Is there a future priest in your parish?

A group of priests lays hands on a person being ordained a priest.
A priest is ordained in the Diocese of Toronto. The diocese is dedicating April 21 as Vocations Sunday, an intentional day of prayer for priestly vocations.
 on April 2, 2024

The Church needs priests.

This statement is not only an historic truth, but also describes our current situation.

One of the great privileges of my role is to be the first point of contact – or “intake interviewer” – when an aspirant for priestly ordination approaches the Diocese of Toronto to make application for postulancy. I have been doing this long enough to remember when I would meet with, on average, one candidate a week throughout the fall and winter seasons, leading up to the annual application deadline of March 1. It was always a difficult exercise for the Postulancy Committee to whittle down the 16-24 applicants per year to select 8-12 individuals to be postulants. For the past several years, the number of applications has dropped to single digits, and consequently the number of postulants, and therefore ordinations, has also declined.

The good news – and it is truly good news – is that our candidates for ordination continue to be faithful, bright, gifted and passionate for ministry. We are excited about the new clergy being raised up and the work that they are doing across our diocese. God is very good!

At the same time, bishops have started to speak publicly of a clergy shortage. Congregations struggle to find priestly coverage for their incumbents’ vacations or when ill. We can see in the bi-weekly Clergy in Motion e-bulletin that the listing of vacant parishes is stubbornly long, and parish selection committees express dismay that their “list” of applicant priests sometimes consists of only one or two names. The situation in Toronto is actually much better than in other parts of Canada, where many dioceses have perhaps only a few priests in total, each offering sacramental ministry to several parishes over a vast area.

This recognition of a need for more priests has led our Metropolitan, Archbishop Anne Germond, and the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario to prioritize vocations in 2024. Not only will it be the focus of the Provincial Synod gathering in Sault Ste Marie this fall, but we are also resurrecting the tradition of dedicating the Fourth Sunday of Easter, or Good Shepherd Sunday, April 21, as a Vocations Sunday, an intentional day of prayer for priestly vocations.

In anticipation of this, each diocese in the Province did a focused consultation: a meeting of priests from what we are calling “incubator parishes” – those places that are particularly good at identifying, encouraging and nurturing new vocations, or where the clergy themselves model the priesthood in a way that raises up aspirants. I was pleased to host such a conversation last fall, inviting priests from such disparate parishes as Church of the Redeemer, Bloor St. and St. Paul, L’Amoreaux, from Little Trinity to St. Thomas, Huron Street, and others further afield too – all places that seem to produce a high number of priestly vocations. What, I asked, are they doing right? And can it be emulated elsewhere?

The conversation was robust and resulted in some interesting common opinions and practices. I share their reflections here, and invite you to consider what you might do in your own parish to encourage those who might be feeling the call of God to a ministry of word and sacrament.

Strong lay leadership. While it might seem a dichotomy, it appears that those parishes with the strongest lay ministry tend to raise up the greatest number of priestly vocations. An awareness of everyone’s first call to baptismal ministry, coupled with opportunities to exercise giftedness, can lead to identifying prospective candidates for ordained ministry. It is often a layperson with such awareness who will first ask a fellow parishioner, “Have you ever considered becoming a priest?”

Youth ministry. Similarly, those parishes with robust youth engagement raise up future priests. This does not necessarily mean that there is a large and active youth group – although that helps! – but rather that the youth who are present, no matter how many or how few, are valued and active in the congregation. They are not just used as “labour” but are given visible roles of responsibility and care alongside adults, as servers, readers, greeters, committee members and decision-makers.

Inspiring role models. Almost every priest can name a cleric who inspired them to pursue ordination. Despite the many challenges of ordained ministry, those clergy who can earnestly and authentically speak of the joys of ordination and priestly ministry, who obviously enjoy their vocation and say so, will endorse the priesthood for those who might feel called to it. To all the clergy reading this piece, don’t be shy about sharing that you love your job!

Authentic faith. One priest described this as “being unembarrassed about Christ.” When a parish has a clear sense of Christian identity and belief, “where the gospel is core,” the call to the priesthood becomes clear. Some parish priests spoke of the Daily Office as an important part of illustrating this “whole life authenticity,” others spoke of the centrality of the Eucharist. Still others spoke of “inspiring truth-telling” in preaching and “limitless hope in Jesus Christ.” All spoke of the transformational power of the gospel and the need for parishes to be bold in proclaiming and living that truth. Where they do, people seemingly hear the call of God on their lives – loud and clear!

This April, as you continue to celebrate Easter with your church family, I wonder if you could look around at your fellow parishioners and pray that God will help you to identify possible future priests for our Church, and specifically our diocese. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in approaching and encouraging that person, in supporting them in their Christian journey and perhaps in engaging them in a conversation, when you might want to say, “I have seen some marvelous gifts in you, and I think you would make an excellent priest. Have you ever considered it?”

Even if you’re not comfortable doing this yourself, please do pray for the Church and with the Church this April as we pray to God for new vocations. You may want to use this prayer that was circulated by Archbishop Anne:


A Prayer for Vocations

God our hope, your risen Christ commissioned leaders to make disciples of all nations and baptize them to serve as a living testimony to his presence. Raise up in this Province vocations to holy orders, individuals who will love you with their whole hearts and gladly spend their lives making you known; Quicken wisdom in those charged with ministries of discernment or mentorship; and equip theological schools and faith communities in which vocations are encouraged and incubated, so your Church, devoting itself to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers, may live as a faithful sign and instrument of your Reign, drawing the world to the One who is Lamb, Gate, and Shepherd, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.


Keep on reading

Skip to content