A student walks in front of a school
A Lincoln Pius X student strolls into school in the early morning. Pius X has 16 priests and 2 religious sisters who teach in the school. Photo by John Zurcher/NNS

Catholics around the world continue to see rapid decline in vocations to the priesthood and religious life also referred to as nuns. According to Catholic World News, “Europe and the Americas saw the number of priests decline— in the case of Europe, somewhat dramatically, by 2,608. The number of women religious dropped by 11,562.”

There are priestly scandals and young adults who are beginning to no longer be interested in organized religion, as one-fifth of Americans are religiously unaffiliated, which is higher than at any time in modern U.S. history, according to NPR. There are churches in Europe that are essentially being turned into museums, offices and apartments.  The reasons come from a lack of attendance at church and a lack of care for the church as a whole.

As more people move away from the Catholic church, a pocket in Middle America is keeping steady their number of priests and religious sisters.

That pocket is the Diocese of Lincoln. This Diocese in Nebraska stretches from Falls City all the way to North Platte and includes around 95,000 Catholics. Compared to other dioceses in the country, the Diocese of Lincoln is small.  In the Archdiocese of Omaha there are 234,000 Catholics, and in the Diocese of Lincoln there are 95,000 Catholics. Even though the Diocese of Lincoln is half the size of the Archdiocese of Omaha, it has eight more seminarians.

Although it is smaller than most, the Diocese of Lincoln has many men who are studying to be priests, and many women who are in formation to be religious sisters.

Father Steve Mills, a priest in the diocese and the assistant principal at Lincoln Pius X, knows he is blessed to be a part of this diocese.

“When I look at the young men and women entering unique vocations,” Mills said. “I have hope for the next generation of leaders in our Catholic church.”

So why does such a small diocese have a large number of young adults entering religious life? Mike Davis, a Catholic in Lincoln said it starts in the schools.

“The Lincoln Diocese is one of the few dioceses in America that have their priests teaching in the Catholic schools at some point of their priesthood,” Davis said. “Boys are surrounded and taught by priests their whole lives and it makes an impact on them. Students grow up desiring priesthood in Lincoln.”

Not only are priests teaching in the six Catholic high schools in the diocese, but also Lincoln is home to two religious orders that have nuns teaching in the Lincoln Catholic elementary and high schools.

Overall, there are 64 priests and 36 nuns teaching in Lincoln.  Everyday, students are surrounded by religious priests and nuns. The students see what their lives are like in a small way.

“We want our students to become the best at whatever they are meant to do,” Mills said. “If they are meant to be husbands and wives, then we hope to help them prepare for that. If they are meant to be priests or sisters, then we also want to prepare them for that.”

Mills sees great hope. 

“There have been many people hurt by priests and it’s truly sad, especially for the victims,” Mills said. “I know however, that the next generation of priests and other religions can restore goodness into the lives of others and it starts in the schools.”

Last month, the Attorney General came out with more information identifying  there to be 250 victims of clerical abuse, while 57 clergy and diocesan employees were guilty of sexual misconduct.

Through all of this scandal in the Catholic church, members of the Diocese of Lincoln continue to see young people choose religious vocations.The schools are playing a deliberate role in the numbers. 

Senior Journalism student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln