Most of them didn’t go to Catholic schools. A quarter of them never served at Mass. Only about half were ever in a youth group, and a good chunk are converts. A majority of them are over 40 years old. One in three has no European ancestry. By statistical and anecdotal analyses, the newest priests of the United States come from varied, even surprising, backgrounds.
The lack of sufficient vocations to the priesthood and religious life stands out as the preeminent practical challenge for the Church in our country today. We might opine at length about the theoretical causes of this crisis and the other related pastoral woes, strategic errors, and cultural forces with which we must contend, but the pressing imperative remains: We need more priests now, before the future unfolds far more bleakly. Band-aid solutions like merging parishes—in some places, parishes that are financially sound and demographically stable—or contracting foreign and religious clergy (blessings though they be) only serve to delay the inevitable and potentially disturb the faith of parishioners in the interim. The following suggestions only supplement the ongoing conversation to build a positive culture of healthier vocational discernment in the Church, our parishes, and the families from which the priests and religious of tomorrow are called.
Let’s Get Practical
Practical problems call for practical solutions. I often hear it said about the topic of vocations, “What can we do aside from pray?” Well-intended as that sentiment may be, we must believe firmly that imploring God’s grace through prayer remains the most fruitful tactic. It is his supernatural activity that accomplishes every good, especially the sublime gift of a holy vocation. Communal liturgies and devotions concretely bring people together and witness to the need, which can in turn inspire young hearts. I recall finding myself as a high school student in our parish’s perpetual adoration chapel praying the Rosary for more priestly vocations, and finally it hit me . . . it’s me!
 The Ordination Class of 2023 Study provides the latest statistics from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in conjunction with the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate: https://www.usccb.org/resources/ordination%20class%202023%20final%20report.pdf