Ireland’s national seminary reports lowest enrollment ever

Only five men will be entering Ireland’s national seminary in Maynooth, Co Kildare for 2018 in what is thought to be the institution’s smallest enrollment ever.

The Irish Catholic reports that the national seminary in Maynooth, Co Kildare will intake five men this year, down from six in 2017.

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A survey conducted by The Irish Catholic found that 15 men from across Ireland in total will officially begin their journey into priesthood this year. Nine will participate in a propaedeutic, or preparatory, year ahead of officially starting seminary formation in 2019.

Five of this year’s 15 men are from the dioceses of Dromore, Down and Connor, Elphin, Kerry, and Tuam.

One seminarian from the Meath diocese will be formed at the Pontifical Beda College in Rome, which is primarily for older men who want to become ordained.

Last year, eight Irishmen took part in the propaedeutic year; it’s not known how many of them are part of the 2018 enrollment in Maynooth.

More than half of Ireland’s dioceses are not sending men forward to become priests this year, says The Irish Catholic.

In August, Father Thomas Surlis, who was recently appointed rector of the seminary, said, “There are 450 stalls in the college chapel.”

"Are we going to fill those again? Not in my lifetime, I don't think."

Father Surlis was forthcoming about the seminary’s potential fate of closure.

"Yeah, absolutely. You know, there's no point in pussyfooting around that question. Of course, it's a real issue," he said.

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"We can't deny that the process of secularization, for example, in Ireland and in Western Europe, has been rapid and it has been significant."

In August, Pope Francis made the first papal visit to Ireland in nearly 40 years. An estimated 500,000 were expected to attend his mass in Phoenix Park, but only around 130,000 attended.

The Catholic Church in Ireland is in no doubt the shape it used to be. Two recent referendums - one on gay marriage, the other on abortion - signaled a significant departure from the Church’s once ubiquitous influence on the country.

Similarly, scandals within the Church, namely widespread sex abuse and the historic treatment of unwed pregnant mothers, have left many with a bad taste in their mouth.

Ireland hits all-time low of men entering seminaryLauren Cater / CNA