An Older Order

Will we get used to fathers who are also grandfathers?

Edited by Tim Healy

This idea may sound novel, but you can expect it to become more the norm. Right now, most new seminary graduates are over 30, and a quarter are over 50. The average age of an arrival at a seminary is 30.

This is a big change. Tweny years ago, most aspiring priests entered the seminary as teens. Older arrivals were called "retarded vocations". Older seminarians were something the church didn't capitalize on until recently. There are blue-collar workers and retirees, M.B.A.s and military men. At least 14 are divorced (they all received annulments). Seven are widowers.

Take the case of Tom Mescall. His hair is grayer than the average seminarian, but after all, Mescall is 54. He has spent 27 years as a lawyer, including 17 years as a judge. And then there's the matter of children: he has two of them, products of a marriage that disolved in 1981, after 11 years. "I feel like I've led a full life," he says. His background has given him an outlook that he says will make him a more compassionste priest. "I hope I have a much less romantic idea of the church," Mescall said. "I hope it's a much more realistic conception now. Life has challenged me, made me much more open, made me see the gospel in a much more inclusive way."

Most older seminarians with a degree spend four years at the seminary. Their program is the same as for anyone else. The procedure at Sacred Heart is for candidates with a degree to receive four years of instruction in philosophy and theology. If the candidate does not have a degree, he takes courses for two additional years at a local college.

These older seminarians are a great asset for the church. One major advantage is that less than one percent of older ordained priests leave the priesthood. The dropout rate is much higher for those who are ordained at an earlier age.

Sacred Heart School of Theology has graduated over 500 second-career priests in the past 30 years.


Most of the information on this page was obtained from the article, An Older Order, written by Michael Schaffer, which was published in the May 13, 2002 issue of U.S. News and World Report. Reprints of this article may be obtained via the U.S. News Website or contact the publication directly.

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