Fewer clergy teaching at colleges

When Susan Mountin, director of the Manresa Project, was a student at Marquette 30 years ago, she couldn't go very far without encountering a Jesuit.

"I must have had 10 or 15 Jesuits for classes when I went here," Mountin said.

But that's not the case now, at Marquette or at many other Jesuit institutions. Fewer Jesuits, or priests and nuns in general, teach at Jesuit universities than many years ago.

While exact numbers weren't available for the university, Mountin, who has taught at Marquette for many years, said there are fewer priests and nuns teaching at Marquette.

"It matches a decline in priests in the institutional Church," she said. She said 40 or 50 years ago, becoming a priest or nun meant education, which was not as easily obtained then as now.

"Now, Catholic young people can do anything they want," Mountin said.

At the University of San Francisco there are 18 priests and nuns teaching, according to Gary McDonald, director of media relations, down from 24 in 1994.

At Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, there are about 20 teaching priests and nuns, according to Sister Mary Beth Ingham, associate academic vice president and philosophy professor at the university. She said the university had once had Marymount Sisters, but no longer does. In addition, the number of Jesuits teaching had declined over the last several years.

The Rev. Charles Currie, president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, agreed people joining the clergy is on the decline and said the ideal of a permanent commitment, such as marriage or the religious life, isn't as strong as it was 40 years ago.

Still, there are students at Marquette who eventually join the religious life. Mountin, who has also worked as a campus minister, said in her time at Marquette, she has regularly spoken with students considering the religious life. Applications to the Jesuits, she said, have risen in the last few years.

However, Currie said the priest shortage would get worse before it got better, creating a challenge for Jesuit universities to help lay people understand and appreciate the Jesuit tradition.

For those who are called to religious and academic life, the work is rewarding, said the Rev. Walter Stohrer, a Jesuit and adjunct associate professor of philosophy who has been at Marquette for more than 30 years.

"I've been blessed very much," Stohrer said. "I realized I had a unique mission in my life that no one but me could accomplish."

The work of priesthood and professorship can be challenging.

The Rev. David Coffey, William J. Kelly Chair in Catholic Theology and a priest of the Archdiocese of Sydney, Australia, said while in Australia, he had tried to be pastor of a parish and maintain his studies.

"I don't think you can devote yourself as thoroughly to both," Coffey said.

Even now, without a parish, Coffey still finds himself extremely busy, he said.

The Rev. Joseph Mueller, assistant professor of theology, says that even with the demands of both academics and religion, he is very happy with his decision to be a Jesuit. He said his favorite part is that he "gets to talk about God all day — read about Him, think about Him, all day, especially when it helps someone else."

This article appeared in The Marquette Tribune on Feb. 17 2005.