminary enrollment.
The news that some seminaries are full contradicts the conventional narrative: that vocations to the priesthood are on the decline and will keep decreasing until the Church allows married priests. On the contrary, Catholic News Service reports that some American seminaries are operating at capacity, while others have experienced remarkable growth. Last year, the number of post-baccalaureate seminarians in the U.S. increased by 4% to a total of 3,608.
Positive signs can be found north of the border, as well. This past spring, I had the privilege of visiting the newly-rebuilt St. Joseph Seminary in Edmonton, Alberta. S+L filmed the blessing of the campus for our documentary Put Out Into the Deep.
The B.C. Catholic reports that registrations at St. Joseph’s are at an all-time high. In 2010, 28 in-house seminarians were enrolled there from dioceses in Western Canada. A year later, those numbers jumped by 50% to 42 in-house seminarians (plus five more on internships).
When I spoke with Archbishop Richard Smith last year about the increase, he didn’t seem as satisfied as I expected. The head of the Edmonton Archdiocese reminded me that there’s still room for more! The seminary can house 60, and the city has a sizable Catholic community to draw from. Evidently, he’s confident that this trend will continue.
The rector of the seminary, Fr. Shayne Craig, attributes the rise to efforts in faith formation and vocations promotion. Deacon Miguel Irizar, one of the seminarians profiled in Put Out Into the Deep, adds a spiritual explanation.
“I know that many parishes and many people in many dioceses have been praying a lot for vocations,” he told the B.C. Catholic. “The Lord said, ‘Pray, and I will give you people to work in the harvest.’ Prayer is the first reason why we have more vocations recently, in this diocese particularly.”