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As the Catholic population grows, so will the need for priests

CHARLESTON—The Diocese of Charleston is experiencing a wonderful period of growth.

The number of Catholics has climbed to more than 190,000, leading to new churches, missions and schools.

But the growth also raises a difficult question: Will there be enough priests to serve the growing diocese?

According to a study released in early 2010, 11 new seminarians need to be accepted each year to maintain the status quo for the diocese’s 92 parishes and 23 missions.

“The hope is that out of that 11, half of them would stay with it until ordination,” said Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone.

Currently, 13 seminarians are in the process of becoming diocesan priests. Five began formation in fall 2010, and three are scheduled to be ordained this July.

“We’re okay for the next few years because we have priests to cover our parishes for a while,” said Father Ronald R. Cellini, vicar for priests. “We’re blessed in that regard.”

The number of available priests constantly changes because of retirement, illness or death.

Priests are allowed to retire at 70 and must send a letter of resignation to the bishop when they reach 75, Father Cellini said.

The bishop, however, doesn’t have to accept the resignation, and many men continue to serve.

Bishop Guglielmone said vocations must be promoted from the home to the parish and school.

“Priests have to do their very best to be present to young people so they can see priests working in ministry, and we have to keep talking about the need for vocations,” he said. “Every time I celebrate the sacrament of confirmation I make it a point to indicate it’s my hope that some of these young people will consider vocations.”

The Diocese of Charleston started a vocations campaign in December 2009. Father Jeffrey F. Kirby, vicar for vocations, is organizing discernment weekends for high school and college age men, and forming discussion groups in Columbia, Greenville and other cities. Even school children and Scouts are starting to talk about the need for priests and women religious.

The goal: to push the number of men answering the call to a level that will create a ready supply of priests as the diocese grows.

“We don’t look at it as a problem but a challenge,” Bishop Guglielmone said. “It’s going to take a lot of work on our part, but I have a sense of confidence that we’ll get done what needs to be done.”

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