Even amid reports of declining priestly vocations, The Saint Paul Seminary begins the 2023-24 academic year with its largest seminarian enrollment in a decade.
Once again, over 1,000 future priests, deacons and lay leaders are beginning formation at the seminary this fall.
The 129-year-old seminary on the banks of the Mississippi River begins the semester with 100 seminarians, the most since 2013, from 16 different dioceses and religious orders. The group includes 37 new seminarians and 16 participants in the “propaedeutic stage,” a new year of formation before formal seminary life begins.
Sixteen seminarians are scheduled to become Catholic priests in spring 2024, including 11 from the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.
A historic permanent diaconate ordination class
The Saint Paul Seminary is also home to 33 permanent deacon candidates, 18 of whom are set to be ordained in December, via the Institute for Diaconate Formation. This ties the largest deacon class in the history of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, a record that has stood since 1978.
Forming lay leaders
Beyond seminarians and deacon candidates, The Saint Paul Seminary helps shape the future of Catholic parish, school, corporate, and family lay leaders.
Approximately 900 individuals are currently enrolled in the seminary’s lay programs, including the Master of Arts in Pastoral Leadership, Master of Arts in Theology, Certificate in Catholic School Leadership, and various Catechetical Institute programs. These future leaders receive formation in the same dimensions — human, intellectual, spiritual and pastoral — as priests and deacon candidates, equipping them to serve the Church and their communities effectively.
A pivotal time in the Church
Despite reports of nationwide downward trends, The Saint Paul Seminary is one of several institutions with surging enrollments this year.
The United States Catholic Church continues to experience “a continuation of relatively slow long-term decline” in priestly vocations , according to data from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University released in June of this year. The study found vocations at the pre-theology and theology levels fell from over 6,400 men in 1970 to 2,759 in the most recent academic year.
But The Saint Paul Seminary is now near capacity for seminarian enrollment. Its 29 percent year-over-year growth (70 to 90 seminarians) in fall 2021 was the largest one-year increase since 1975.