By Kayleigh Pigg
The number of seminarians at Holy Trinity Seminary has more than doubled in the last 10 years, according to the seminary’s website. Seventy-four seminarians from over 14 different dioceses now attend Holy Trinity.
The exact reason for this influx is difficult to determine. Father Edwin Leonard, director of vocations for the Diocese of Dallas, believes that God is working to bring young men to the priesthood.
“For me, vocation work is first and foremost a work of the Holy Spirit, which speaks to the heart of believers and calls them on to holiness,” Leonard said.
It is the call of every person to serve the Church in their own capacity, but priests are called in a unique way. According to the Catholic Church, when a man is ordained, he is configured to Christ. This means that when a priest performs his religious duties, he is acting in the power of Christ, rather than in his own power.
“Essentially, I chose to go into the seminary because I felt like God was calling me to something that was deeper than anything I had experienced before,” seminarian Joshua Villarreal said. “He had shown me the rest of what was out there and I was not satisfied and so I, through a relationship with Jesus Christ, [realized that] He called me to that deeper relationship.”
“We choose University of Dallas’ seminary, Holy Trinity, because we have great confidence in the formation they receive and appreciate the wonderful education they receive at the university,” Leonard said.
The diminishing number of priests has become a national concern for the Catholic Church. According to data from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University the number of permanent deacons has risen from 14,574 in 2005 to 17,464 in 2014. In the same period, however, the number of priests has dropped from 41,399 to 38,275.
According to the church, priests are ordained ministers who are called to act as the person of Christ and join in the offering of the Holy Eucharist. Permanent deacons are clerics who are permitted to perform many of the duties of a priest, with the exception of the celebration of the Mass and certain sacraments. Unlike priests, permanent deacons are permitted to marry.
Yet there is growing hope for the Catholic Church. The number of priestly ordinations is rising. In 2000, there were only 442 ordinations in the United States, while this year there have been 494 ordinations, according to CARA.
The Catholic Church recognizes that the decreasing number of priests makes it difficult to carry on its ministry. It has set up many different programs to help lead men to the priesthood. It is projected that, of the 3631 graduate-level seminarians enrolled this year, nearly 14 percent went to a youth conference that helped them discern their calling to the priesthood.
Going forward, the Diocese of Dallas has plans to increase its presence in local colleges and Catholic high schools. Leonard says he hopes that this increase will continue on through the next 10 years.
“My hope is to be as visible as possible in the youth ministry programs, Catholic high schools and colleges, so that, when the Holy Spirit speaks to those who have trusted and placed their lives before the Lord, they don’t need to wonder who to speak to,” Leonard said.