Last year was also a good year for the Irish Catholic Church with a total of 28 young men beginning their studies for the priesthood.
This Saturday, 19 seminarians will begin their priesthood studies in St Patrick’s College, Maynooth.
The new intake of students will bring the total number of students in the national seminary to 75, compared to 63 last year.
President of St Patrick’s, Mons Dermot Farrell, said the continuing growth in the number of men studying for the priesthood was good news for Catholic communities because it guaranteed the continuation of “that sacramental life which is at the heart of the Church.”
And, he said, the last days of Pope John Paul II would help increase the number of people wanting to join the priesthood in the future.
The death of the Pope John Paul II had created an opportunity for people to listen again to what he had said during his life.
The Catholic Church’s vocations director in Ireland, Fr Kevin Doran, said two seminarians would begin their studies at the Pontifical Irish College in Rome.
And, he said, another student had been accepted by Bishop Jim Moriarty for placement in Kildare.
He also pointed out that the overall figure did not include new seminarians entering St Malachy’s College in Belfast.
Fr Doran said 19 young men began studying for the priesthood in 2003, and 20 in 2002.
“There has been a downward trend in the number of men studying for the priesthood for about 20 years. Last year was the first significant move in the opposite direction,” he said.
He expected that around two-thirds of the 22 young men would complete the seven-year course and enter the priesthood.
But the number of Catholic ordinations each year remains low. There were 15 vocations in 2003 and just seven in 2002.
The number of ordinations at St Patrick’s College last year was eight and while there were nine ordinations there in 2003.
Latest statistics published by the Catholic Communications Office show there are 1,368 parishes with 2,949 working priests.
Director of communications, Martin Long, said the number of priests globally was increasing, a situation that would see more priests from other countries coming to work in Ireland, either short or long term.
“Their role in the Irish Catholic Church will increase in the future, especially with the growing number of migrant Catholic groups coming to live in Ireland,” he said.