More men becoming priests later in life, including in El Paso

Normally a trip home to El Paso from Pecos for the Rev. Fabian Marquez means trying to catch up on rest while visiting family.

But this past week was different as he was in town for the installation of Bishop Mark J. Seitz as bishop of the Catholic Diocese of El Paso.

Marquez was moved by Seitz's Mass, particularly when Seitz invited young people to pursue vocations in the church. Marquez said it was something he didn't hear from the church when he was a child.

If he had, his life might have changed sooner.

God was always calling him to the priesthood - he just ignored it, Marquez said after a recent Mass.

After high school, Marquez earned a bachelor's degree in communication and went on to teach in the San Elizario Independent School District for five years.

His career ambition propelled into a masters administration program, but at the age of 24, he suddenly stopped.

"I think it is always difficult to leave what you are use to, accustomed to and something you worked really hard at, to follow another path, especially that of the church," Marquez, 42, said.

Marquez is considered a "late-in-life" priest - a man who pursued another career first before becoming a priest.

Three of the five priests ordained in the El Paso diocese since 2004, including Marquez, are late-in-life priests.

As the shortage of priests continues across the globe, men like Marquez are stepping up to fill the gap.

"Many times you don't feel worthy," Marquez said of being called to the priesthood. "Many times you can't believe it's actually happening to you and that a regular guy is being called to serve the church as a priest."

At the age of 42, Father Marquez is celebrating his ninth year as a priest and preparing for the direction of the new El Paso bishop at his parish in Pecos.

"Priesthood is a wonderful journey," Marquez said.

And that journey brought him home for a 7:30 a.m. Mass for 30 nuns in a chapel tucked away in the Lower Valley.

He peppered the end of the Mass with some jokes that had many of the sisters laughing. And after the Mass was over, he posed for pictures with them, continuing to display his humor.

There were no signs Marquez needed any rest.

More information (from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops):

How does one prepare for ordination to the priesthood?

A man has to engage in a challenging program of priestly formation which lasts from five to thirteen years, depending upon his background and the seminary he attends. There are three levels of seminary: high school; college/pre-theology; and theology. In 1999-2000, over 700 students attended high school seminaries, 1,576 attended college seminaries and 3,474 were enrolled in theology schools.

Seminaries address four types of formation: human, spiritual, academic (intellectual) and pastoral. In addition to the academic course work, seminarians participate in a full schedule of spiritual activities, e.g., daily mass, Liturgy of the Hours (Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer), and spiritual direction and retreats. At each level of seminary training, the seminarian prepares for future pastoral ministry in various settings, such as schools, religious education programs, hospitals, prisons and parishes. All of the formation takes into consideration the human person; human growth and development is fostered by community living, workshops and other programs. The formation of future priests includes practical learning, too, for example, preaching, presiding at Mass and pastoral counseling.

Do priests take vows?

Priests who belong to a religious order (e.g., Dominicans, Benedictine, Franciscans, etc.) take the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Diocesan priests make two promises- celibacy and obedience; these promises are part of the ordination ceremony. It is also expected that diocesan priests will lead a life of simplicity consonant with the people they serve.

The Class of 2013: Survey of Ordinands to the Priesthood- A Report to the Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life &Vocations United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Major Findings

  • The average age of ordinands for the Class of 2013 is 35.5. The median age (midpoint of the distribution) is 32. Three-quarters of responding ordinands are between 23 and 39.
  • This distribution is slightly older than in 2012, but follows the pattern in recent years of average age at ordination in the mid-thirties.
  • On average, diocesan ordinands lived in the diocese or eparchy for which they will be ordained for 16 years before entering the seminary. Religious ordinands knew the
  • members of their religious institute an average of nine years before they entered the
  • seminary.

Background and Country of Origin

  • Two-thirds of responding ordinands (67 percent) report their primary race or ethnicity as Caucasian/European American/white. Compared to the adult Catholic population of the United States, ordinands are more likely to be of Asian or Pacific Islander background (10 percent of responding ordinands), but less likely to be Hispanic/Latino (15 percent of responding ordinands). Compared to diocesan ordinands, religious ordinands are less likely to report their race or ethnicity as Caucasian/European American/white.
  • Three in ten ordinands (31 percent) were born outside the United States, with the largest numbers coming from Mexico, Vietnam, Colombia, Poland, the Philippines, and Nigeria.
  • On average, responding ordinands who were born in another country have lived in the United States for 14 years. Between 20 and 30 percent of ordinands to diocesan priesthood for each of the last ten years were born outside of the United States.
  • Most ordinands have been Catholic since birth, although 9 percent became Catholic later in life. Eight in ten report that both of their parents are Catholic and a third (34 percent) have a relative who is a priest or a religious.
  • Almost all ordinands in the Class of 2013 (97 percent) have at least one sibling. Around half (52 percent) report having more than two siblings, while one in five (20 percent) have five or more siblings. Ordinands are most likely to be the oldest in their family (40 percent).

Education, Ministry, and Work Experience

  • Before entering the seminary, six in ten ordinands completed college (63 percent).
  • Almost one quarter (23 percent) entered the seminary with a graduate degree. Among those who completed college before entering the seminary, five in ten (46 percent) entered the seminary at the pre-theology level and 17 percent entered at the theology level. One in three (29 percent) report entering the seminary while in college.
  • The most common fields of study for ordinands before entering the seminary are theology or philosophy (23 percent), business (17 percent), and the liberal arts (16 percent).
  • About four in ten responding ordinands (42 percent) attended a Catholic elementary school, which is a rate equal to that for all Catholic adults in the United States.
  • In addition, ordinands are somewhat more likely than other U.S. Catholic adults to have attended a Catholic high school and they are much more likely to have attended a Catholic college (44 percent, compared to 7 percent among U.S. Catholic adults).
  • Just over a quarter (26 percent) carried educational debt at the time they entered the seminary, averaging a little over $20,000 in educational debt at entrance to the seminary.
  • More than six in ten ordinands (62 percent) report some type of full-time work experience prior to entering the seminary, most often in education or accounting, finance, or insurance. Four percent of responding ordinands report having served in the U.S. Armed Forces. About one in six ordinands (13 percent) report that one or both parents had a military career in the U.S. Armed Forces.
  • Ordinands of the Class of 2013 have been active in parish ministries, with two-thirds (67 percent) indicating they served as an altar server and about half (47 percent) participating in a parish youth group. One-fifth (20 percent) participated in a World Youth Day before entering the seminary.
  • Nearly seven in ten ordinands report regularly praying the Rosary (68 percent) and participating in Eucharistic Adoration (62 percent) before entering the seminary.

Vocational Discernment

  • On average, responding ordinands report that they were nearly 17 when they first considered a vocation to the priesthood. Two in three (67 percent) say they were encouraged to consider a vocation to the priesthood by a parish priest. Other frequent encouragers include friends (46 percent), parishioners (38 percent), and mothers (34 percent).
  • Almost half of responding ordinands (48 percent) indicated that they were discouraged from considering the priesthood by one or more persons. Most often, the person who discouraged them was a friend or classmate or a family member.

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