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Does St. Louis have a priest shortage?

Row after row of priests filed through the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis Saturday to lay hands on the heads of the two men joining their brotherhood.

Archbishop Robert Carlson then prayed over the candidates, ordaining Kent Pollman and Scott Scheiderer as priests.

Pollman and Scheiderer are part of a new class of priests in St. Louis: smaller in number than the ordination classes of the 1980s, and facing a future juggling more responsibilities.

“We’re very blessed actually, as we’re ordaining a good number of men. But we are going to see less priests in the next 20 years than we’re probably used to in the archdiocese,” said Father Chris Martin.

As director of vocations for the archdiocese, Martin is responsible for helping St. Louis Catholics determine God’s direction in their lives, including a commitment to the priesthood. He said St. Louis has seen a slight increase in the number of men entering seminary and becoming ordained in the last 15 years, but overall the numbers are not enough to keep up with the number of priests retiring.

“Nationally speaking the Archdiocese of St. Louis is looked upon as one of the more blessed dioceses as far as vocations are concerned,” said Martin. “With rare exception all of the men that we are ordaining for our archdiocese are native sons of St. Louis.”

With about 340 priests (not including members of religious orders like the Jesuits), the archdiocese has about 30 percent fewer priests than it did 20 years ago, but the number of Catholics has dropped less than 4 percent to about 515,000. That means there are fewer priests to go around.

Rev. Kent Pollman and Rev. Scott Scheiderer wait for the procession to begin ahead of their ordination ceremony as Father Chris Martin looks on.
Credit Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
Rev. Kent Pollman and Rev. Scott Scheiderer wait for the procession to begin ahead of their ordination ceremony as Father Chris Martin looks on.

“As a person of faith I always believe that there will be enough priests to meet the needs of the people. I think that what we have to realize is that it might look slightly different than it looks right now,” Martin said. “Two churches that are half a mile apart from each other both having five masses on Sunday probably isn’t a realistic expectation moving forward. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be effective in our message and our mission.”

While the number of Catholics has stayed steady, how often they attend church has declined. Martin draws a line between that trend and the decrease in ordinations.

“We’re trying to help young people that are just in a highly secular society not only think that faith is relevant, but think that God is calling them to do something pretty extraordinary with their lives,” Martin said, adding that new priests need to have a more intentional focus on outreach.

According to archdiocese statistician John Schwob, the Archdiocese of St. Louis ordained 10 to 20 priests a year up until 1980. After 1980 the archdiocese has averaged 5 or 6 priests a year.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis is made up of eleven counties in Eastern Missouri. St. Clair County is in the Diocese of Belleville and Madison County is in the Diocese of Springfield.

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.