By MSGR. CHARLES ROWLAND
Nationwide, we are faced with a future shortage of priests. Stories on the priest shortage can be found in every Catholic publication. An additional consideration is the aging of our priestly population. The average age of our priests is now over 60 years old!
Within the Diocese of Charleston and the Midlands Deanery, we face these very same problems. Diocesan projections expect us to have roughly one-third the priests we presently have by the year 2004. While the number of priests will be shrinking, and their average age increasing, the Catholic population is expected to continue its steady increase. Within our Columbia Cluster, this increase is likely to be greatest in areas — such as Southeast Richland County — presently with no church, mission or priest.
What can we do to prepare and alleviate this shortage? We must meet it on several fronts. Certainly an increase in vocations will help. Prayer for an increase in vocations is needed. Within our parish, a Vocations Committee has been formed this year. We must also live a life that encourages vocations! Vocations are fostered and nurtured in the home. Parents must live their married vocation in a way that values, compliments, and encourages religious vocations.
However, even an immediate increase in vocations will not alleviate the shortage of priests we face in the next few years. The diocese has directed each deanery to address this issue; and within the Midlands Deanery, each cluster has been assigned specific objectives.
What types of solutions can we expect to see within our cluster? First — closing parishes is not being considered. Rather, several strategies will be applied. Mass times throughout the cluster will be better coordinated. In addition, it is likely that parishes will be “twinned.” In twinning, a large parish is matched with a smaller parish with a single priest to serve both. Each parish will remain distinct probably with a pastoral administrator at each. Plans for a mission or other Catholic presence in the Southeast are also in the future.
Throughout this process and in the future, our goals are to provide for the Mass, the sacraments, and pastoral support for all of the faithful with the priestly resources available. We hope to accomplish these goals without threatening the physical, mental, and spiritual health of those priests through overwork and stress.
Msgr. Charles H. Rowland is Dean of the Midlands Deanery and pastor of St. Joseph Church in Columbia. This column first appeared in the December-January issue of Devine News, the newsletter of St. Joseph Parish.