Schools asked to help recruit priests, nuns Because of shortage, parochial classrooms have many lay teachers

Enrollment rises 2.1%

Keeler asks educators to encourage young to enter religious life

October 14, 1997|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

Faced with declining numbers of priests and nuns, Cardinal William H. Keeler urged teachers in Catholic schools yesterday to "rebuild the feeder system" to seminaries and convents that once existed in parochial schools.

Speaking to about 2,100 teachers and administrators at the annual Archdiocese of Baltimore Catholic Schools Convention, Keeler asked them to pray daily in their classrooms and to encourage young people who show an interest in the religious life.

"The need is for us to rebuild the feeder system that existed 20 years ago but in a time of confusion fell apart," he said in remarks during the opening prayer service. "I'm writing to each of our teachers and asking that you pray for a generous response to the call God is issuing."

Before the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, young men and women often entered seminaries and convents after high school -- and some even before. But, now, most seminaries and religious orders will not accept candidates until they have finished college, or worked for some years.

Since the 1960s, the number of Catholic priests and nuns has fallen precipitously, with many leaving the religious life, and few entering it. Catholic schools, once staffed almost exclusively by nuns, now employ large numbers of lay teachers.

A shortage of priests has forced parishes to close and merge, and lay people have taken over many parish functions.

As of December, the Baltimore archdiocese, which covers Central and Western Maryland, had 545 priests -- down from 680 in 1986. The number of nuns working in the archdiocese dropped to 1,332 from 1,678 during the same period.

At the same time, however, the number of Catholics in the archdiocese grew from 443,690 to 480,150.

Eight men entered the seminary this year, "pretty consistent" with other recent years, said archdiocesan spokeswoman Kristin Foster. Twenty-three men were studying to be priests in 1986 and 28 last year, statistics provided by the archdiocese show. Four men were ordained priests last year; a comparable number was not available from 1986.

Keeler said recent surveys show that significant numbers of teen-agers are open to the possibility of a religious vocation, but need "encouragement and support from older people. The Lord's call takes a little longer to play out in young people's lives."

He urged the teachers to look for young people who exhibit "leadership, a generous heart and a spiritual bent" as future priests and nuns.

In his comments, the cardinal also asked the school staffs to "help our state to see its duties" by joining parents in the work begun last year to bring public money into private and parochial schools.

Led by the Maryland Federation of Catholic-School Families, the archdiocese will ask Gov. Parris N. Glendening to designate $14 million for textbook, technology and transportation aid to nonpublic schools.

"This really is a pittance in the huge state budget," the cardinal said. "Do what you can to make our governor aware that this matter of simple justice should be done here."

The federation begins its campaign with the first of five forums at 7 o'clock tonight at St. Pius X Church, 6432 York Road. Other meetings will be held in Baltimore, Glen Burnie, Silver Spring and Clinton in the next month.

The cardinal and archdiocese Superintendent of Schools Ronald J. Valenti told the teachers and administrators how thrilled they are by the 2.1 percent enrollment increase this year -- the seventh straight year Catholic schools in the archdiocese have grown.

With nearly 36,000 students in 101 schools and more than 3,000 students on waiting lists for suburban schools, the archdiocese's next project will be to expand into the areas of greatest need, both said.

Feasibility and demographic studies are complete and recommendations for new schools will be sent to the cardinal soon, Valenti said.

Pub Date: 10/14/97

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