Priesthood and religious life seen as out of touch with today’s youth

Vocations to the priesthood and religious life are falling because these professions are no longer seen as relevant to today’s young people. But one young person considering a religious vocation says shortage of vocations may come from a lack of long-term

Vocations to the priesthood and religious life are falling because these professions are no longer seen as relevant to today’s young people.

But one young person considering a religious vocation says shortage of vocations may come from a lack of long-term commitment in today’s society.

A writing competition which the Knights of the Southern Cross initiated for college students appeared not to be well patronised because young people either did not know any priests or religious or because the Church had little impact on them.

In his winning essay, Brendan Chong, 19, of Silverstream, said that there was little in the church today that young people saw as relevant to their lives.

‘If they went to Mass on Sunday,’ he said, ‘they were bored.’

‘Whilst the other Christian churches indulge their youth more actively and vigorously in bible study, music, dance and song, this is sadly lacking in our parishes.’

Brendan Chong called on schools and families to encourage their young people into the priesthood and religious life.

‘It is always a case of somebody else’s children who ought to be priests or nuns and not our own,’ he said in his essay.

People wanted their children to be in a position to support them in old age.

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The Church needed to think about how it presented itself, according to the director of religious studies at St Patrick’s College, Wellington.

Lorraine Fairfield said talks about vocations had to be in young peoples’ language and media.

Both Lorraine and Tricia Cuttance, DRS at St Mary’s College, said that their students had plenty of contact with religious. St Mary’s was next door to the convent in Thorndon and the sisters were often visiting the college to discuss various things with the staff and students.

St Pats has a couple of Marist priests and a Marist brother on the faculty, Rowan Donoghue, Paul Martin and Matt Morris. Lorraine said having priests and religious who relate well to young people has a positive effect on the students giving them good role models. Both priests and Br Matt spent time in the grounds in the school breaks talking to the students.

The DRS at Viard College, Trish Budding, said students tended to see religious life as something older people did.

‘They always find it strange when reading about young men going into the seminary at the age of 12.’

Celibacy a turnoff

When the pope died, Trish Budding said, there was a lot of discussion about religious life and celibacy.

Many felt that celibacy was a ‘hard ask’ especially when some went to other Churches where the pastors were married.

‘Those who attend parish functions often come in contact with former priests in the parish who are now married with children and grandchildren.’

With many young people, celibacy was an issue.

One mother of teenagers, Louise Kelleher, said young people wanted fun in their lives and they didn’t necessarily see the lives of priests and religious as fun.

She said one of her sons who might have been interested in priesthood or religious life had told her he would not choose this vocation unless he could also be married.

She said they grew up in families with brothers and sisters and hopefully parents who were committed to each other.

Why would they want to leave that and live what they saw as comparatively lonely lives?


Trish Budding said some students had thought that working as a priest or religious for a short term would be a good idea. Many people changed their careers several times throughout their working lives.

One young woman actively involved with young people, Nuala McKeever, said most people who wanted to do something good with their lives, did voluntary work for a time. They knew they could stop doing it whenever they wanted to.

‘Personally I do like the idea of long-term goals and commitments and in today’s world, people tend to commit to shorter terms.

‘People today are encouraged to think of a career as being short term – to think of everything as being a step on the way up or to think about where this particular move or decision will take you in the long run.’

Nuala, who’s finishing a law degree, said she had quite a lot of contact with religious through her voluntary work in the soup kitchen where she had been working for the past four years.

She felt this experience had given her an understanding of what it meant to be part of a religious order.

An associate of Nuala’s who is also heading to Cologne for World Youth Day next month, Andrew Moraes, says he has seen first hand what it means to be a priest or religious from having several relatives and friends who were priests. He says this give him some understanding of their lifestyle.

He has always felt that priesthood would be a good thing to do but he needed to discern whether he had a calling to priesthood alongside a similar calling to marriage.

‘There are few things that excite me as much as being a father but I also realise what an amazing life it would be to be dedicated totally to God.

‘Marriage is also a means of dedicating one’s life to God, but I’m stressing that since priesthood and religious life are also forms of doing that, the rewards would be incredible.’

Self-centred world

The world was becoming more secular, Andrew said. There was less ‘esteem’ placed on religious life.

Even within the Christian community the focus was quite selfish – on what the individual wanted.

‘You have to die to yourself to get the rewards of a life of dedication to God through priesthood or religious life,’ he said.

When asked about celibacy, Andrew, who’s two years into an engineering career, said ‘I would expect to be obedient to the Church in terms of accepting the kind of life that God has chosen for me.

If I really felt the call to priesthood or religious life, it would be a small matter for me to be obedient to the church’s teaching.

‘Whether I agreed with every single aspect of it would be outweighed by the massive benefit of showing unity in the vast majority of views and ideals that are shared.’