success stories

Posted May 23, 2003

Satisfaction in the Priesthood

These findings come from the study: Evolving Visions of the Priesthood: Changes from Vatican II to the Turn of the New Century by Dr. Dean R. Hoge and Jacqueline E. Wenger. For further information please e-mail Dr. Dean Hoge at hoge@cua.edu

Satisfactions in the priestly life were discussed at length in our interviews and focus groups. . . The quotes included here were chosen because they reflected the opinions of the majority of priests interviewed. . . .

A 37-year-old diocesan priest:

"The best part of my experiences has been a lot of the sacramental work. Saying Mass, hearing confessions. Confessions are wonderful. Being sacramentally present to the people, being priest for the people. Trying to be Christ present to them, that's always a good, wonderful thing. And to be able to point the way to God and say, "Look, this is the way we all need to go as spiritual people." And preaching too. That's all wonderful."

A 36-year-old diocesan priest:

"I love being a priest, wouldn't want to do anything else. I can't believe I ever did want to do anything else. What's good is the notable influence that you have on people's lives, and what's bad is the notable influence you can have on people's lives. One thing I've really learned is that people may have higher expectations of a priest as far as how someone is going to treat them than they would someone who is not a priest. They expect kindness from everyone, but they expect more kindness from a priest."

A 40-year-old diocesan priest:

"I remember hearing confessions for the first time. It was the most humbling thing, and realizing that you can never be prepared for someone to come in and bare their soul to you. I went in there like, "Yeah, I can't wait to do this. I'm going to sit in my confessional and I'll really help people." And when I walked out of there I thought, "I never want to go back into that booth, that confessional, again." I prayed over that. "Okay, God, give me the courage to what needs to be said. Give me the wisdom to speak your words." But it become a very humbling experience. And you can practice in the seminary as many times as you want, but when somebody truly comes in baring their soul, it's different. And that was probably the most difficult, ministry-wise, that I had to do. You just don't realize how people really come in and bare their soul to you."

Further Comment on Happiness

The survey asked several questions about happiness. First, we asked a standard question about happiness that has been used in dozens of polls over the past forty years: "Taking all things together, how would you say things are these days would you say you're very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?" The wording of the question and the responses are standard. This allows us to compare our results with other polls. The priests in our survey reported the same level of happiness, on average, as was reported during the 1996-2000 period by college-educated American men (Ages 30 to 79) overall.

Of the priests in our sample, 45% said they were "very happy," while the average of these American men in polls was 43%. If we limit the American sample to men ages 30 to 79 with a graduate degree, their level of "very happy" responses was about six percentage points higher than all men with a college degree or more. We conclude that priests have the same level of happiness and morale as other educated American men their age. If there was in fact a "morale crisis" in the priesthood in 2001 and we have heard this assertion many times the response of the priests certainly does not show it. Possible the situation has changed with the sex abuse crisis in 2002.

As mentioned, the question was asked in 1970, 1985, and 1993 as well as 2001. The percentage responding that they were "very happy" rose steadily, from 28% in 1970 to 39% in 1985, then 39% again in 1993, and finally 45% in 2001. The rise in the total samples was largely due to a large rise in happiness among younger priests 25-35 years-old and the 36-45 year-olds. Older priests also rose in their reported level of happiness, but only slightly. Whereas younger priests had lower happiness ratings in the earlier surveys, in 2001 there responses were the same as older priests.