Like many aspects of life, the formation and education of seminarians has gotten significantly more expensive in the past five to ten years. By the time a diocesan seminarian has completed the nearly decade long journey to the priesthood, he will have incurred more than $300,000 in education and living expenses. Most of that bill is paid by the Diocese.
“It has to do with the cost of living and the cost of education,” says Mary Gautier, Senior Research Associate at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University, which has studied the cost of seminarian education. “The dollar figure goes up every year.”
Promoting vocations to the priesthood remains a top priority of the Diocese as it has one of the lowest ratios of priest-to-parishioner in the nation. All of the proceeds from the 15th Annual Bishop’s Dinner, which takes place this year on April 26, will go toward education of Diocesan seminarians – which has been the case for the past four years. Last year the dinner raised more than $600,000.
“It’s a true blessing to have these 40 young men preparing to serve our diocese as priests,” says Theresa Montminy, who serves as Director of Mission Advancement for the Diocese and coordinates the Bishop’s Dinner. “Those who are choosing to support Bishop Barnes by attending the dinner are also making a vital contribution to our seminarians and to vocations in the Diocese. We are grateful for their support.”
A diocesan seminarian begins with a period of discernment at Blessed Junipero Serra House of Formation in Grand Terrace. While there, his living expenses are paid by the Diocese. Seminarians are required to earn an undergraduate degree before they begin their studies in theology. During that phase, the Diocese pays for the seminarian’s room and board, but he is responsible for paying his own college tuition. When he reaches the seminary for his final four years of academic studies the Diocese pays room and board as well as tuition.
The Diocese currently sends its seminarians to St. John Seminary in Camarillo, Assumption Seminary in San Antonio, Texas or St. Joseph Seminary in Chicago. During that period, the annual education, living and transportation expenses of one seminarian reach $43,000.
Father Jose Sanz, rector of Serra House, says the Bishop’s Dinner and regular donations from groups like the Knights of Columbus, the Serra Club and private benefactors cover only about 10 percent of the annual seminarian costs. The rest comes from the diocesan budget, which Fr. Sanz says is not a sustainable path.
“There will come a moment when there is a limit in what the Bishop can afford,” said Fr. Sanz, noting that thus far Bishop Barnes has put no limits on the seminarian program due to finances. “It’s urgent that we move in the direction of creating an endowment.
“The idea is to create an extraordinary fund and live from there.”
The Diocese has more seminarians than most California Dioceses but is still only ordaining enough priests to simply replace those that retire and are eventually called home to God. Meanwhile, the population of lay Catholics here continues to skyrocket, making the Diocese the nation’s fifth largest.
To address the small priest-to-parishioner ratio, Sanz says he would like to see each new class of seminarians double in size. He’s grateful for the contributions made through the Bishop’s Dinner but adds, “it’s the major thing that we have but it’s not enough.”