Key stats for vocations to the priesthood – POLLS

The USCCB released survey results of the 2014 class of ordinands (from Latin, ordinandi, or “men to be ordained”).  HERE

82% were altar boys
73% attended adoration of the Blessed Sacrament regularly

Suggestion to parish priests… heck… let’s include bishops, too:

If you want to foster vocations to the priesthood in your parishes, have all male service in the sanctuary, at the altar, and have regular exposition and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.

Meanwhile, remember our polls here, sometime back?

Does female service at the altar harm or suppress vocations to the priesthood?

View Results

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Does an all-male sanctuary foster vocations to the priesthood? (Revisited)

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, Hard-Identity Catholicism, Our Catholic Identity, Priests and Priesthood, Seminarians and Seminaries and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Lisa Freeman says:

    Several other factors can contribute; one is the mentoring boys receive. At a parish with a single busy pastor and little training for servers, vocations might not be fostered. A parish near us has a paid (male) liturgist who trains all the servers – and they have an army of reverent young men that serve. They are seeing vocations. Another factor can be observed in a different nearby parish that is seeing vocations: it has a 24-hour adoration chapel.

  2. Netmilsmom says:

    I think the stat about how many boys who become Priests have been to a Steubenville Youth Rally is very interesting as well.

  3. YorkshireStudent says:

    I think the idea that any female servers would harm or suppress vocations, automatically, or that all male service will, automatically, foster vocations in far too simplistic. As you say, Adoration (and, I imagine, all forms of communal and private devotion) plays its part – so I think the Poll answers are too limited for me to answer. You are, however, dead on with the trend.

    When at home, I attend a Cathedral which must have about 20 servers, spread over three weekend Masses. Of these the most experienced core of 4 are all male, then there are 3 or 4 competent girls who regularly serve. Then there are 4 who are capable but not confident (1 boy, 3 three girls) and 8 who are learning – mostly young girls, none of whom have made their First Holy Communion! Yes, the predominance of girls on the altar will be a big issue when everyone is fully trained and mature – but at the moment the bigger issue is the having of 10 servers on the altar for 10 a.m., five of whom have a job, and three of whom receive Communion!

    At University, I see a core of 5 servers, only one girl. All are above 16 – they could well all be above 18 for all I know. They are all well trained, most being students who serve in their own parishes, and serve excellently. Does the girl here restrict vocations? No, in fact she allows the small team to experience use of the thruible etc. If girls can aid the liturgy, and the male altar servers, in this way then I can’t see vocations being unrealised – the problem comes when there are more than 50% girls, or too many idle servers, or too many young and untrained servers.

  4. Lin says:

    We need holy priests with great reverence for the Eucharist! The chalice should be gold not glass and the Mass should be said according to the rubrics!

    Daily Prayer for Priests
    O my Jesus, I beg You on behalf of the whole Church … give us holy priests. You yourself maintain them in holiness.

    O Divine and Great High Priest, may the power of Your mercy accompany them everywhere and protect them from the devil’s traps and snares, which are continually being set for the souls of priests.

    May the power of Your Mercy, O Lord, shatter and bring to naught all that might tarnish the sanctity of priest, for You can do all things. – St. Faustina (Diary, 1052)

  5. iPadre says:

    This is where most of the possible vocations are in my parish. Last week I talked on vocations and I got some thumbs up from my servers.

  6. Pearl says:

    70% reported regularly saying the Rosary before entering the seminary.

    That is quite impressive.

  7. Fern says:

    Let’s see – Altar girls; feminist language; teens gathered at their “own” Mass; nearly Protestant services; lay women replacing sermons (albeit for worthy causes) charismatic sermons that could be given in any church, etc. I wonder what could be the problem? This is not an atmosphere to foster vocations.

  8. Legisperitus says:

    In classical (pagan) antiquity, some virtues were identified as masculine and others as feminine. Suffice it to say that the virtues characteristic of Christianity (meekness, humility, mercy, charity, patience, etc.) would have fallen under the pagans’ category of “feminine” virtues. Christian virtues, in general, tend to be more connatural to women– at least in a culture that is not actively trying to destroy those virtues. Men usually have to work harder to cultivate them.

    The service of the liturgy can be a good workshop for Christian virtues, and in watching a group of males practicing these so-called “feminine” virtues the entire congregation can be edified. One result of introducing girls into these clerical roles is that suddenly in the sanctuary we have females exercising feminine virtues, which is seen as quite natural, but by the same token, in that context the whole thing may start to look a bit “girly.”

    I hope I’m not out of line in saying this, but it may be a factor in turning boys “off” the whole idea of a priestly vocation.

  9. Jackie L says:

    In my diocese, despite relatively few TLM sites, they have accounted for a substantial number of the newly ordained.

  10. Pingback: Vocations and Adoration : Oriens

  11. OrthodoxChick says:

    I found the Steubenville youth conference statistic interesting too. I think at least a few of the things that this CARA reported require more info from the ordinands in order to interpret the findings correctly. If I were a bishop reading this report, I’d want to know what percentage of ordinands who attended a World Youth Day did so on their own or through an organized group (through their Diocese, parish, or campus ministry). I would want to know something similar about the Steubenville youth conference. I would want to know if the ordinands attended on their own or as part of a youth group, parish program, or campus program. Most importantly, I would want to know if they attended because it was mandatory to do so. At the parishes in our area, Steubie is replacing the Confirmation retreat for Confirmands and if a Confirmand misses the Steubie conference, they have less options and less time to do a make-up retreat. If that is happening on a wider scale, it can skew the results in an ordinand survey because a bishop might look at this report and think World Youth Day and Steubenville are the ticket to attracting ordinands. If A bishop is trying to discern which ministries, prayer practices, etc. to encourage in order to foster vocations, then I would think it’s important to survey these ordinands as to which of these ministries they sought out on their own, which ones were previously not known until they were presented to them via Diocesan vocational directors (like the DVD put out by the USCCB), and which were voluntary or mandatory.

    In general, the families of the ordinands are growing slightly larger than 2.3 children, both parents of ordinands tended to be Catholic, and rosary and Adoration are preferred prayer practices. That speaks volumes, if you ask me.

  12. SimonDodd says:

    I continue to believe that the idea that female servers discourage male servers is an unexamined assumption, and a deeply counterintuitive one at that. (Again: When I was that age, I wanted to be wherever girls were.) It is well-evidenced at this point that altar service fosters vocations, but that says nothing to the point into the service of which it is often pressed about altar girls, a point for which the evidence is, to my knowledge, non-existent.

    It seems to me that many of us are hostile to altar girls ex ante and backfill whatever reasons can be found. That’s regrettable: If the evidence shows that altar service fosters vocations, it’s pretty important to know whether altar girls encourage or discourage altar boys. After all, if, arguendo, they actually encourage altar boys, then we would want altar girls, no? But we don’t know.


  13. MouseTemplar says:

    At the annual Vocations Dinner put on last night by our parish Knights of Columbus, our new Bishop revealed our parish has the highest vocations in the Diocese. For years now. We knew that, but he, being new, came to find out why.

    We have a Perpetual Adoration Chapel over 15 years old. We have a male liturgist training the altar boys. We are down to one last hanger on altar girl. Our Pastor tries to have a personal vocation talk with every boy in the parish.

    There you go.

  14. LeeF says:

    OrthodoxChick said:
    “In general, the families of the ordinands are growing slightly larger than 2.3 children, both parents of ordinands tended to be Catholic, and rosary and Adoration are preferred prayer practices. That speaks volumes, if you ask me.”


    Devout Catholic families, faithful to the Magisterium, and with a generous openness to children, produce vocations. Most telling was the statistic for only children: they account for just ONE percent of ordinands (along with twins).

    No doubt the Fishwrap crowd would protest that JPII and BXVI bishops discourage their type of priests, i.e. those liberal types now dying off. But wait. Surely Rochester and Albany and Milwaukee and similar towns were brimming with vocations before the recent retirements of long-time bishops there. Right? Right????

  15. Nan says:

    @YorkshireStudent, women don’t belong in the sanctuary. Serving Mass may foster the wrong “vocation,” the idea that women should be ordained priests. There’s no reason that the young ladies can’t make a contribution to the parish but it should be something more appropriate like laundering and ironing church linens, arranging flowers, etc. Otherwise people get the wrong idea about what they’re doing on the altar. Before anyone suggests that laundering, ironing and arranging flowers are lesser activities, recall that we need a beautiful altar for Him. And that ironing church linens is one of the most amazing ways to spend time with God; the linens are about Him not about the priest.

    @Lin, chalices are required to be precious metals unless the parish simply can’t afford it. Typically they’re gold-plated, either plain or decorated, or sterling with gold on the interior. And don’t forget that pottery is also not a sanctioned material with which to make chalices.

    My priest friend spent a lot of time in adoration before discerning a vocation. I observed a young man, now a seminarian, discern his vocation although all I knew was that he was in the church all the time. Until he wasn’t. The next time I saw him he was in a pack of seminarians when Abp. was there. My friend who became a priest received his call on a trip to his family’s city of origin in Poland. It’s going to be different for everyone but having male altar servers increases the likelihood of vocations.

    My abp. asks that we join him in his Friday fast from meat, and join his intention to foster vocations. I have done so for the last several years. We have a full house at our seminary although we have men from other US and foreign dioceses as well as the occasional religious order. I also fast from meat on Wed. with the intent that our priests remain strong and holy.

    I’ve also talked to a young man about vocations simply because he reminds me of the one who ended up at the seminary. No idea what he’ll end up doing. And I recently met a theology student who isn’t part of the college seminary but who wants to become a missionary and look forward to learning what kind of plans he has and am ready to suggest he call Fr. Vocations Director, my friends order or the vocations director of an order whose North American vocations director is local if he seems like a candidate for such.

  16. YorkshireStudent says:

    Nan, I haven’t closely followed the reasons for the current women priest calls in the U.S. (it’s not as vocal in the UK, it seems), but my understanding is that these come from nuns and others who are allowing purely political views triumph over the teachings of the Church. There’s no indication I’ve seen that female service does much to increase calls for female ordination (though if there were, I’d have to agree).

    Indeed, if servers of both genders are aware of the Church’s teachings on how adults can serve the Church (i.e. male servers are reminded that they may have a vocation for the priesthood, and female servers are reminded that they may have a vocation to a Religious Order) I can’t see why vocations to female Religious Orders mightn’t increase as well! I maintain the view that competency is the most important ‘external’ factor in service, with a majority of male serving to allow their ‘internal’ vocations to be fostered

  17. ACS67 says:

    An acolyte use to be a minor order and “step towards the priesthood” as was a lector. Therefore if we are arguing that girls/women should stop serving at the altar for this reason then we should also not permit them to serve as lectors. I’m a woman and a lector. I would miss reading at Mass but if the Church or my local bishop asked for men/boys only I would obey. Perhaps the solution is to bring back the minor orders and re-educate the faithful on the true meaning of the priesthood and the role of the priest.

  18. jbryant says:

    What it Means to be an Altar Server

  19. Liz says:

    In our present diocese I don’t think we’ve ever had girl altar boys and there have always been numerous vocations to the priesthood. I forget about it when I go to mass in another diocese and then I see them. I find it so distracting and just really really sad.

  20. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    “73% attended adoration of the Blessed Sacrament regularly”

    Interesting. Is “regularly” defined somewhere? Thx.

  21. Netmilsmom says:

    I agree with you fully OrthodoxChick.
    With the big push for Steubenville rallies, that only 15% of Priests attended is a big red flag.

  22. Robbie says:

    It might also be helpful if altar servers wore the traditional black cassocks and white surpluses. I’m not sure I can remember seeing a NO Mass in my area that features the traditional altar server attire. In fact, I’m not sure any of the local Churches I attend even have their altar servers wear surpluses other than the one that offer the TLM.

    So many of the outfits altar servers wear today seem to cater to girls. At the parish I regularly attend, most of the altar servers are girls and they wear what amounts to robes. As much as girls as servers seem to dissuade boys from being altar servers, I think the attire hurts as well. If the outfit looks too feminine, young boys are going to say no thanks.

    I’ve been known to be widely off the mark, but I think a return to a more traditional look would also help.

  23. Iacobus M says:

    “Therefore if we are arguing that girls/women should stop serving at the altar for this reason then we should also not permit them to serve as lectors. ” It’s at least worth talking about. I’m seeing more and more Masses with the lone Priest surrounded by altar girls, female lectors and women serving as extraordinary ministers, etc. It seems to me that not just a priestly vocation but the whole Christian enterprise starts to look like a “girl thing.” Forget about vocations to the priesthood, how many young men will conclude that the whole package isn’t for them?

  24. Athelstan says:


    It seems to me that many of us are hostile to altar girls ex ante and backfill whatever reasons can be found.

    We are hostile to them because they fly in the face of the constant tradition of the Church, and because they were motivated (not solely, but mostly) by an agenda aimed at women’s ordination.

    The permission by St. John Paul II was, with respect, a mistake, a reluctant indulging of a widespread abuse. It should be revoked.

  25. M. K. says:

    I’ll admit that, like most other commenters, my reflections on point are largely anecdotal, but I have noticed (contra Simon Dodd’s suggestion – also anecdotal – that boys want to be wherever girls are) that many boys are more drawn to some activities when girls aren’t involved; they might want to be where the girls are when they’re at school or at the mall, but that doesn’t want they’ll be more drawn to serving at the altar if girls are involved. I’ve also spent time in parishes where it appeared to be the case that the number of male servers decreased as the number of female servers increased, to the point where virtually all of the servers were young women.

  26. greg3064 says:

    I’m seeing more and more Masses with the lone Priest surrounded by altar girls, female lectors and women serving as extraordinary ministers, etc.

    This was the mass I attended today. 3 altar girls, female lector, two women and one man as extraordinary ministers.

  27. robtbrown says:

    Simon Dodd,

    According to the Council of Trent in Holy Orders there are Major Orders (Priest, Deacon, Subdeacon) and Minor Orders (Lector, Acolyte, Exorcist, and Porter. Obviously, altar server is based on Acolyte.

    In 1973 Paul VI promulated Ministeria Quaedam (cf. the Novus Ordo), which suppressed the Subdiaconate and Minor Orders. In their place are two Lay Ministries, one of which is the basis for altar server.

    In so far as Lay Ministries by definition exclude no gender, IMHO, it is not inappropriate that the Novus Ordo have girl altar boys.

    On the other hand, if, as the Council of Trent says, there are 7 grades of Holy Orders instead of 2, then it is inappropriate that girls serve at the altar.

  28. ad Deum says:

    It is simple: an emasculated Mass equals less men.

  29. robtbrown says:

    greg3064 says:
    I’m seeing more and more Masses with the lone Priest surrounded by altar girls, female lectors and women serving as extraordinary ministers, etc.

    This was the mass I attended today. 3 altar girls, female lector, two women and one man as extraordinary ministers.

    A few years ago I decided to go to Confession at the Chancery because of limited availability in nearby parishes. I entered and asked the receptionist to see a priest. She said none were there. A second woman asked me why I didn’t go to Confession in the parish–I gave her a stern what’s it to you? look, then noted the aforesaid lack of availability. I pressed them on a priest being in the building, and they assured me that no one was there. Then one actually said, “Oh, Fr So and So is here, but he’s really old–you wouldn’t be interested.”

    I knew Fr So and So, knew that he was excellent, and immediately said, “Actually, he’s exactly the priest I want.” They gave me a blank look and called him.

    The good Fr died a few months ago at 94. RIP

  30. SimonDodd says:

    I wouldn’t pick a fight with that, and I think it sufficient reason to argue against them without making unproven and counterintuitive assertions about their propensity to frighten off boys. What I said was “the idea that female servers discourage male servers is an unexamined assumption, and a deeply counterintuitive one at that”—not “we should use altar girls.” What I said was that if fostering vocations is an overriding concern, then it follows that “[i]f the evidence shows that altar service fosters vocations, it’s pretty important to know whether altar girls encourage or discourage altar boys”—not “we should use altar girls.”

    Opposition to the use of altar girls is best grounded on the precise concerns that you articulate—”because they fly in the face of the constant tradition of the Church, and because they were motivated … by an agenda aimed at women’s ordination.” But as soon as one starts talking about their effect on vocations, one makes the question conditional on an empirical point: That altar girls drive out altar boys. And on that point, there is no good data, so we sail into the land of argument by competing anecdote, as the disagreement between my previous comment and M.K.’s reply to it illustrate.

    Not long ago, I defended Fr. John Lakeit when he was criticized for eliminating altar girls, and did so precisely because vocations are important and there is no good evidence either way on the effect of altar girls. It therefore seems useful to experiment and see what happens. See (The fact that Lankeit’s decision met with initial success is also a useful datum. See By contrast, insisting that the empirical point is unproven or irrelevant doesn’t seem useful if one concedes that vocations are a relevant concern.

    I have no strong opinion either way on altar girls—the argument from tradition is very forceful. But when people start talking about the empirical point, that bothers me because they’re arguing from implied facts not in evidence.

  31. SimonDodd says:

    RobTBrown, I don’t tend to think in quite those terms. I tend to think first of whether something is permissible, which is to say possible, second, whether it is a good idea in general, and third, whether it is a good idea in the particular context. Setting aside the TLM and the Anglican Use, my understanding is that it is unquestionably permissible that girls serve at the altar in the Latin Church generally because the Bishop of Rome has said so. Furthermore, it is unquestionably permissible that they serve in any given parish if and to the extent that the pastor says so, and not if and to the extent that he says not.

    Whether it is a good idea that they serve, either generally or in particular cases, is a more difficult question. Because I’m a Burkeian, I tend to find Athelstan’s argument persuasive. On the other hand, as you point out, lay ministries have no gender requirement, and if the progressives’ arguments from Galatians 3:28 have any force at all, it is at least this: Ceteris paribus, lay ministries ought be open to all who wish to serve. I decline to resolve these competing arguments. I have no strong opinion on the matter, assuming that the conditions mentioned hold. They do not hold, however, when all else is not equal: If altar girls drive out altar boys, the need to foster vocations supplies an overriding imperative that they be removed, and if they attract altar boys, there is an overriding imperative that they be allowed. Which (if either) is it? I haven’t the foggiest. Neither does anyone else, and that’s my point.

  32. Uxixu says:

    I found myself contemplating the shortage awhile back when Father was shaking hands after Mass, and he shook my 4yo boy’s hand and asked if he’d like to be a priest one day. I thought of all the good Catholic families I know who regularly attend and almost all of them have only one or at most two sons. There seems to be a … reticence to have only sons be priests since many/most want or expect grandchildren at some point. All of mine and my wife’s grandparents age groups had 5-7 children. My parents age group all had 1-2 children. Even the one family of my parents age group that 4 or 5 boys had none who were priests. All our Catholic peers have similar family sizes at each level. All of these relatively pious church going families used Holy Mother Church to get married in, baptize children, and practice the Sacraments and pray for our grandparents with Masses and rosaries as they passed but not one had a priest or religious from their sons or daughters. The closest I can think of is my grandmother’s uncle was a priest and both my grandmother and mother are proud to say he was a Monsignor. Some in the second generation were servers but none in the third or fourth generations have been altar servers.

    I was chagrined to think I found myself guilty of this by omission more than specific intent. I am glad Father asked my boy that in the handshake line, but I wonder why I never heard that in a homily. I certainly don’t expect anything as base as recruiting, but we make up the Church so why are we not giving back to her? I now point out the servers bearing the Crucifix and the candle and ask if he’d like to do that. He says he would like to hold the candle for now so we’ll see. He IS less interested when I point out to a girl, though my daughter does say she would like to do what they’re doing as well.

    I also thought how I should want more children instead of practicing NFP but am faced with the reality that even our third has definitely put some stresses both financial and organizational that we didn’t have with two since both me and my wife work (another relatively common phenomenon with American Catholics). There are plenty of orphans and children in CPS and I want to contemplate foster/adoption, as well. We can’t force children to a vocation nor should we try but way too few of us are even encouraging our children even and we don’t hear it from the Ambo either. We need to be fruitful and multiply as well at the very least encouraging the possibility of our sons and daughters into religious life, if not more, than them being doctors or lawyers.

  33. jesusthroughmary says:

    If I am reading this correctly, 20% of the “Class of 2014” is from a family of at least six kids, with another 32% being one of 4 or 5 kids. I find that incredibly telling – that has to be disproportionately high even to the Catholic population as a whole, to say nothing of the US average.

  34. msc says:

    “There’s no reason that the young ladies can’t make a contribution to the parish but it should be something more appropriate like laundering and ironing church linens, arranging flowers, etc.” Don’t forget baking for receptions, vacuuming the carpets, dusting the statues, mending the robes etc., and looking after the smaller children during the children’s liturgy. But seriously, I read this comment to my wife and she could only slap her forehead and sigh.

  35. PA mom says:

    This poll is missing one of the most important desired stats regarding those about to be ordained.

    What percentage of them read Fr Z’s blog?


  36. Cincinnati Priest says:

    Simon Dodd raises interesting and legitimate questions, but the problem is that it is hard to find an accurate way to study such things. How does one actually survey whether altar boys are leaving because they think it is a “girly” thing to do? It’s not exactly something you fill out on a parish census form.

    In some sense, this is the kind of thing where common sense and observation has to prevail, where one notices what happens in parishes which have all (or nearly all) boys vs. mixed sex serving programs.

    I do know that in my parish, one of the server trainers (a grandfather) asked a grandson why he chose not to serve, and his answer was “that’s for girls to do.” Anecdotal, yes, but clearly the perception is out there.

    In parishes that I have been involved in over the years with boys and girls in separate teams or all-boys serving, it is clear to me from the comments the boys made and their interaction with each other that they prefer it that way. I have observed the difference between the attitudes when they serve together with girls (where they seem indifferent to serving as a chore that their parents are making them do), vs. serving together with other boys, where they seem much more interested in doing a good job and actually enjoy it.

  37. Netmilsmom says:

    msc- What is wrong with doing all those jobs? Don’t they need to be done?
    Holy Moly, tell your wife that my daughters and I laundered Altar Linens, baked and served at church events, emptied trash at the parish picnic, volunteered with babies AND cleaned bathrooms. You know why? Because those needed to be done and NOTHING in service to Our Lord is beneath us. Christ only hung on a cross for three hours for me, you and your lovely wife. And ya know what, never ONCE did my girls ask to be Altar servers.
    Choir Girls serve too.

  38. msc says:

    Netmislmom: Of course they need to be done. My wife’s reaction was to what she thought was the the idea that these are the natural (and if the person that made the comment does not think so, the fact that she mentioned them as examples suggests she does) things for girls to do, and that they were the examples chosen for what girls should do. The point is that the person did not say “these are things that children that don’t serve at the altar can do”, but that these are the things that girls can do. My wife doesn’t iron, she doesn’t sew, but we both cook, and she fixes the car and the snow mobiles. She also sings beautifully, by the way. Just because we are theologically conservative doesn’t mean we’re stuck on what I think most people, even Catholics, would suggest are outdated sex roles.

  39. msc says:

    Netmilsmom: I posted before I was finished…. I don’t appreciate the suggestion that because we disagree with some socially constructed sex roles that have nothing to do with Catholic doctrine means we don’t appreciate Christ’s sacrifice. That’s offensive. And if, as you say, nothing in service to Christ is beneath us (with which I agree), then it is not beneath boys to iron, sew, and clean, or for girls who would rather serve some other way to do so (and I am not advocating for altar girls).

  40. ncstevem says:

    When I read someone claim that another’s argument or position is too ‘simplistic’ , my B.S. detector goes off big time. I would suggest that the idea that we need data to determine whether altar tom-boys discourage boys from serving is a bogus claim as well.

    I ask all who frequent these comments that when they were 6 – 12 years of age, how much did they and their friends hang around with the opposite sex? All I know is that in my case and the group of 12 – 15 neighborhood friends I grew up with, the answer is practically nil.

  41. bobk says:

    Do eastern rite congregations have this issue? They’ve had married clergy for 2000 years and I would guess zero altar girls.

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