By BISHOP JOEL M. KONZEN, S.M. | Published November 11, 2022 | En Español
There is good news here in the Archdiocese of Atlanta in the realm of priests and religious orders. As a Georgia Bulletin story will indicate, we face a declining number of priests as compared to a growing Catholic population, but we are managing that circumstance better than many dioceses, chiefly because of the number of priests being ordained for the archdiocese and because of the increased number of religious order priests who are present in the Atlanta Archdiocese.
The ratio of priests to Catholics in the archdiocese has declined considerably in the last 25 years, owing especially to the large influx of Catholics during that time. One way, though, that we can see that our situation with the number of priests is better than many is the fact that we have almost no instances of clustered parishes (more than one under a single pastor), although we do have several parishes that have a mission church attached. In my home diocese in Ohio, parishes have been clustered for 30 years or more.
The Archdiocese of Atlanta has been blessed with strong numbers of seminarians for decades, and that has resulted in generally steady numbers of priests ordained each year. Priests do continue to depart the priesthood, however, and we know that the projection for retirements will add strain to the provision of priests for our large Catholic population in the years to come. We are feeling some of the pressure in staffing that the church throughout the United States is feeling.
As I referenced earlier, one of the brighter spots is the increased number of priests being sent by religious orders already present in the archdiocese and also by orders coming for the first time or after an absence. Archbishop (now Cardinal) Gregory regularly invited orders to send priests to the archdiocese, and Archbishop Hartmeyer continues to welcome orders of both men and women who seek to be part of the work of a thriving local church.
An example of the religious women who are among us for the first time are four Sisters Poor of Jesus Christ, who have taken up residence in Cedartown to assist in the work of St. Bernadette Church there. I was with them several days ago, while their Superior was visiting from Kansas City, and it was clear that already their work is having a significant impact on all of Cedartown as they reach out in meeting the spiritual and temporal needs of the residents.
Some of the groups coming into the archdiocese have plans for their ministry but need only housing. As you can guess, this is not something that is readily available. The archdiocese has never had a great supply of convents and residences for religious as have some of the older Catholic areas. Thus, it’s a challenge that we are looking to address: how to find or to convert for acceptable use adequate residences for the religious women and men coming to the archdiocese. A group of three sisters would come if we had housing and work for a third sister (two have been offered employment). Another order is seeking to send two sisters to minister in accompaniment with an African population northwest of Atlanta.
This is a problem that many dioceses do not have, because they have empty, previously used residences for religious. We, on the other hand, are confronted with the opposite challenge—providing housing that guarantees an acceptable community living situation. Admittedly, our situation is unusual in the national picture, but we appreciate the prayers of all in the archdiocese—prayers of thanksgiving for the religious and priests we do have and prayers that we might yet see more come our way and that we will meet the demand for their lodging and financial support.