Increase in Student Priests


For the third successive year the number of men in England and Wales training to be priests has increased.

This academic year 35 men have begun their training for priesthood, compared with 23 in 2002. A further 19 began a special year of pre-seminary formation aimed at developing their prayer life and knowledge of the faith with a view to beginning full training next year. Some dioceses are even setting up special programmes in certain parishes where those interested in priesthood can spend time seeing what the life and ministry of priests is like before they make an application.

In Allen Hall in Chelsea, the Westminster diocesan seminary, 10 new students began their training in September compared with 6 last year.

Father Paul Embery from the Vocations Office of the English and Welsh bishops said that he was encouraged by the trend. "Over the last few decades we have seen the number of those applying for priesthood declining. However, this is the third successive year that we have recorded an increase".

During 2005, following the death of Pope John Paul II, the Church noted a marked increase in enquiries about the priesthood. However it is not thought that this year's seminary intake has been affected by this too much as many of those who began training this September already had their applications in.

The average age of those entering priestly formation has also been steadily increasing. In 1984 the average age of an entrant was 25. In 2004 it was 31.

Vocations officers for the dioceses of England and Wales recently indicated at the recent annual conference that they would like to see more being done to encourage younger candidates to come forward too.

"Concern was expressed that teenage enquirers are sometimes being told that they are too young and shouldn't consider the priesthood until they are older. Whilst this is often said with the best of intentions, it should not be presumed that this should be the advice given in every case. We would like to see young candidates being listened too and proper discernment taking place." said Father Embery.

The vocations officers recognised that even though many candidates might present themselves in their 20's and 30's, the origins of their calling can often be traced back to a much earlier age, even primary school. They therefore are keen encourage education about the priesthood and the sowing of seeds to begin at an early age.

The Church is also adopting a more modern approach to its advertising of the priesthood. This year, for the first time it took its message outside of Church premises, running adverts on the London Underground and even on beer mats.

Until the 16th Century, training for priesthood often took place in a local parish using an apprenticeship model with an experienced priest as a mentor. However following complaints at the time of the Reformation that many clergy were poorly educated, the Church responded by establishing dedicated houses of formation known as seminaries.

Because of the religious situation in England at that time, it was not possible to establish seminaries in the country. Instead, trainee priests were educated in colleges established for the English Mission in places such as Valladolid (in Spain) and Rome. A number of these seminaries still remain open today and carry on their work.

Whilst it is envisaged that a six-year formation in seminaries will remain the norm, those training to be priests today can expect to spend time in a variety of different pastoral situations, including placements in parishes.