Our pastor shared this sobering statistic with us today:
In our diocese, we have just under 300 parishes.
We also only have 300 active priests.
And no new priests are being ordained this year.
That's not great math.
He exhorted us to pray fervently for vocations and added "We need more priests or else..." He trailed off and kind of shrugged helplessly. He didn't have to finish. We knew what the ending was.
It's no secret there's a drastic shortage of priests in the US. I did the math: in my diocese alone, each priest is responsible for about 9,100 souls. That's a 1 to 9100 ratio.
I worked in higher ed marketing and I can assure you...if we had that kind of professor to student ratio, we wouldn't have survived.
And yet we're asking our priests - who have a much weightier responsibility - to shoulder that burden.
With all of that in mind...this week is Vocations Awareness Week. Maybe the resources your diocese provided or you found online felt a bit lacking (at least in my opinion).
What do they lack the most? Personality and variety. Discernment of one's vocation is extremely personal and our promotion of it should be the same. Stock photos of priest with the quote about Melchizedek are nice, but they don't strike at the heart of any good marketing campaign: why.
And yes, we have a shortage of priests...but we also have a shortage of religious brothers and sisters and holy marriages and consecrated virginity. Because let's be honest...we can't solve the priest problem if we don't have holy marriages producing them and religious and laity alike forming youth in the faith as catechists, youth ministers, and the like.
So, here are eight tips for marketing vocations at your parish:
1. Share parishioners' vocations stories.
Want to show parishioners vocations are realistic? Show other parishioners who have already walked that walk! It's more relatable than generic stories from the internet and offers a potential mentor for their journey.
2. Why just a week?
National Vocations Week shouldn't be the only week you mention vocations. There are so many initiatives that take up our attention, but vocations should be one of the ultimate recurring themes.
3. Share the why.
Yes, there is a drastic shortage of vocations...but leading off with that isn't convincing enough. Share the joy in following God's call and how one's vocation is fulfilling and life-changing.
4. Not just priests.
We don't just need holy priests - we need holy Catholics of all vocations! Be sure to share all of the ways your parishioners can follow God's call so they are set up for true discernment.
5. Adopt a seminarian.
If you don't have anyone from your parish currently in seminary, adopt someone! Pick one of your diocese's seminarians and pray for him by name, have parishioners write notes to him, and invite him to the parish.
6. Show a day in the life.
Have your priest share a day in his life! Either as a blog post or by taking over Instagram for the day, show parishioners what a typical day is like. It's hard to know if you're called to a job if you haven't seen the job description!
7. Focus on youth.
70% of priests ordained in 2020 were altar servers and 40% attended high school retreats If you want to grow vocations, market vocations to your altar servers and youth group attendees (and invest in them!).
8. Teach parishioners how to encourage others.
90% of priests ordained in 2020 were encouraged to consider the priesthood by a priest, friend, or fellow parishioner. Teach parishioners how to do this!
Most of all, pray for vocations. Our Church certainly needs them.