Skip to comments.Good News About Vocations – Part 4 of 6: International Seminarians In Demand
Posted on 11/27/2010 1:05:27 PM PST by ConservativeStLouisGuy
Foreign-born priests have served the Americas since Ferdinand and Isabella colonized the New World. Franciscans joined Christopher Columbus on his second voyage, and Jesuits accompanied Lord Baltimore, founder of the colony of Maryland. Driven by successive waves of immigration, the Catholic Church in America survived and thrived by importing its priests from western Europe-Spain, England, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, and, especially, Ireland..
Todays international priests, however, hail from more exotic places-Asia, Latin America, eastern Europe, and Africa. And theyre likely to have come to our shores before-not after-ordination.
Foreign-born seminarians, in fact, account for much of the recent uptick in ordination numbers.
According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, thirty-two percent of the priests ordained in 2008 are native to other countries. Thats up eight percent since 1999. By the time of ordination, these immigrant priests had lived in the United States an average of thirteen years.
They hail from fifteen countries, but most were born in Mexico, Vietnam, Poland, or the Philippines.
Seminaries report a similar diversity headed for ordination in 2009 or later. About fifteen percent of students enrolled are Hispanic or Latino, and twelve percent are Asian.
Many immigrant seminarians come to this country as youths or young men. Others transfer from theologate training in their home countries. Several U.S. dioceses, pressed by the late 20th century wave of new immigrants and shortage of native-born vocations, actively recruit overseas seminarians and pay for part if not all of their final years of training.
By all indications, this growing trend of international seminarians augurs well for the future. It helps address some of the challenges of importing priests, particularly language issues and cultural differences.
While theyre studying, theyre able to learn not just the academics but the culture, says Father Joe Noonan, director of the archdiocesan vocations office in Chicago.
The archdiocese has separate formation programs for priest candidates from Spanish-speaking countries (Casa Jesus, founded in 1987), from Poland (Bishop Abramowicz Preparatory Seminary), and from Africa (Tuite House). They spend a year or more in language training and cultural orientation while determining whether the U.S. priesthood is their future.
The one struggle that is universal is accent. People want to be able to understand their priests, Noonan says. The archdiocese offers accent reduction classes. We work on that a lot.
As it happened, all of Chicagos diocesan ordinands in 2008 were foreign-born, and all but one of the 2007 class. That wasnt intentional, Noonan says. It reflects two things: success of the outreach programs and the precipitous drop of native-born seminary entrants seven years ago, during the most heated media coverage of the priest abuse scandals. But enrollment of native-born students is beginning to rebound at Mundelein Seminary outside Chicago.
Immigrant seminarians are most likely to be recruited by an archdiocese or attend a major urban seminary. They reflect the changing demographics of the Church in America, particularly in large cities.
Since 1965, the U.S. Catholic population has jumped by nearly 19 million. Hispanics represent more than 70 percent of the growth. But the Church no longer has the luxury of national or culture-specific parishes-Irish Catholic churches down the street from Italian ones, for example. Instead, this new wave of immigration spawned parishes of mixed cultures in dioceses across the country, and created a greater need for priests who are multilingual.
One in five of all U.S. parishes has a Hispanic ministry. The archdiocese of Los Angeles offers liturgies in twenty-eight different languages or dialects.
Todays diversity complicates Catholic ministry, says Sister Katarina Schuth, OSF, an authority on priestly training. She holds the Chair for Social Scientific Study of Religion at Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity in Minnesota. Few priests in the past had multicultural training. But that is changing, she says. Most seminarians today at least learn about Hispanic culture and spirituality. Foreign-born students, however, need something entirely different: a rather thorough and long-term orientation to the [U.S.] culture, so they have an understanding of American parish life, theology, everything about the American church.
Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans addresses both needs. It offers a Hispanic Studies program and, for international students, intensive language training, pastoral experiences, and other encounters with local culture.
Last fall Notre Dame enrolled thirty-two foreign-born seminarians-fully one-third of its student body. Most were natives of Vietnam, others of Mexico, the Philippines, Nigeria, Kenya, and Uganda. Sixteen are already U.S. citizens, or permanent residents. Six were sent by or religious institutes or overseas dioceses, such as Tororo in the Republic of Uganda, and will return to their native countries. The rest will seek resident status when their studies end.
Many of those who stay in this country will serve Anglo congregations, but others will enter specialized ministries. With the demand for multicultural priest candidates growing, I wish we had more, says the seminarys president rector, Father Jose Lavastida, himself a native of Cuba and a U.S. citizen since 1974.
It must be noted, however, that far more international seminarians show interest in coming to America than are admitted. Diocesan vocations directors receive unsolicited email inquiries every week. They prefer to recruit their own candidates, using screening tests, background checks, and personal contacts at seminaries and dioceses abroad. Also, Noonan says, tighter immigration laws keep out of the seminaries those aspirants who may have lived in the United States since childhood but were never documented.
However they arrive on these shores, immigrant clerics are essentially missionaries to America, much as their counterparts were in previous generations. They serve in small as well as large dioceses across the country.
Weve been blessed by their presence, says retired Bishop William B. Friend, former shepherd of the Diocese of Shreveport in northwest Louisiana. Were they not present, we would have more pastors with multiple churches to serve. That is particularly difficult in rural areas.
The bishop well understands the cultural challenges of international priests and seminarians. He was chairman of the board of CARA, the Center for Applied Research of the Apostolate, from 1997-2003, and co-edited The Culture of Bible Belt Catholics. (Paulist Press, 1995), a scholarly look at the strength of Catholicism in the heart of the Anglo-Saxon Protestant South.
Before his retirement in 2006, the bishop imported priests from vocations-rich India. The diocese also partnered with an African order to help educate brothers and future priests in exchange for their work in pastorates, hospitals, and social ministry.
Immigrant priests and seminarians, he points out, have value far beyond supplementing the native-born ranks of clergy. They help prepare us for the world, the global culture, the day in which the United States will become a nation of minorities.
Whats more, Bishop Friend says, They offer a beautiful spirituality. Theyve brought a great gift to the diocese.
Noonan agrees. The culture in other countries is often very rich. Learning their traditions, such as devotions to Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of Czestochowa, expands our own understanding of Catholic doctrine and belief, he says.
In short, priests and priests-to-be from other countries remind us, in a personal and very powerful way, of an essential truth: Catholicism is a universal church.
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