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Evansville, Indiana
October 2, 1987     The Message
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October 2, 1987

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October 2, 1987 The Message -- for Catholics of Southwestern Indlsna 17 I Serra speaker provides expertise on voca00ons By PAUL LEINGANG Message Editor "Ministering to more and more Catholics with fewer and fewer priests is ... the critical issue facing the American Church now and in the near future." The comment, at a re- cent Serra Club of Evansville Dinner, came from Fred Hofheinz, program director for religion at Lilly Endowment, Inc., Indianapolis, Ind. Hofheinz brought more than speculation; he came prepared with expertise accumulated in 15 years of close association with people doing significant research in religion. His #.esponsibilities include direc- tion of Lilly Endowment's grants programs in theological education and in a number of areas of research in American religion. Hofheinz was the guest speaker at the "Thirty Fourth Annual Charter An- niversary Night," September 17, at the Evansville Country Club. In his presentation, he cited a researcher's projection of a 50 percept decline in numbers of American priests between 1970 and 2000. There were 36,723 diocesan priests serving the U.S. Church in 1970; there may 19,000 priests by the year 2000, and perhaps as few as 13,000, he said; the 46,000,000 American Catholics in 1966 grew to almost 55,000,000 by 1986. Changes have affected more than numbers, says Hofheinz. He cited research at American seminaries, where 20 years ago, nearly 9,000 men were study- ing theology to prepare for the priesthood. The latest study finds just over 6,000 full time theology students at the same institutions, but the students were not all men, and they were not all studying for the priesthood. About 2,500 of them were lay men and women, most of them preparing for full- time ministry. Hofheinz spent the greater part of his presentation detail- ing new research done by Dr. Dean Hoge, currently on the Faculty of Sociology at Catholic University of America. Dr. Hoge's work will be published as a book, "The Future of Catholic Leadership: Responses to the Priest Shortage." The book analyzes surveys of three groups: Catholic college students, Catholic adults, and Catholic priests. For Catholic college students, the most important deterrent, to vocations is .not being allowed to marry; the second most im- portantis the requirement for a life-long commitment. The study suggests that the number of young Catholic men who would be seriously interested in the priesthood would increase fourfold, if celibacy were optional. Catholic students who ex- pressed interest in a religious vocation said the greatest in- fluence came from personal en- couragement by other people -- a vocation director, a religious brother or sister, a priest, one's father, siblings, relatives, a campus minister, and one's mother. Personal encourage- ment was more influential than the type of elementary school or high school. Among Catholic adults, at- titudes have changed twice in the past 20 years. For example, Serra Club President Wilbur J. "Red" Walker, left, presents a certificate of appreciation to guest speaker Fred Hofheinz, Sept. 17, at the Evansville Country Club. Hofheinz is Program Director for Religion, Lilly Endowment Incorporated. -- Message Photo by Paul Lelngang the number of people who would be very pleased if a son of theirs decided to become a priest declined from 1963 to 1974 -- then increased from 1974 to 1985, according to the studies. Much adult research was focused on what people ex- pected from priests. Eighty five percent of Catholic adults surveyed stated it would not be acceptable if there would be no priests available for administer- ing the last rites. Seventy five percent said it Would not be ac- ceptable if there were no priests available for visiting the sick. The survey among priests found a better morale and a greater willingness to en- courage others to become priests. The survey also found that priests rate their seminaries more favorably now than those in 1970; that young priests are more conservative than their counterparts in 1970; and that the percentage of priests who resign from active ministry re- mains constant. Studies also found religious education lack- ing among some candidates for the priesthood, since some enter seminary 'studies who have never before attended Catholic schools. Some seminary faculty members com- plain they must be remedial religion teachers. The future is still fuli 3f too many uncertainties to a clear prediction about the priesthood, but Hofheinz con- cluded his presentation with a personal belief: "The Lord will not leave us as orphans. He will always provide laborers for his vineyard, and my faith is simply unshaken about that." Hofheinz suggested that an understanding of the priesthood needed perspective: "The priesthood of the western church is only about 600 years old." He said it may be hard for Catholics to accept a view of an evolving priesthood, but the priesthood has changed before. "The crisis in the Catholic priesthood should not be ig- nored or overdramatized;" the best response "is an act of faith in the present and a leap of hope into the future," he said. "I have no doubt that God will respond, as is His fashion, with unexpected and surprising love." WHY HAVE FREE CHECKING WHEN YOU CANEARN 5 '% INTEREST WITH NOW CHECKING Serra Club prayer for vocations O God, Who will not the death of a sinner * but rather that he be converted and live grant we beseech You * through the intercession of the Blessed Mary, ever Virgin * Saint Joseph, her spouse * and all the saints * an increase of laboi'ers for Your Church *' fellow laborers with Christ tO spend and consume themselves for souls * through the same |Jesus Christ * Your Son *| |Who lives and reigns with | | You * in the unity of the He- | | ly Spirit * God forever * and | I ever'Amen" I Built with Quality to Save You Time & Money Alvin C. Ruxer, Pres. Factory and General Office Hwy. 231 S. Jasper, IN (812) 482-1041