There’s a new article on vocations circulating in the Catholic blogosphere. I saw it first at Deacon Greg Kandra’s blog, then Elizabeth Scalia posted it on Facebook. It’s a great story. Any increase in vocations is good news that needs to be shared, especially after
years decades of hearing about the priest shortage. For many dioceses, booming vocations is a new experience entirely, though there are some dioceses that look around confused when they hear of the shortage (my own year in formation, I had 33 diocesan brother seminarians; as of this writing, I count 51 in Wichita, and my friend Fr. Robert Matya of Lincoln has 47 under his wing, and these are relatively small dioceses). Still, in most places, news of this sort is a cause for extraordinary celebration. Good for the Diocese of Lafayette.
I can’t help noticing, though, that the Shreveport Times has overlooked a more important vocation story. Perhaps Lafayette’s story was just a big one, especially newsworthy in a sea of uninteresting vocation stories. To any journalist in Shreveport, 7 new priests in a year would look mighty impressive, even if it does fall in line with numbers seen in other dioceses like Wichita and Lincoln. It would be hard, I imagine, to glance away from that impressive number and see something bigger happening in your own backyard.
Yet there is something even bigger happening right here in Shreveport. Most Americans might not know it – I certainly didn’t; growing up, I thought all of Louisiana was a giant Catholic swampland – so I can’t blame the Catholic blogosphere for being unaware of one little, important detail Louisianans know: Shreveport is about as Catholic as Jack Chick, which is to say Shreveport is not even remotely Catholic.
For Lafayette – a South Louisiana Catholic stronghold – to have increasing vocations shouldn’t be a big story. A good one, yes, but not a big one. Shreveport, on the other hand, is mission territory. It comprises the northern third of the state but has the smallest percentage of Catholics of any diocese in the state. This is Baptist country, where the Catholic Church goes all but unnoticed by the Protestant supermajority, where most of our priests in recent years have been senior citizens, where we’ve been importing priests for years from India and Africa (God bless them!) to serve our parishioners. While the article boasts of Lafayette’s strong Catholic culture and Jesuit numbers, we have neither of these. If Lafayette has had a shortage – and that’s a laugh riot – we’ve had a crisis!
Despite all that, in the last few years, our number of seminarians has doubled. By contrast with Lafayette, there is something HUGE going on here.
While our number of seminarians still may not be large enough to match Lafayette’s 7 new priests this year – we had 1 – considering the cultural context, the percentage and sheer number of Catholics, and the influence of religious orders down south, the rate of our growth is astounding. What’s more, I have secret knowledge the Times probably could have discovered if they’d sniffed it out: having taught Catholic high school here for the last 5 years, I can say with authority that there are at least 2, maybe 4 or more just from our school who plan to attend seminary once they graduate. We could have 10-12 or more in another few years, a huge number for our tiny Catholic population.
Our seminarians and our Vocation Director, Fr. Matthew Long, deserve kudos for their part in relieving the vocations crisis in the Church. If only the Shreveport Times would take note. For a paper that is exactly a 5-minute drive from the offices of its own diocese, it appears to have never occurred to the editorial desk to get even one quote from the local Vocation Director about the awesome work he’s been doing. Instead, they looked 4 hours south to hype the continued vocational success of Catholic powerhouse Lafayette as an example of “bucking the priest shortage.” That’s a shameful oversight I hope won’t be repeated again.