Books by Dean Hoge and his collaborators are like musicals by Stephen Sondheim or Andrew Lloyd Webber—a masterful and engrossing presentation of the material that leaves you wishing for more—and International Priests in America is no exception.
Hoge and his co-author, Aneidi Okure, set the stage with a wealth of information about who these priests are today, and they preface their work by proposing to address what they see as the two central issues of this topic: whether to bring in more international priests, and how this should be done. Since roughly one in six priests serving in the United States today is a foreign-born priest who started his ministry here in the last twenty years, these are topics of great importance for the Church in the U.S.
The second question—how to manage the growing number of international priests—is the real focus of the book, and it is addressed extremely well. Extensive coverage is given to understanding who these priests are and the methods of screening, selecting, training, and working with them. Data from surveys of international priests are enriched by interviews, not only with international priests, but also directors of acculturation programs, lay leaders, veteran pastors, vicars for priest personnel, and bishops. On this management topic, the authors conclude with a thoughtful list of recommendations.
On the first issue—whether to increase the use of international priests—the authors present the arguments but sidestep the question, leaving it to Virgilio Elizondo to propose an answer to it in his commentary. Elizondo also distinguishes between those who come to serve U.S. residents in general and those who come to serve members of their own recently arrived national or language groups, and he offers a number of useful suggestions for each group.
This study appears in a context that includes both a complex set of challenges faced by diocesan leaders and a number of other books on various categories of priests in the U.S. Dioceses are keenly aware of the limited number of priests available for a growing set of ministry demands, which is why the use of international priests is receiving increasing consideration.
Over the past decade, three other books have examined aspects of the U.S. presbyterate: Grace Under Pressure, a 1995 study of particularly effective priests; The First Five Years of the Priesthood, a 2002 study (by Hoge) of newly ordained priests; and Evolving Visions of the Priesthood, a 2003 study (by Hoge and Wenger) of changes in the American priesthood. This research by Hoge and Okure brings much-needed attention to this important group of priests.
Perhaps the greatest value of this book is that, in the context of these other books and the challenges that dioceses are facing, it offers the reader the opportunity to consider the universal character of the work of forming effective priests. Many of the proposals offered in this book—in areas such as communications skills, interpersonal skills, mentoring, and priest support—apply to all priests, native or international, young or old.
The shortcomings of the book are few. First, it would have been helpful to have a fuller examination of the challenges faced by parishioners whose pastoral care has been entrusted to these priests, particularly since portions of the commentaries are particularly critical of the people in the pews. Second, in future research, some comparative cross-tabulations (e.g., the subject group compared to all priests) would be useful. Finally, the plainspoken style can be deceptive by making it easy for the reader to accept statements that occasionally are conclusions rather than findings.
Recommended audiences for this book include numerous elements within the Catholic Church. In addition to bishops and diocesan staff who are responsible for priest formation, assignments, and evaluation, as well as planning and pastoral services, this book should be read by parish leaders and staff who work with or are about to receive an international priest. They will all gain valuable wisdom about how to enhance the ministry of these workers in the vineyard.