Even amid reports of declining priestly vocations, The Saint Paul Seminary began the 2023-24 academic year with its largest seminarian enrollment in a decade.
Once again, over 1,000 future priests, deacons and lay leaders began formation at the seminary this fall.
The 129-year-old seminary on the banks of the Mississippi River at the University of St. Thomas began the semester with 100 seminarians, the most since 2013, from 16 different dioceses and religious orders. The group includes 37 new seminarians and 16 participants in the “propaedeutic stage,” a new year of formation before the rigors of formal academic formation begin.
“We’ve been blessed over the last number of years to see more bishops choose to send men to The Saint Paul Seminary, and we’ve seen in particular in this Archdiocese just a strong number of seminarians,” said seminary rector Father Joseph Taphorn. “We’re just very, very blessed … and excited about having a basically full house.”
Sixteen seminarians are scheduled to become Catholic priests in spring 2024, including 11 from the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.
“The chapel’s packed,” said seminarian Dominic Miller of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. “Guys are (jokingly) complaining about there not being enough room in the pews for Holy Hours and Mass, but it’s a good problem to have. “You can definitely feel the energy and the excitement in the men here. It gives me a lot of hope.”
A historic permanent diaconate ordination class
The Saint Paul Seminary is also the center of formation for 33 permanent deacon candidates, 18 of whom are set to be ordained Dec. 9 at the Cathedral of St. Paul, formed by the Institute for Diaconate Formation. This ties the largest deacon class in the history of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, a record that has stood since 1978.
“When you meet the men that God is calling to discern this … you’re like ‘these are the men that I need in the trenches next to me,’” said deacon candidate Bob Burns, a Navy civilian officer and reservist with a wife and four children.
Forming lay leaders
Beyond seminarians and deacon candidates, The Saint Paul Seminary helps shape the future of Catholic parish, school, corporate, and family lay leaders.
Approximately 900 individuals are currently enrolled in the seminary’s lay programs, including the Master of Arts in Pastoral Leadership, Master of Arts in Theology, Certificate in Catholic School Leadership, and various Catechetical Institute programs. These future leaders receive formation in the same dimensions – human, intellectual, spiritual and pastoral – as priests and deacon candidates, equipping them to serve the Church and their communities effectively.
“Most of the Church is laity … the Church would look very funny if it was just clergy,” Taphorn said. “That’s not what our Lord intended. What a gift to be able to form lay leaders … we’re very proud of that.”
A pivotal time in the Church
Despite reports of nationwide downward trends, The Saint Paul Seminary is one of several institutions with surging enrollments this year.
The U.S. Catholic Church continues to experience “a continuation of relatively slow long-term decline” in priestly vocations, according to data from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University released in June of this year.
But The Saint Paul Seminary is now near capacity for seminarian enrollment. Its 29% year-over-year growth (70 to 90 seminarians) in fall 2021 was the largest one-year increase since 1975.
“It’s really exciting to see all the guys … and share our experiences and go on mission together,” said seminarian Peter Romens of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. “In a couple years, I’ll know priests all over the country.”
Editor's Note: A version of this story originally ran on The Saint Paul Seminary website, which is located at the University of St. Thomas.