Millennial Motivations in Seeking Catholic Priesthood

When I was a young Catholic girl, I attended church with my parents every Sunday and heard prayers asking for more people to be called to the priesthood. They said half the priests would retire in the next 10 years and there weren’t enough incoming priest to replace them. That was more than 10 years ago, and I’m under the impression the Catholic church has yet to see the increase they were hoping for, at least in my area. I wonder if anyone thought to ask why. Why is the Millennial generation producing so few priests?

This was the question that passed through my mind when I last visited my family in Iowa. We were there to help celebrate my uncle’s move to his final parish before retirement. He and one other priest are working for the parish. I couldn’t help but notice how young the other priest looked and again wondered what sort of Millennial in 2014 would choose such a position.

I’m not trying to bash Catholicism or any other religion, but Catholicism is unique among most Christian religions in that priests can only be men and they can’t ever marry. That’s not very appealing to even the most religious people I know. Back in the small town I grew up in, people are closer to organized religion and are also very intent on marriage. All but a few of my friends from Iowa are married and/or have children. Anyone who sees marriage in their future won’t give priesthood under the Catholic church a second glance.

Whenever I think about people choosing the priesthood, I’m reminded of one particular homily I heard in my middle school years. The priest first asked the men over the age of forty if they had ever considered the priesthood. Then, he asked women in the same age group if they ever considered becoming a nun. A great deal of people raised their hands. They followed by asking the same of those under the age of 40. When the question about being a priest came up, I nearly raised my hand. I had often thought about how much I’d enjoy the priesthood. At the time, I liked my religion and I didn’t imagine marriage ever being in my future. I didn’t though, and kept it down during the question about becoming a nun, something I knew I didn’t want.

I didn’t know it then, but my exit of Catholicism was already building. As I’ve said before, I my ideas about life, right and wrong have never really changed. Instead, I came to realize that Catholicism was not the welcoming, understanding religion I thought it was. One of these ideas is the equality between men and women. Catholics are free to believe whatever they want, but for me and any religion I might join, I need a place where men and women have the same opportunity for the same positions in the religion. Even back then, this was something I desired. I simply had no knowledge of other religions and no concept that they were that different from mine.

This photo, “Congregation of Holy Cross priest, VISION Vocation Guide” is copyright (c) 2014 VISION Vocation Guide and made available under an Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license
This photo, “Congregation of Holy Cross priest, VISION Vocation Guide” is copyright (c) 2014 VISION Vocation Guide and made available under an Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license

Becoming more culturally Catholic than practicing Catholic through my college years, I eventually stumbled upon a story on female Catholic priests. I don’t remember her name anymore, but there was a woman acting as a priest for a ‘Catholic’ church near my college town. When interviewing her for a story, she told me about the origins, how a male Bishop, feeling women were being called, ordained seven women. Eventually one of those women went through the proper traditions to become a Bishop and these women have now spread, ordaining more women as priests.

They have, of course, been excommunicated. I’m not sure what the rules are for that, though. If a priest has gone through the sacraments to become a priest, baptizes someone and is then excommunicated, is that baptism still valid. I have to think the answer is yes.

I mention these Catholic womenpriests because clearly people ARE being called to the priesthood. People are fighting, going so far as to risk excommunication, to become priests. They just happen to have vaginas. Maybe the decade of prayers by Catholics are being answered with these women. They say God works in mysterious ways after all. For the time being, it doesn’t help with the priest shortage since they are not accepted by the Pope. It’s ironic in a way, that congregations pray every Sunday for more to be called to the priesthood while people struggle and fight to become that very thing.

The Catholic priesthood is a strict thing. There’s a lack of choice, not only in rules about how a priest can live his life, but where. My uncle moves when and where he is told. There only real consistency I’ve seen is that he stays within the diocese he’s under. While I can see these things as turning people away, it’s not really that bad.

My curiosity about what motivates a Millennial to seek the priesthood probably has a lot to do with the fact I have never met one person, no matter how devoted to Catholicism, consider being a priest or a nun. Why? Is there something different about the world today? Maybe children learn more about the world than they used to, motivating them to seek different dreams.

I don’t have the answer, but I’m just so curious.

What do you think goes through the mind of a Millennial considering the priesthood? Do you imagine their reasoning is any different than the reasons people before them chose to become priests? Have you ever considered being a priest? What about a nun? How did you reach your decision on whether or not that was the right path for you?

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23 thoughts on “Millennial Motivations in Seeking Catholic Priesthood”

  1. For a millennial to become a priest? A catholic priest? That could be very rare.

    But here in the Philippines where Catholicism is very strong, seminaries still bring new would be priests into the community. Just last year in a retreat I had at one of the seminaries, a fresh batch of would be priest greeted me in the main-room. But that’s in conservative Philippines.

    I’m not sure with Liberal America or other countries where religion & spirituality isn’t that too strong in the community. It would take real strong faith to pull this generation into the calling of priesthood.

    1. I know a lot of Millennials with strong spirituality, they just don’t always buy into the idea of organized religion. That, more than anything, is probably the big difference.

  2. I have lots of respects for the Catholic priests! Becoming a nun/priest? I guess this is a call someone has to have it when is a teenager…as a vocation. And if someone of forties choose to embrace the black robe…I personally think they do it because they fail from laic life. JMHO

    1. I know! It’s intense and I have nothing but respect for them. I just wonder what that mindset is. What goes through a person’s head when they think of becoming a priest?

  3. I sympathise with your struggle as even in the more free Pentecostal tradition that I belong to, women can struggle to achieve the equality that God offers. However, the bible calls us who believe in Christ, “a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” 1 Peter 2:9 (also see v5).

    As early as Exodus 19:6 God shares his desire for a whole nation (Israel) to be a kingdom of priests (men and women). It was only when they rejected relationship with God and speaking with God face-to-face out of fear, that God set up the Levitical priesthood of men.

    People often rush to quote Paul’s verses about women in ministry in 3 letters to churches where women were deified and yet complete miss the verse where it says, “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28.

    You may find Danny Silk and Kris Vallotton’s books on women in ministry more releasing.

    May God bless you and release you into your calling.
    Michelle

    1. All very interesting. I may have to look up the books you speak of. Thank you for sharing. Those Bible quotes are thought provoking.

  4. I am a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church. We have priests, deacons, bishops, etc. Unlike the Catholic church, our priests may be married before becoming priests and are actually encouraged to marry before becoming priests. It is rare in our faith for a priest to be unmarried and not have children.

    Men are only priests, but women play such a significant role in the faith it doesn’t seem abnormal or wrong. I was Catholic before I converted. I was also a convert to Catholicism. When I joined the Catholic church I thought I was actually getting what I have now: An open, welcoming, loving place to worship with people who believe the same way and view God as GOD, not a feel-good-mood-dispenser.

    One of the best places to begin researching the Orthodox Church is to look in the phone book, of course, or on-line to see if there is an Orthodox Church in your area. Even if the listing says Greek Orthodox, or Russian Orthodox, or Antiochian, they are all one and the same (it just depends on where the Bishop is located). The Orthodox are what the Catholic Church was supposed to be: The Catholic Church split from the Orthodox Church in the 1100s.

    The Orthodox Church does not have one single person who is the head of the Church either. We have Bishops who come together to make changes, and change happens slowly in our faith, and it moves at just the right pace. Many of the Christians being killed in the Middle East are Orthodox Christians, which is so very sad.

    Hope you have a wonderful day. I love reading your articles, and this one was no exception. I hope you find a steady worship place soon, if you haven’t already.

    1. That all sounds great and I’m happy you’ve found your place. Among the things that motivated my exit of the Catholic faith was that, while we were preached at to be welcoming, Catholic people rarely were. They were mean and judgmental. I didn’t want to be associated with a community who thought the best way to help a graver sinner was to excommunicate them.

      I understand the logic between women not being priests. I have heard the argument that women do play a significant role so it doesn’t matter. People are free to practice whatever religion they want, but that way of thinking simply doesn’t work for me. I don’t want my children to be like I was, wanting to be something like a priest and being unable to just because of their gender.

      I’m happy you enjoy my articles. I think I’ve found a comfortable spot in my personal relationship with God, but I am still looking for a place where I feel I can grow further in that relationship. I’m don’t mind searching, though. I’m not one who things one religion is the only way to go. What’s important is that spiritual relationship with Divinity. Whatever religion grows and strengthens that relationship is the right one for that person.

      1. This is so very true! As Christians/Believers, we must continue to search within for that BEST relationship with God. I have found the right one for me, but was not intending to try and convert you – I was really only sharing and, if you had further questions, gave you information to where you could go.

        Thee Catholic church, for me, was not where I needed to be. After moving from a small town to a larger one I contacted the Catholic church of my choice and notified them I had a broken leg and could not attend Mass. A woman came out once and never again, but I DID receive calls from an adult rescue group who wanted to rescue me from my husband because he is black. Once that “problem” resolved, no one ever came out to give me communion again and, since they obviously did not want me and turned their backs on me, I thought it was best to look for somewhere else to go.

        As you can see, I genuinely get the welcoming aspect of the Catholic church, at least in my local area.

        I am glad you have reached a good place in your relationship with God. It is good to have that place.

        Can’t wait for your next article. Have a great day!

  5. I knew a young woman in college who felt that God had called her to be a priest, specifically, from when she was younger. She said she struggled with it because she did not think God would be so cruel as to give her a calling she couldn’t fulfill. I just hope that in my lifetime we will at least see female deacons in the Church.

    I considered being a nun when I was a kid, and still might except that I’m happily married. If I had lived hundreds of years ago, I’m sure I would have become a nun because it would have been one of the only ways for a woman to be an academic and study science.

    1. I was actually voted the most likely to become a nun in my Catholic School ^_^ Oh how far I’ve fallen from that.

      I personally think those womenpriests are right. They are being called and they fearlessly move forward. Just as the prophets of the Bible didn’t let the religious dogma of their time hold them back, so these women fight on.

      Back in the day, yeah I would have totally become a nun. There would be no safer place for a woman and you get to learn.

  6. Hi TK,
    The reason why men and women don’t have the same roles in Catholicism is not a question of equality. The reason why women cannot become priests is because part of the Church’s teaching that priest’s are supposed to act “in persona Christi”. That means “in the person of Christ”. Priests are supposed to be Jesus for the people. Like Jesus, they are married to the Church. All people are meant to become married in one way, and all are called to be priests in one way. For priests, they are married to the Church. For nuns, they are married to Jesus. It’s not a matter of equality; it’s just the way God wanted his Church to be run.
    Aul

  7. I grew up in Mormonism and left that religion because they are not welcoming, either, And also don’t support equal rights for women.

    On your question about why the millennial’s aren’t going into the Catholic priesthood, I can only make some guesses. I saw a study which showed that millennial’s are a very welcoming bunch, And the lack of welcome would be a turnoff.

    No sex or marriage would probably be a huge problem, too.

    And being a priest doesn’t hold the same power and prestige it once did in a country that is losing religion.

    1. Yeah, those two things seem to be the obvious answers to me. I think it has something to do with learning about the wider world, as well. If Catholicism is all you know and your community gives a lot of power to priest, that sacrifice might not seem like much. Now, knowing how other’s think and live, we don’t feel like we should have to give up so much.

  8. “I didn’t know it then, but my exit of Catholicism was already building. As I’ve said before, I my ideas about life, right and wrong have never really changed. Instead, I came to realize that Catholicism was not the welcoming, understanding religion I thought it was. One of these ideas is the equality between men and women. Catholics are free to believe whatever they want, but for me and any religion I might join, I need a place where men and women have the same opportunity for the same positions in the religion. Even back then, this was something I desired. I simply had no knowledge of other religions and no concept that they were that different from mine.”

    Having looked into other religions, I have not found one that does not place men on a higher level than women. I may be a man, but that does not mean I get any benefit from from it. This sexism is still wrong, and it a big part of why I came out of religion too.

    I grew up protestant rather than catholic, so I must ask you, what did you mean that “Catholics are free to believe whatever they want” ?

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