Why 1 in 10 new priests come from homeschooling families

Have you ever thought about what, exactly, a homeschool graduation entails? The only evidence I have is anecdotal, but it’s fresh: I attended one just last week. It was held in St Joseph’s Cathedral in Manchester, New Hampshire, with Bishop Peter Libasci celebrating.

The Baccalaureate Mass was more or less the entire ceremony, with the children’s choir (also comprised largely of homeschool kids) singing in Latin. When the Mass was finished, an official from Catholics United for Home Education handed out the diplomas. The graduates and their families retired to the parish hall for a potluck dinner, and – well, that was it.

With summer now in full swing, grad season is coming to a close. Many readers might feel sorry for the students. In America today, high school graduations rank second only to weddings in terms of pomp and circumstance. There are hours of speeches and distributing of awards before the diplomas make an appearance, followed by catered meals and (of course) cigars. To place the Mass at the centre of the ceremony might rub us up the wrong way. This is about them, after all – the students. It’s about celebrating their achievement. They’re about to begin the “next chapter in their lives” – that chintzy but ubiquitous phrase.

Yet the statistics suggest that faith-based homeschooling has a crucial role in producing vocations. Data from a 2017 survey by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (Cara) at Georgetown University shows that nearly one in 10 young men in formation for the priesthood in the US were homeschooled. That’s a staggering number, considering there is only one homeschooler for every 20 students in Catholic schools. Nor is this an essentially Catholic medium: 95 per cent of homeschoolers are Protestant.

Why the disparity? I asked Mary Ellen Barrett, a columnist for the Long Island Catholic and popular speaker on home education. “Homeschooling has been producing more vocations than brick-and-mortar schools because it affords parents the freedom to share their faith with their children in a very practical and down-to-earth way,” she told me. “Catholicism isn’t a Sunday thing for Catholic homeschooling families – it’s an all day, every day thing that includes devotions, prayers, service to the poor and political action. In that atmosphere, it’s much easier for young men and women to hear God’s call.”

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