The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Defying the odds: one parish, five vocations

After crinkling my nose and rolling my eyes over the McGreevey story, I was heartened to come across this sunny bit of news from the Sunshine State — one parish that has produced five, yes five, vocations:

Beth Burwell wrestled with the question of whether she could forego having a husband or children.


The answer came to her while visiting a Bronx, N.Y., convent where nuns help single mothers with unwanted pregnancies.

“I held a little girl who had been born at the convent, and I welled up with tears recognizing this little girl might not have been,” the 22-year-old from Satellite Beach said in an e-mail. “But God called a group of wonderful women to sacrifice their own marriages and children so that they could help this little girl’s mother to say ‘yes’ to life, ‘yes’ to motherhood, ‘yes’ to this precious gift.”

Burwell, a University of Central Florida graduate, left a week ago to join the convent of the Sisters of Life and dedicate her life to the Roman Catholic religious order. She was one of five parishioners of Holy Name of Jesus Church in Indialantic, ranging in age from 18 to 34, to enter religious life in recent months, defying a national trend that has seen the ranks of the Catholic Church in the United States grow thinner and grayer.


According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in 1965 there were 58,132 priests serving 46.6 million U.S. Catholics — or about one for every 802 parishioners — compared to 43,302 priests serving 64.3 million Catholics — one per 1,485 — in 2004.

Convents have fared just as badly, raising questions about who will staff the Catholic schools and hospitals that had traditionally been their domain.

“The crisis is still ongoing,” said the Rev. David Page, the 75-year-old pastor of Holy Name. “It’s a crisis in many places and there are many more priests over 70 than under 40. It’s a big concern. If that trend continues, how will people receive the sacrament? There is a tremendous need.”


Holy Name, on State Road A1A just south of the Eau Gallie Causeway in unincorporated Indialantic, has become an anomaly of sorts. In addition to the five parishioners who plan to take vows, another three entered religious life in recent years.

“It’s very unusual, especially for one parish to see this happen,” said Page, a native of Ireland.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington D.C., called the news “astounding.” But she also said vocations seem to be cyclical.

“After World War II, there was a spike in vocations,” she said, adding that, by the Vietnam War, people were questioning everything, including religion and the church. That’s when she said the priest shortage worsened.


Two other Brevard County Catholic churches also boast a new seminarian each, but none has reached Holy Name’s numbers. Holy Name credits a successful teen program and youth ministry that sometimes sees a standing-room-only crowd at the Sunday night teen mass.

Check out the rest of the article for more on this surprising uptick in vocations.

Photo: Beth Burwell, by Tim Shortt, Florida Today

Comments read comments(4)
post a comment

posted September 6, 2007 at 4:05 pm

Odd, all the women have joined orders that wear habits… .Mitch S.

report abuse

Deacon Volker

posted September 6, 2007 at 8:10 pm

Not “odd”….understandable!

report abuse

Diane M. Korzeniewski, OCDS

posted September 6, 2007 at 9:59 pm

Thanks for sharing this. I’ll have to link to it when I get a few moments. I’ve been watching this trend very closely and there is now doubt the Holy Spirit is being heard in the hearts of young men and women. Unfortunately, an entire generation of middle-aged Catholic women are somewhat left out. While men are accepted into the priesthood and diaconate well into middle-age and beyond from what I’ve seen, women don’t fair as well. Sadly, I know some who tried to enter convents, but didn’t “fit in” because they were too devout or loyal to the Church. Or, they just couldn’t handle the life associated with being a pant-suit nun. Not that all plainclothes nuns are bad – because some of them were just pulled along for the ride and in some respects are victims, but many I knew were more progressive minded with one even wanting to become a priest before Pope John Paul II put the kabosh to that with Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. Finding a community up until a few years ago that wasn’t disoriented in doctrine and discipline was very hard to do, if not impossible. Now, they are more visible and drawing those women who couldn’t stand the direction religious life had previously taken. Thankfully, middle-aged women do have recourse to some communities which do consider older vocations. I do believe if we look forward 20 years from now, I envision parochial schools with habited nuns, rectories with several priests serving parishes with big families, and habited nuns who have no problem teaching catechism AND doing some manual labor around the parish. Deo Gratias!

report abuse


posted September 7, 2007 at 5:58 pm

Note how many ministries they have at their website, 80+! I know of many parishes where a new ministry is looked as a distraction from other ministries.

report abuse

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

This blog is no longer active
This blog is no longer being actively updated. Please feel free to browse the archives or: Read our most popular inspiration blog See our most popular inspirational video Take our most popular quiz ...

posted 10:42:40pm Dec. 12, 2010 | read full post »

One day more
A reminder: "The Deacon's Bench" is closed! Please enjoy the archives! ...

posted 11:26:20pm Dec. 11, 2010 | read full post »

Meet Montana's married priest
Earlier this week, I posted an item about Montana getting its first married priest. Now a local TV station has hopped on the bandwagon. Take a look, below. ...

posted 10:29:55pm Dec. 11, 2010 | read full post »

Big day in the Big Easy: 10 new deacons
Deacon Mike Talbot has the scoop: 10 men today were ordained as Permanent Deacons for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. This group of men was formally selected on the day the evacuation of New Orleans began as Hurricane Katrina approached. The ...

posted 6:55:42pm Dec. 11, 2010 | read full post »

Gaudete! And let's break out a carol or two...
"Gesu Bambino," anyone? This is one of my favorites, and nobody does it better than these gals: Kathleen Battle and Frederica von Staade. Enjoy. ...

posted 1:04:10pm Dec. 11, 2010 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.