by Murray White MORE than halt' of male university students who attend Mass regularly have considered becoming priests, new figures revealed this week.
Almost a third of male Catholic undergraduates are "still open to the idea" of ordination, according to research by the National Vocations Service of England and Wales. They are often prepared to approach dioceses and religious orders, and undertake retreats and prayer to test out and discuss the possibilities.
The findings are sure to be an encouragement to dioceses and orders concerned about falling vocations and, if reflected across the higher education world, will focus a spotlight on university chaplaincies as sources of priestly vocations.
Fr David Smith, National Vocations Director, said this week: "Clearly, there are a large number of students who are still very much open to the possibility of priesthood or who have not closed out the idea."
He remarked that there was a high correlation between those who were open to the idea of the ordained ministry and those who had been asked to consider such an option.
Six out of ten of respondents had the idea of priesthood suggested to them, mainly by priests, parents or friends, most while they were still at school.
Many indicated they had heard the idea at primary school or as altar boys, and had only considered it much later.
Fr Smith felt that this was a practice of prime importance. "The idea once implanted might go underground in the years of secondary or university but comes to a head sooner or later," he said.
Friendliness, dedication, and holiness are the main qualities that students find in their chaplains, the survey found.
Students look for approachability, prayerfulness and the ability to listen among priests.
Fr Smith has visited 18 university chaplaincies in the current academic year, collecting 1,084 replies from male students to his questionnaire on the religious life.
Fr Smith told the Catholic Herald he plans to compile replies from 1,022 female students.