One of the surprises about our time at St. Patrick’s in Menlo Park last week was the fact that 2/3 of the 86 men being formed there for the diocesan priesthood are non native English speakers: Hispanic, Vietnamese, Korean, Filipino, even Belgian, and three deaf students! They ranged in age from 22 to mid-50’s. They represent dioceses up and down the west coast: all the Californian dioceses, of course, but also Seattle, Alaska, Portland, etc.
The rector, a very welcoming Sulpician priest, told us that it costs five times as much to educate a single deaf seminarian as it does a hearing one but that the deaf community is seriously underserved. The mix of language, culture, age, and life experiences affects every part of formation.
It was illuminating to talk to the transitional deacons who are going to be ordained this summer. They all seemed palpably excited. They seemed especially interested in our presentation on Church teaching on the priestly task of governance, which includes calling forth the charisms and vocations of all the baptized for the sake of our common mission.
One Anglo student told me that he had left the Catholic Church for the Assemblies of God before reverting and entering seminary. We have noticed that 10 – 20 % of the most serious lay Catholics that we encounter on the road are either “double-dipping” (attending both Catholic and Protestant services at the same time) or have been heavily influenced by evangelicalism through attending Bible studies, listening to Christian TV/radio, reading evangelical authors, etc. I suppose there is no reason to expect candidates for the priesthood to be any different.
The deacon who drove me to the airport was intriguing: he was born into a Catholic family in Vietnam but did not attend church. He fled Vietnam in the late 80’s and spent time in a refugee camp in Hong Kong. There he was moved by the devotion and self-sacrifice of the priests, sisters, and lay volunteers who left comfortable lives to serve people like himself. This experience of God’s love triggered a conversion and within a year of entering the US, he began studying for the priesthood. He emphasized that he would not first serve in a Vietnamese community but in an “American” parish (his term).
At St. Blog’s, most of us don’t work in seminaries or with seminarians. I have noticed that so many of our discussions seem to presume that the priesthood will remain what most of us have known: majority native English speaking, European, cradle Catholic. The Fr. O’Malley model. However, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), 25% of all current US seminaries are foreign-born. They come from 84 different countries.
Some seem to believe that we can and should keep out non-Catholic, non-European influences which might “dilute” European Catholic culture and practice as we have known it.
The situation at St. Patrick’s would seem to say it is already too late. Non-European, “non-cradle” Catholicism is not just mushrooming in the global south, it is here in the US. Today. Ordained in three months and coming to a parish near you.
At least on the west coast.