As millions of young Americans are leaving the faith, the Church in the United States is in the midst of a vocations crisis. Fewer young men are remaining Catholic, naturally resulting in a shortage of priests, who Catholics rely on to receive the sacraments. But in many areas of the country, bishops are leading the charge against this downward trend in vocations and sparking profound resurgences in the faith and size of their congregations.
There are a dozen dioceses, along with The Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter (a de facto diocese comprised of several parishes of converts from Anglicanism), who are considered by a report from Vocation Ministry to be the “healthiest” in terms of vocations to the priesthood. The report is based on data from the Official Catholic Directory over a period of six years (2015 to 2021).
Here are the 13 ecclesiastical districts in the United States with the highest rates of young men giving their lives to the holy priesthood:
Situated in Northern Kentucky along the Ohio River, the Diocese of Covington embraces the southern Cincinnati suburbs and surrounding rural areas. Bishop John Iffert’s 85 Diocesan priests (of which 57 are active) oversee 50 parishes and three missions. With a ratio of 1,626 Catholics to every one active priest, the diocese also has 43 ordained deacons in position to support parish ministry.
The Diocese of Harrisburg covers a large swath of south central Pennsylvania. Mostly rural in nature, it also includes the cities of Harrisburg, Lancaster, and York. Led by Bishop Ronald Gainer (formerly the Bishop of Lexington, another diocese on this list), it has 89 parishes, and in 2019, boasted 123 Diocesan priests. Of them, 91 are currently active, and they are assisted by 67 deacons. Last year, four new priests were ordained, an increase from 2000 to 2008 when the diocese averaged three ordinations per year. A dozen seminarians seek to be ordained in the near future.
This diocese consists of a primarily rural belt across north central Indiana, sandwiched between the Chicago suburbs to the north and the Indianapolis suburbs to the south. Headed by Bishop Timothy Doherty, it has 61 parishes served by 70 Diocesan priests and 24 deacons, with 13 seminarians currently vying for the priesthood.
The other American diocese bearing the name Lafayette was also deemed “healthy.” Based in the heart of heavily Cajun south central Louisiana bordering the Gulf of Mexico, this diocesean community is one of the few in the country where Catholics comprise a majority of the total population. This unique diocese is split into 121 parishes, with 153 Diocesan priests under the command of Bishop J. Douglas Deshotel. 125 deacons, 71 of them active, assist in serving Mass, while two dozen seminarians soon hope to join the priestly ranks.
Directly to the west of the previous diocese, the Diocese of Lake Charles occupies the southwestern corner of Louisiana, bordering Texas. Led by Bishop Glen Provost, who has served in this role since 2007, is in charge of 42 parishes and one mission, which are staffed by 50 priests and 32 deacons (27 active).
Based in south central Michigan, the Diocese of Lansing includes some as the Wolverine State’s largest cities, such as Ann Arbor, Flint, and Lansing, as well as Hillsdale College. Bishop Earl Boyea has been at its helm for nearly 13 years. He now oversees both over a hundred priests and permanent deacons. 26 current seminarians wait in the wings to become the next generation of priests for the diocese.
South of the Diocese of Covington sits the Diocese of Lexington, which makes up most of eastern Kentucky. It is almost exclusively rural, save for the city of Lexington and its suburbs. The small, yet cohesive Catholic community, which only accounts for just under 3% of the sprawling area’s total population, is divided into 60 parishes, under the directorate of Bishop John Stowe, his 47 Diocesan priests and 79 members of the diaconate.
The Archdiocese of Louisville is the third Kentucky diocese on this list – meaning that a quarter of America’s “healthy” dioceses are in the Bluegrass State. Anchored by the city of Louisville, it is located in the central part of the state, bordering both of the dioceses of Covington and Lexington. It is headed by Louisiana-born Archbishop Shelton Fabre who presides over 110 parishes and missions, served by 140 Diocesan priests, slated to be soon be joined by 12 seminarians.
Straddling the Pacific, the Diocese of Monterey is set in the picturesque central California coast, connecting the Bay Area to the Los Angeles Metro Area. Including the cities of Monterey, San Luis Obispo and Santa Cruz, it is led by Bishop Daniel Garcia. 101 Diocesan priests and 28 permanent deacons, with 14 seminarians on the way, serve its 47 parishes.
Bishop Louis Tylka leads the 157 parish strong Diocese of Peoria, based in north central downstate Illinois south and west of the Chicago Metro Area. The most recent available data records 171 Diocesan priests, or one per every 1,124 Catholics. They are assisted by nearly 150 deacons. The year 2015 saw six priests ordained at the same time – a feat that might just happen again soon with 22 seminarians in waiting.
The Diocese of Worcester takes up the central portion of the state of Massachusetts, an area whose population is just over a third Catholic. Governed by Bishop Robert Joseph McManus, the ecclesiastical district has 96 parishes and 166 Diocesan priests, a ratio that nearly approaches 2 priests to parish. Last year alone, 7 men were ordained to the priesthood.
Covering the northeastern portion of Ohio, the Diocese of Youngstown, under Bishop David Bonnar, includes the cities of Youngstown and Warren. Its 86 parishes house 103 Diocesan priests and 84 permanent deacons, with 14 seminarians on the path to eventual ordination.
The Ordinariate, which was established by a decree of the late Pope Benedict XVI, just over ten years ago is a unique jurisdiction. It is not a physical diocese but a group of 39 parishes across North America, 32 in the U.S. and 7 in Canada. It is headed by Bishop Steven J. Lopes.