Priests hear long-range projections with call for vocations

By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer

BROOMALL – At the same time priests of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia are studying Catholic demographic projections for the future, they are also beginning a major prayer initiative.

Cardinal Justin Rigali is calling on all priests to pray every day for their own holiness, that of their brother priests and for vocations to the diocesan priesthood.

The Catholic faithful will join in the concerted effort to pray for vocations to the priesthood through an intercession prayed at every Mass, every Sunday in every parish of the Archdiocese.

The overarching priority of prayer for vocations comes at the same time that priests are meeting in each of the six vicariates of the Archdiocese to study Catholic population trends in the region for decades to come.

The Cardinal called for the meetings of priests to gain their insights as the Archdiocese reflects on the challenges and opportunities of a growing Catholic population.

For example, in 2020, the number of registered Catholics in the Philadelphia Archdiocese is projected to be 1.2 million, an increase of 83,657, or 7 percent, from the present 1.1 million.

Meanwhile, that same year, the Archdiocese could have three quarters the number of active diocesan priests serving Catholics today.

These and other projections are being presented to clergy through the regional planning meetings conducted by the archdiocesan Office for Research and Planning and Office for Clergy.

The first two meetings were held Oct. 29 at St. Pius X Parish in Broomall, Delaware County and Oct. 30 at St. Richard Parish in the Philadelphia-South vicariate. The meetings in the four remaining vicariates are expected to conclude by Nov. 20.

“A projection is not a prediction, and it certainly shouldn’t be a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Robert J. Miller, director of the planning office. “Projections are an imagined future based on assumptions.”

Miller is serving as the main presenter and facilitator at the meetings, which include a question-and-answer session for the priests. Steering the sessions are the auxiliary bishops, vicar for clergy Msgr. Timothy C. Senior and the regional vicars. Father Christopher B. Rogers, director of the Vocation Office for Diocesan Priesthood, is also present.

By 2035, the population of the region’s five counties – Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery – is poised to increase by 10 percent. Most of that increase is anticipated in Chester County, expected to gain nearly 149,000 residents and surpass Delaware County by 2035 to become the region’s fourth most populous county.

Other counties projected to see significant increases are Bucks, forecast to gain more than 129,000 residents, and Montgomery, with a projected increase of 113,000.

Father George A. Majoros, vicar for Delaware County and pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Secane, said the numbers indicate his vicariate remains relatively the same. A question to consider, he said, is, “Are there better ways we can serve the number of Catholics more effectively within our vicariate?”

Msgr. Daniel J. Sullivan, vicar for Philadelphia-South and pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, said the changing times are challenging but hopeful. His vicariate is strong, he said, in that there has been an influx of new immigrants from Asia, Mexico and Lithuania, among other countries.

“This vicariate was basically built by immigrants at another time in history, and we all benefited from that,” he said of those who came from Italy, Ireland and Poland.

“We still have a large number of Catholics in Philadelphia-South,” he said, adding, “the makeup of that number is different. It’s not [solely] the Italians, the Irish and the Polish.”

The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) identified areas of growth between now and 2035, including: central Bucks County, western Montgomery County and central Chester County.

By 2020, priests in active ministry are expected to decrease to 346 from the current 452. The figure, Miller explained, was based on a 2005 actuarial study by the firm AON Consulting.

Also in 2020 priests in parish ministry could fall to 267 from the current 363.

If no changes are made between 2020 and 2025, the number of diocesan priests projected to be available for parish ministry dips below the number of parishes – 245 – currently staffed by diocesan priests. (The Archdiocese has 269 parishes, some of which are staffed by religious orders.)

By 2025, there are expected to be 227 diocesan priests in parish ministry.

During the presentation various strategies were presented to address the projected decrease in diocesan priests. Promoting vocations to the priesthood topped the list.

Other considerations included adding priests from outside the diocese, including recruiting from other countries and extending the period of active service of priests.

Creating different staffing arrangements, such as hiring more full-time laity for religious education and administration, and considering the roles of the permanent deacon, were among other strategies discussed.

In the past 15 years, the total number of parishes in the Archdiocese has decreased from 302 to 269, a net reduction of 33 parishes or an average of two to three parishes per year, Miller said.

“This incremental approach is very similar to the way parishes were created,” Miller added.

No conclusions have been made from the data being presented. Upon the conclusion of all six meetings, a summary report will be sent to all diocesan priests, who will then have another opportunity for feedback.

For more information, contact the Office for Research and Planning at (215) 587-3545.

CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at (215) 587-2468 or