Thursday December 15, 2005

The Future of the Church

More than 80 University of Dayton students are majoring in religious studies this year, reflecting a growing interest in lay ministry. The number of majors has doubled since 2003.

As parishes in the country increasingly rely on lay ecclesial ministry, there is some good news at the University of Dayton: strong growth in the number of students choosing to major in religious studies.

The department has more than doubled the number of religious studies majors in recent years. More than 80 UD students are majoring in religious studies this year, compared with only a few dozen in 2003, said Maureen Tilley, associate professor of religious studies.

"We are very happy to have more religious studies majors," she said. "It's very good for everybody if more people are knowledgeable about religion, and it's really good for the future of the church."

According to a new study conducted by the National Pastoral Life Center, lay ministers outnumber priests in parishes in the United States. The study found that nearly 31,000 paid lay ministers serve parishes in the United States. Additionally, more than 2,000 volunteers work in parish ministry at least 20 hours a week.

Enrollment at UD mirrors the national growth in the importance of lay ministry. Students preparing for ordained ministry, both Catholic and non-Catholic, account for 15 to 20 percent of majors, said Tilley. Others are enrolling for a variety of reasons.

"About half (of all majors) will say, 'I had a good experience in my youth group. I want to make sure that is available to the next generation,'" Tilley said. "Others want to teach in Catholic schools and universities. Some just find it fascinating. They could be in sociology or anthropology but are attracted to our department because we also offer world religions."

The increase "really bodes well for the future of Roman Catholicism in our country," she said. "Because most people are on a lay ministry track, it will not do much for the priest shortage, but it will greatly affect how leadership functions at the local level."

Contact Maureen Tilley at (937) 229-4564.