Today’s priests face the ever present demands of sacramental and pastoral ministry, combined with the necessity of ongoing spiritual and personal development, while simultaneously endeavoring to meet the management and leadership challenges of contemporary parish life. In this context, Dean Hoge’s latest research on American priests is timely and invaluable for leaders of dioceses, religious communities of priests, and seminaries.
This study, which replicates and expands upon similar ones conducted in 1970 and 1990, provides these priests’ assessment of their seminary formation, early mentoring, and ongoing training. The differences in these three surveys reveal changes both in the men who have been ordained and in their seminary preparation and subsequent experiences.
Hoge brings the clear-eyed perspective of an outsider who has a real appreciation for the Catholic Church. He never oversteps his bounds as a researcher, but leaves to others the task of drawing out the implications for decision-makers in seminaries and dioceses and religious orders. His use of comments from interviews with priests strengthens the perspectives and advice of survey respondents.
The second half of the book contains six commentaries that discuss the implications of this research and provide a range of recommendations for seminaries and for the priests’ dioceses or religious orders. Of these contributions, the extended reflections of Msgr. Jeremiah McCarthy and Sr. Terri Monroe are particularly enriching because they effectively link Hoge’s findings to research in related fields of study, producing new insights for readers.
Two additions to the book would have been helpful. First, a comparison of the findings from this survey with Hoge’s research on newly ordained priests from five years earlier (The First Five Years of the Priesthood: A Study of Newly Ordained Catholic Priests), showing how the priests in this cohort have changed after five additional years of experience, would have provided additional insight for readers.
Second, the commentaries did not include any assessment of whether the levels of positive and negative responses to the various survey questions are acceptable or unacceptable. It would be helpful to know whether our training and mentoring programs have any standards they are expected to meet. A comparison with the expectations in training for other professionals would also be informative.
Besides the audiences identified above, priests and other parish leaders should also consider reading this book. It offers a revealing look at these priests, which can be a starting point for learning about all of the people who are collaborating in ministry at the parish level, their attitudes, and their expectations of themselves and each other.
In summary, the subject matter is vitally important, the research is first rate, and the commentators are knowledgeable and articulate. This book combines the best of Hoge’s “straight talk” presentation style with commentary by a diverse panel of experts who offer keen insights, applications, and recommendations.