Wonder what to make of this. It is good that more men are interested in the priesthood. Probably has a lot to do with Katrina making Catholics down there get their priorities in order. However, as we can tell by the lay dress of these seminarians, their formation will be anything but Traditional. Notre Dame seminary in New Orleans is run by Jesuits I think and pretty lib.http://www.nola.com/religion/index.ssf/2011/09/latest_group_of_seminarians_a.html
Latest group of seminarians is a bumper crop
Published: Sunday, September 04, 2011, 7:00 AM
By Bruce Nolan, The Times-Picayune
After years of relative scarcity, the Archdiocese of New Orleans opens the academic year with a bumper crop of young men entering seminary studies for the priesthood — the largest group in 26 years.
Photos by Ted Jackson, The Times-PicayuneChad Ham and Chris Zavackis, in the chapel at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans on Friday. The Archdiocese of New Orleans has the largest class in 20 years of men entering studies for the priesthood.
Thirty-six men have enrolled at either St. Joseph Seminary in Covington for undergraduate training, or Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans for graduate work, leading to ordination during the next eight years.
Last year the number was 27. Before that, 20.
No one in the regional church believes it’s the beginning of the end of the priest shortage that has bled the Catholic church for more than 30 years, or even that a class this size establishes a new norm for the future.
But Archbishop Gregory Aymond and others say they are cautiously optimistic that a series of concrete initiatives to increase the number of New Orleans priests is beginning to bear fruit.
The candidates range in age from 18 to 51. Four will enter St. Joseph Seminary right out of high school, a relative rarity. Others, like Chad Ham, 47, and Chris Zavackis, 42, have left established careers — in law and social work, respectively.
Nationally, the average age of newly ordained priests last year was 31, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. More than 90 percent had full-time jobs before seminary; 60 percent had completed college before entering seminary.
Unlike Protestant ministry studies, which can be pursued part-time in conjunction with a secular job, Catholic seminarians quit their careers to live full-time in the seminary community.
Seminary programs not only teach theology and pastoral care, but seminary mentors also keep careful watch on psychological health and spiritual growth.
The education is free to the candidates, but costs the seminary around $35,000 a year for each student, said Aymond.
But not all seminarians progress to ordination.
Zavackis returned to the seminary after spending a year at Notre Dame 17 years ago. After he left, he worked and dated, but said he felt he wanted more, and in time decided that fulfillment probably would be found in the priesthood.
Chad Ham and Chris Zavackis pray after Mass in the chapel at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. Both men left established careers, Ham in law and Zavackis in social work, to enter the seminary.
In Catholic and Protestant theology alike, men and women are said to be called by God to a preferred destiny, sometimes to a life of ministry. But the signal can be swamped by static from secular culture.
Vocations directors like the Rev. Steven Bruno in New Orleans, say their main job is to connect with as many young men and women as possible, urging them to stop, listen and perhaps pay attention to what at first may be a faint call to ministry.
Bruno and Aymond use the same language: trying to create among metro New Orleans Catholics a “culture of vocations.”
“Fundamentally, that’s our attitude toward our own lives; that we belong to God,” Bruno said. “That’s very counter-cultural in a culture where we’re encouraged to take ownership over our lives. But the vocations mentality is that my life is to be poured out for some good. For something bigger than me.”
In nine years as bishop of Austin, Texas, Aymond developed a reputation for ramping up vocations to the priesthood.
Shortly after his arrival in New Orleans he took a big step, pulling Bruno out of parish work and making him the archdiocese’s first full-time vocations director in memory.
Bruno oversees a range of programs that reach out to students in Catholic elementary and high schools, and to young adults in secular careers.
In addition, each year Bruno visits every Catholic high school and as many of the 109 or so parishes as he can. He asks for help from parents, relatives and neighbors in the pews. He recruits his fellow priests as well.
“There’s a statistic that 80 percent of priests have said that having a priest invite them to think about a vocation, or a priest’s influence, was important to them in helping them discover their vocation,” Bruno said. “But less than 30 percent of priests have asked anyone else if they’ve considered a call.”
Aymond and Bruno both acknowledge that the Catholic sexual abuse scandal after 2002 has hindered their work somewhat, but probably less than most people think.
Aymond acknowledged that he’s discussing a potential vocation with a young man whose parents are vigorously opposed.
But he said more commonly, “what I hear from young people, and from older guys is, yes, they were embarrassed for the church — but that scandal didn’t have anything to do with them, and if they can help make the priesthood more credible, they’re up for that.”