‘Pope Francis effect’ lifting interest in vocations

But no sign of increased numbers

By Cathal Barry and Courtney McGrail

The ministry of Pope Francis is apparently encouraging more young men to consider priesthood. However, if the Pope is creating heightened interest, it is not yet showing in the number of men entering seminary.

The Irish Catholic understands that the number of men entering seminary later this month will be around a dozen, slightly less than half the number who began studies for the priesthood last year.

Despite this, Fr John Gilligan, Dublin Diocesan Director of Vocations maintains that Pope Francis is increasing interest in priesthood amongst young men. He points to the fact that while the country’s largest diocese had no seminarians last year, he expects three men to begin their studies this year.

“I have noticed a large increase in phone calls from people showing an interest in the priesthood and discerning their vocation.

“Many mentioned that Pope Francis had played a role in influencing their decision to come forward.

“A lot seem to really be responding to the Pope’s call to go out to the margins and get your hands dirty,” Fr Gilligan said.

He said that the Pope’s “leadership and outreach has really spoken to people with a vocation and given them the confidence to talk about it. It’s very encouraging”.


In Tuam Archdiocese, which has three new seminarians this year, Diocesan Secretary Fr Fintan Monahan said “Pope Francis’ influence came up several times as part of discussions with potential seminarians.

“There is no doubt the Pope has had a positive influence on all of them,” Fr Monahan said.

There is a similar spirit in Down and Connor where Fr Kevin McGuckian insisted that “Pope Francis has certainly instilled great confidence in people coming forward to discuss their vocation”.

The diocese, the country’s second largest, has three new seminarians this year. Fr McGuckian said that Pope Francis has “breathed new life into the Church and our new seminarians seem to be encouraged by his example, his preaching and his witness”.

However, some other vocations directors are more circumspect. In Killala, which has no new students this year, Fr Tom Doherty said: “it’s early days to make assumptions on the Francis effect” but candidates “seem to be taken by his hands-on approach”.

In Waterford and Lismore, Canon William Meehan said: “we haven’t had any feedback yet” while in Dromore diocese Fr Tony Corr said he had seen no increase in interest due to Pope Francis.

A survey of 25 of the country’s 26 dioceses carried out by The Irish Catholic found that 12 seminarians are expected to begin their studies later this month. However, two dioceses said they were still interviewing candidates while a further two said that potentially they had a seminarian each. Vocations directors point out that it’s impossible totell exactly how many new seminarians there will be until the first day of term in Maynooth next weekend as some men change their minds at the last minute or circumstances change.

Last year, 20 men began studying for diocesan priesthood in Ireland, up from 12 in 2012 which was the lowest number ever.

In 2011, 22 seminarians began their studies, 16 in 2010. 2009 saw a bumper 36 men enter seminary which many people attributed to publicity around the ‘Year of Vocation’.

In 2008, there were 20 new seminarians, 25 in 2007, 26 in 2006 and 19 in 2005.

Vocations in Ireland since 2007

2007   25

2008   20

2009   36

2010   16

2011   22

2012   12

2013   20

2014   12 [to date]