Roman Catholic Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, is the only diocese in the United States to place in the Top 20 for the ratio of ordinands to population in every survey conducted from 1993-2012. Despite having a Catholic population of only 97,000, the Lincoln diocese ordained 22 men from 2010-2012. Only seven diocese in the entire country ordained more. One of those, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles (with a Catholic population over 4.2 million) ordained 34 men during those same three years. In other words, L.A. only ordained four more men per year on average despite having a population 44X greater than Lincoln.
Bishop James Conley recently noted that, with this year’s class, the
diocese will have ordained 17 men to the priesthood in a 24 month span
of time; unheard of in this day and age. As of 2012 the diocese had a total of 150 priests serving 134 parishes. There is no permanent diaconate program in Lincoln. There are, however, installed acolytes and lectors constituted of lay men. There are also 33 Catholic schools, including 6 high schools. One of
those high schools, St. Pius X, produced 18 of the 48 men enrolled at
St. Gregory the Great Seminary in 2014. It’s also interesting to note that 96 percent of students attending diocesan schools are Catholic. Many of the schools are staffed by female religious, of which the
Diocese of Lincoln boasts 141 sisters from 14 different orders. Many
have priests teaching high school theology and often serving as
principals as well.
So what does Lincoln, Nebraska, do that other dioceses might emulate? They have had a succession of conservative bishops who have provided remarkable consistency in the direction of the diocese. They have been slow to implement the so-called reforms of Vatican II (some have suggested that Vatican II seems to have missed Lincoln entirely!). The chancel is a male only domain. There are no female altar servers and altar servers and lectors are trained and installed in a formal program of preparation and license. Worship is very friendly to tradition and to reverence. Roman Catholic schools are a high priority and a very successful part of the parish program of the diocese.
Coming from Nebraska, I can attest to the high number of religious vocations from other churches as well as Rome but I am impressed that in a time when people are lamenting the lack of seminarians, this Roman Catholic diocese has bucked the trend (actually, several of them) and enjoys a robust commitment to and support of religious vocations.