The Archdiocese of New York (where I consider it a privilege to be counted a member) has recently received some criticism for its low number of priestly ordinations this year. This past Saturday, Cardinal Dolan ordained two new priests at St. Patrick’s Cathedral–one a diocesan priest and the other a priest for the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. While this number is small and unsustainable for a diocese that serves over 2 million Catholics, there is good explanation for this year’s low number, and even greater reason for optimism for the years to come. In a January 2012 interview with Catholic New York, New York’s vocations director, Fr. Luke Sweeney, explained the low number for this year noting that “the seminary formerly had a five-year program: one year of philosophy and four of theology. In 2006 the U.S. bishops asked for two years of philosophy; inserting the extra year caused a “gap year” in which there were no candidates.”
While dissidents within the Church may try to use this year’s low numbers in New York to bolster their calls for women’s ordination and a removal of the celibacy requirement for priests, the latest data from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) reveals that ordination rates to the priesthood are at a 20 year high. Last month, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled “Traditional Catholicism is Winning,” Anne Hendershott and I argued that there are real signs of renewal within the priesthood. Moreover, these priests are attracted to the priesthood because they are fully committed to the teachings of the Church and desire a lifestyle that demands them to be counter-cultural.
In our forthcoming book, Beyond the Catholic Culture Wars (Encounter Books), my coauthor and I survey a number of dioceses across the United States that are experiencing an upward trend in their vocation rates. The two common characteristics of these dioceses is that they are led by bishops that are committed to a bold and courageous defense of orthodox Catholicism, and they are making vocations a number one priority within their dioceses through building strong vocation teams that are actively recruiting new priests. This is certainly the case in New York, where Cardinal Dolan’s enthusiastic defense of Church teachings has been showcased to the entire nation as a result of his battle with the Obama administration over the recent HHS mandate. But, it is also evident in the great work that Fr. Luke Sweeney is doing as vocations director of New York that I can personally attest to, as I have witnessed his efforts over the past few years. While seminary structural changes limited the ordinations this year, here’s what critics of the New York archdiocese have failed to mention: New York will likely ordain eight men to the priesthood next year, five men in 2014, and ten or more new priests in 2015.
New Yorkers–and the rest of the nation–should expect to see much more of this type of growth under the leadership of Cardinal Dolan and Fr. Sweeney in the years to come.