BY CHRISTINA FARRELL
THE ARCHDIOCESE of Westminster has seen the largest intake for the priesthood in six years, according to figures released this week.
Allen Hall in Chelsea, the seminary for the diocese, announced that 14 new students will begin training for the priesthood this year. This is the largest number since 2000 and brings the total number of seminarians in Westminster to 37.
Eight of the new seminarians are students from the diocese and they range in age from 24 to 52. They come, from a variety of backgrounds, including IT, teaching and school chaplaincy. Five of the students are British, one is from Zimbabwe, one is American and one is from Poland.
The other new arrivals include seminarians training for the Diocese of Lancaster and the Order of St Augustine.
Fr Paul McGinn, the rector, said the new intake reflected a national increase in interest in Catholicism. "We are delighted that the number of students for the priesthood at Allen Hall is continuing to rise," he said.
"Recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in the Catholic Church as evidenced by the popularity of television programmes such as The Monastery."
He added: "Such positive publicity could well be encouraging more to see lifelong service in the priesthood as a possibility and giving them an opportunity to discuss with others what training for the priesthood entails."
The figures will be heartening to Cardinal Corrine Murphy-O'Connor, who has invested time and energy in promoting a diocesan-wide programme of spiritual direction and evangelisation through At Your Word, Lord. The programme has now come to an end but many of the small prayer groups that were established as a direct result of the initiative continue to meet. Record numbers of new Catholics were also received into the Church at Easter through the RCIA programme.
Fr Chris Vipers, an Anglican convert and now vocadons director for the diocese, said the signs were positive.
"I am very encouraged by the increasing numbers of men who are inquiring about the priesthood. For example, we already have 20 men due to attend our next occasional meeting for those interested in becoming priests, which will take place in November.
"Early in 2007, in the Diocese of Westminster, we will be starting more regular monthly 'seekers' meetings. These are intended to make it easier for men to find out more about what becoming a priest entails."