Catholic group paying off college loan debt for adults who want to be priests, nuns or monks

Unsplash/James Coleman
Unsplash/James Coleman

More Catholic college graduates can dedicate their lives to serving God because the Catholic Fund for Vocations will pay off their student loans, said the group’s executive director Mary Radford to The Christian Post.

To become priests, monks or nuns, Catholics take a vow of poverty, the Fund for Vocations website said. They give up their assets and stop earning money. Before taking the vow and joining a Catholic religious order, people must pay off all their debts. But many 20-something Catholics can’t quickly pay off large college loans and join an order.

“When a young person has this calling, that is the time they need to enter, not five years from now,” Radford said. “Each vocation story is unique and beautiful all by itself. They all feel called.”

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In the past 60 years, Catholic religious orders have declined in number. According to The New York Times, since 1965 the number of nuns decreased by nearly two-thirds and the average age of nuns has risen to 74.

The number of American priests has also decreased, from nearly 60,000 in 1970 to nearly 36,000 in 2019, according to figures from Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. If young people don't disrupt these trends and become monks, nuns or priests, the institutions are on track to disappear.

“I can’t speak to why the drop is. We all have our speculations. But I think it’s a combo of factors, including poor catechizing,” Radford said.

The decline of Catholic religious groups will harm society, Radford stressed. Monks, nuns and priests spend their entire lives helping the poor, praying, teaching and ministering to ignored people, she said.

“Almost all people, no matter their religious affiliation, appreciate and understand the role Catholic religious groups play within society. If Catholic religious groups disappear, they would be sorely missed,” she said.

People don't join these religious orders without careful thought, she added. Joining a Catholic religious order takes time. Before becoming a monk, nun or priest, people often spend years participating in the religious community to discern whether God wants them to join and vow to remain for their entire life.

During this discernment time, the Fund for Vocations pays the monthly college loans of those aspiring to join a Catholic religious order, Radford said. The donations almost all come from other Catholic believers. 

If people join and make their vows, the Fund for Vocations pays the remainder of their debt so they can enter the order. If they don’t join, they can leave without any financial obligation to the Fund for Vocations, Radford said. They only need to find out where they feel God calls them.

“We’ve had some of our recipients tell us they were glad we didn’t pay off their loans before they entered because they didn’t feel pressure to join the religious group,” she said.

The fund concentrates on providing for people who have no other way to enter ministry, Radford said.

“We consider ourselves the last mile. Our mission is to unlock vocations that would not otherwise happen,” she said.

Although fewer people join Catholic religious orders today than in the past, Radford said there’s been an increase in the number of young people joining recently.

“When I speak with vocations directors, some of them have more applicants than they can actually handle. I think this new generation, young people today are seeking truth,” she said. “They’re finding it, especially in the more orthodox Catholic communities. It gives us great hope.”

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