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Despite challenges to the Catholic Church, future NJ priest enthusiastic about priesthood

Deena Yellin
North Jersey Record

Growing up in East Windsor, New Jersey, William Clingerman wasn't always planning to become a Catholic priest.

The idea hit him during his freshman year of college.

"I went back to confession after a long time of not going and remember feeling very much at peace," recalled the 25-year-old. "I said I would love to be able to do this for other people."

Now he is halfway through the six-year seminary program at Mount Saint Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland. It's a decision he doesn't regret. "These have been the best years of my life," he said about the seminary experience.

Amid a major decline of American priests, there's a pressing need for more devoted men like Clingerman to heed the call to the priesthood.

The number of graduate-level seminarians nationwide has decreased from 6,602 in 1970 to 3,553 in 2018, and the number of priestly ordinations in America, for dioceses and religious orders, has fallen from 805 in 1970 to 518 in 2018, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, based at Georgetown University.

The Rev. Mauricio Tabera Vasquez, director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Metuchin, is hoping to see more people like Clingerman, who "have a desire for something more radical than the empty promises of happiness the world offers. They are seeking the best way in their lives to come and help others to do the same."

Like any other call or vocation in the world, he said, "The call to the priesthood includes joyful satisfaction and also challenges and sufferings to be endured."

Donna Klinger, a spokeswoman for Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg, Maryland, which includes one of the largest seminaries in the country, said their enrollment numbers have remained steady in recent years, ranging from 137 in 2009 to 155 in 2018. "We are projecting 160-165 seminarians for next year," she said.

Sometimes Clingerman meets people who are surprised to find out about his career plans. But most people he encounters are encouraging. "If anything, that's an affirmation that it's where I am meant to be," said Clingerman, who will be a priest for the Trenton diocese.

It saddens him that there is so little understanding of the priesthood.

"If there was more discussion of what it is, and it was advertised and people had better understanding, they would be more inclined to enter," he said.

As for all the terrible accusations against priests in the news, he points out that "just because someone is accused, doesn't mean it's credible," and if one bad priest "did do something wrong, it doesn't make the entire priesthood corrupt."

Experts say that the prohibition against married priests is one of the main deterrents to men who might otherwise consider the priesthood. But Clingerman quickly dismisses that notion. Once a man enters the priesthood, he said, he automatically gains a family.

"Wherever you go, people call you father," he said. "When you are ordained you are getting hundreds of spiritual children that you are responsible for. You share the most intimate moments of peoples' lives with them from the moment they are born until they die.

"With that understanding, I do think it's a beautiful thing."

Deena Yellin
North Jersey Record