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Nature of the Work
* Preparation generally requires 8 years of study beyond high school, usually including a college degree followed by 4 years at a seminary.
* The shortage of Roman Catholic priests is expected to continue, resulting in a very favorable outlook.
Roman Catholic priests attend to the spiritual, pastoral, moral, and educational needs of the members of their church. A priest's day usually begins with morning meditation and mass and may end with an individual counseling session or an evening visit to a hospital or home. Many priests direct and serve on church committees, work in civic and charitable organizations, and assist in community projects. Some counsel parishioners preparing for marriage or the birth of a child.
Priests in the Catholic church belong to one of two groupsdiocesan or religious. Both types of priests have the same powers, acquired through ordination by a bishop. Their differences lie in their way of life, their type of work, and the church authority to whom they are responsible. Diocesan priests commit their lives to serving the people of a diocese, a church administrative region, and generally work in parishes assigned by the bishop of their diocese. Diocesan priests make promises of celibacy and obedience. Religious priests belong to a religious order, such as the Jesuits, Dominicans, or Franciscans. Religious priests are assigned duties by their superiors in their respective religious orders. Some religious priests specialize in teaching, while others serve as missionaries in foreign countries, where they may live under difficult and primitive conditions. Others live a communal life in monasteries, where they devote their lives to prayer, study, and assigned work. Religious priests take vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience.
Both religious and diocesan priests hold teaching and administrative posts in Catholic seminaries, colleges and universities, and high schools. Priests attached to religious orders staff a large proportion of the church's institutions of higher education and many high schools, whereas diocesan priests are usually concerned with the parochial schools attached to parish churches and with diocesan high schools. The members of religious orders do most of the missionary work conducted by the Catholic Church in this country and abroad.
According to the Official Catholic Directory, there were approximately 49,000 priests in 1996; about two-thirds were diocesan priests. There are priests in nearly every city and town and in many rural communities; however, the majority are in metropolitan areas, where most Catholics reside. Large numbers of priests are located in communities near Catholic schools, hospitals, social service agencies, and other institutions.
Preparation for the priesthood generally requires 8 years of study beyond high school, usually including a college degree followed by 4 years at a seminary. There are 198 seminaries72 for diocesan priests and 126 for religious priests. Priests commit themselves to celibacy, remaining unmarried. Only men are ordained as priests; women serve in other church positions that do not require priestly ordination.
Preparatory study for the priesthood may begin either in the first year of high school, at the college level, or in theological seminaries after college graduation. Today, most candidates for the priesthood take a 4-year degree program at a conventional college or university. After graduation from college, candidates generally receive 1 or 2 years of preparatory study (philosophy, religious studies, and prayer) before entering the seminary. Theology coursework in the seminary includes sacred scripture; dogmatic, moral, and pastoral theology; homiletics (art of preaching); church history; liturgy (sacraments); and canon (church) law. Fieldwork experience is usually required; in recent years, this aspect of a priest's training has been emphasized. Diocesan and religious priests attend different major seminaries, where slight variations in the training reflect the differences in their duties.
According to the U.S. Bishops Conference, 10 high school seminaries provided a college preparatory program in 1996. Programs emphasize English grammar, speech, literature, and social studies. Latin may be required, and modern languages are encouraged. In Hispanic communities, knowledge of Spanish is mandatory.
Young men are never denied entry into seminaries because of lack of funds. In seminaries for secular priests, scholarships or loans are available. Those in religious seminaries are financed by contributions of benefactors and the Catholic Church.
Postgraduate work in theology is offered at a number of American Catholic universities or at ecclesiastical universities around the world, particularly in Rome. Also, many priests do graduate work in fields unrelated to theology. Priests are encouraged by the Catholic Church to continue their studies, at least informally, after ordination. In recent years, continuing education for ordained priests has stressed social sciences, such as sociology and psychology.
A newly ordained secular priest usually works as an assistant pastor. Newly ordained priests of religious orders are assigned to the specialized duties for which they are trained. Depending on the talents, interests, and experience of the individual, many opportunities for greater responsibility exist within the church.
The shortage of Roman Catholic priests is expected to continue, resulting in a very favorable job outlook through the year 2006. Many priests will be needed in the years ahead to provide for the spiritual, educational, and social needs of the increasing number of Catholics. In recent years, the number of ordained priests has been insufficient to fill the needs of newly established parishes and other Catholic institutions, and to replace priests who retire, die, or leave the priesthood. This situation is likely to continueeven if the recent modest increase in seminary enrollments continuesas an increasing proportion of priests approach retirement age.
In response to the shortage of priests, certain traditional functions increasingly are being performed by permanent deacons and by teams of clergy and laity. Throughout most of the country, permanent deacons have been ordained to preach and perform liturgical functions such as baptisms, marriages, and funerals, and provide service to the community. Deacons are not authorized to celebrate Mass, nor administer the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Anointing of the Sick. Teams of clergy and laity undertake some liturgical and nonliturgical functions such as hospital visits and religious teaching.
Diocesan priests' salaries vary from diocese to diocese. Based on limited information, salaries averaged about $11,000 in 1996. In addition to a salary, diocesan priests receive a package of benefits which may include a car allowance, room and board in the parish rectory, health insurance, and a retirement plan. Priests who do special work related to the church, such as teaching, usually receive a partial salary which is less than a lay person in the same position would receive. The difference between the usual salary for these jobs and the salary that the priest receives is called "contributed service." In some of these situations, housing and related expenses may be provided; in other cases, the priest must make his own arrangements. Some priests doing special work receive the same compensation that a lay person would receive. Religious priests take a vow of poverty and are supported by their religious order. Any personal earnings are given to the order. Their vow of poverty is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service, which exempts them from paying Federal income tax.
Young men interested in entering the priesthood should seek the guidance and counsel of their parish priests and diocesan vocational office. For information regarding the different religious orders and the diocesan priesthood, as well as a list of the seminaries which prepare students for the priesthood, contact the diocesan director of vocations through the office of the local pastor or bishop.
Individuals seeking additional information about careers in the Catholic Ministry should contact their local diocese.
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