In 2005 the Diocese of Little Rock, Arkansas, had 15 seminarians. Today it has 38. There were five ordinations in 2016, with six more projected for 2017 and eight in 2018 — a total of 19 new priests in three years.
Seminarians are not only from the state but also from Mexico, Nicaragua, Colombia and Haiti. Father Scott Friend, vocations director for the past 12 years, believes this ethnic diversity is a great asset.
Father Friend, who was Extension’s 2007 Lumen Christi Award recipient, is seeing a new generation of seminarians, representative of the growing diversity in the area. In his diocese, Catholics represent only 4 percent of the population so they need to be united in their faith. “People here have to fight for their parishes, which are constantly challenged,” he said. “Being in the minority can be a hostile environment for Catholics.”
The seminarians share a strong fraternal bond. Although scattered geographically during their formation, they frequently get together. The House of Formation in Little Rock is a residence for those discerning the priesthood. Built with a 2012 grant from Catholic Extension, the home is a visible reminder of the seminarians’ presence in the community. Besides the handful that live there, many others come to study and socialize.
Local Catholics have been hugely supportive of the seminarians. They attend a large annual fundraiser called Taste of Faith, sponsored by the seminarians, and several smaller events. “Promoting vocations promotes one’s own vocation,” Father Friend said. “It challenges parishioners to live their faith and strengthen their beliefs.”
Little Rock is experiencing a boom in diverse seminarians, and perhaps most noteworthy — the average age of active priests will soon be under 50 years, compared to the national average age of 63.