St Patrick’s College, Ireland’s national seminary, has welcomed just 13 new students from across the island for the start of the new term.
The Maynooth-based seminary says the figure is down seven students from 2013 and represents a sharp decline in numbers of Irish men willing to become priests.
The Irish Independent reports that the new 2014 group includes one trainee missionary priest.
The report says that come the end of September, the total number of seminarians in Maynooth will be around 70 with others studying at the Irish College in Rome.
The figures constitute a crisis according to the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP).
Co-founder Fr Brendan Hoban told the Irish Independent: “This year’s intake of 13 confirms once again the crisis in vocations that, year on year, is becoming more and more obvious.
“Numbers studying for the diocesan priesthood tend to go up and down from year to year. However the overall pattern now is all too predictable.”
The association boasts over one thousand Irish priests as members but has warned of ‘impending Eucharistic famine’ unless radical steps are not taken to halt the vocations crisis.
Fr Hoban added: “Irish priests in parishes are growing older and becoming fewer and every year at this time we are forced to acknowledge the huge crisis facing the Irish Church.”
The report confirmed that 19 of the country’s 26 dioceses did not manage to attract any candidates for the priesthood in 2014.