Friday, January 19th, 2007
Priest shortages strike all orders
Local parishes may lose Precious Blood pastors in future
By Shelley Grieshop
The Rev. Harry Cavanaugh of the Marion Cluster of Catholic parishes, pauses for. . .
Some area Catholic parishes now led by Precious Blood priests will likely be administered by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in the near future as clergy shortages continue.
The dilemma of priest shortages has hit all religious orders including the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, whose priests currently serve a slight majority of Catholic parishes in the local region.
"It's happening all across the country," says the Rev. Ken Schnipke, vice provincial for the Precious Blood Society, based in Dayton.
The Society has discussed the issue for years, and its members plan to stay in position as long as possible. But when they no longer can, the parishes will be turned over to the Cincinnati Archdiocese to administer. That scenario first occurred locally last year when diocesan priest, the Rev. Tom Dorn, took over the Fort Recovery cluster of four parishes. The cluster previously was operated by the Precious Blood.
The Fort Recovery cluster also is unique because its leaders are both Precious Blood and diocesan - Dorn's assistant, the Rev. Charles Mullen, is a member of the Precious Blood.
The decreasing number of new candidates for the priesthood has caused many elderly priests across the country to postpone retirement, Schnipke says.
"Usually guys in their 60s and 70s look to retire at a small parish, but that's not possible today," he says. "Some of the older priests are still helping serve more than three parishes."
Schnipke says no one wants to place that kind of burden on an aging priest.
In 1965, there were 58,632 priests in the United States; in 2006 there were 41,794. The number of priests being ordained today is less than half of what it was 40 years ago. More than a third of U.S. parishes share a pastor.
The Precious Blood Society was formed in Italy in 1815 by St. Gaspar del Bufalo. The priests in the Society were trained missionaries. When they arrived in the United States, they were sent to the local area to assist with the German-speaking parishes, but in time became leaders of many of the churches.
Today, there are nine Precious Blood priests and seven diocesan priests serving 27 parishes in the St. Marys Deanery, the local region of the Cincinnati Archdiocese. Diocesan priests differ from Precious Blood priests in several ways. One difference is that diocesan priests do not take a vow of poverty when they are ordained, and Precious Blood clergy do.
Throughout the Archdiocese of Cincinnati there are 285 diocesan priests (192 active) and 223 religious order priests, which include Precious Blood and other orders such as Franciscan.
Years ago, the St. Marys Deanery created the Futures Project, an idea which caught on throughout the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. The goal of the project was, and still is, to plan how to cope with the dwindling number of priests. The answer continues to be debated at the local level and at the highest level - the Vatican in Rome.
Signs promoting "God's Little Green Acre," that have sprouted by the dozens in local fields, could be the answer the Catholic church seeks. The signs state that each crop is dedicated to future priests, brothers and sisters and ask motorists to pray for and encourage vocations.
The campaign for "God's Little Green Acre" began in 1998 and spread across Ohio. Schnipke says Catholics agree that increasing interest in vocations is the key.
"But most people are looking to other families, not their own, to fill the need," he adds.
What: A discernment retreat weekend for anyone interested in becoming a priest or a brother of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood
When: March 16-18
Where: St. Charles Center, Carthagena
To register: Call 937-228-6224 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. A vocation contact form can be obtained at the Precious Blood Society's Web site at www.cpps-preciousblood.org