The Deacon's Bench

It may be too soon to tell, but there are some encouraging signs around the country, beginning in California:

From a young age, Juan Alejo has aspired to live a priest’s life.

“Since I was a kid, I heard this call,” said Alejo.

Now the 35-year-old, who is heeding that summons by attending St. Patrick’s Seminary & University in Menlo Park, is among a growing number of men flocking to seminaries in recent years to become Roman Catholic priests.

That growth is prompting the school to plan for a major campus expansion that could cost up to $50 million.

The increase in seminarians at St. Patrick’s reflects an uptick in their numbers nationwide after decades of enrollment declines. The number of men interested in joining the priesthood is rising despite highly publicized cases of sexual abuse by priests.

“It’s a national thing we’re experiencing,” the Rev. James McKearney, St. Patrick’s president, said of the upward trend in those pursuing priesthood.

“There’s been a lot of anxiety in light of the fact that the church has been getting a lot of bad press,” McKearney said, “but the vast majority of priests are good men. (St. Patrick’s seminarians) want to be good priests as opposed to those who haven’t lived their vows. They are not dissuaded by the bad press.”

In the coming academic year, St. Patrick’s is expected to have more than 100 seminarians following a steady rise since 2006 when it served 88 students.

The projected enrollment includes 34 new students, according to the school.

“We haven’t seen that in many years,” McKearney said. “It’s an exciting time.”

Mary Verducci, St. Patrick’s project manager for institutional advancement, partly attributed that population surge to a growing confidence in the seminary’s Sulpician approach to priestly ordination. That approach includes participation in daily prayers and other spiritual exercises.

Seminarians are also drawn to the school’s high academic standards and multicultural student body, Verducci said.

“Right now, we’re at maximum capacity,” she said.

Can you believe it? 

Check out what’s happening in other dioceses at the link.
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