Number of trainee priests at record low in Maynooth's 222-year history

The number of new Irish trainees for the priesthood at Maynooth is understood to have dropped to a record low this year. Picture by John McElroy

THE number of trainees for the priesthood at Maynooth has dropped to a record low this year.

Just six first year seminarians are expected to be enrolled when classes resume later this month, according to figures obtained by The Irish Catholic.

The publication believes it is the lowest number on record in Maynooth's 222-year history.

Responses from 25 of Ireland's 26 dioceses show that while 15 men have begun studying for Irish dioceses this year, many will be doing in a so-called propaedeutic or preparatory year before in anticipation of starting in the seminary in 2018.

The drop in numbers at the national seminary follows the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin's decision to send its apprentice priests to the Irish College in Rome.

While the archbishop said he had "his own reasons" for the move it came amid growing unease over accusations of inappropriate behaviour among seminarians in Maynooth and claims some had been using the gay dating app Grindr.

A spokesperson told The Irish Catholic it expects to have new seminarians and will confirm numbers this week.

Also a factor is understood to be the presence of a number of mature students this year, who will be formed at the Pontifical Beda College in Rome which specialises in priestly training for older candidates.

However, 15 dioceses have no new students either entering seminary or participating in the preparatory year.

Killaloe diocese will send two new seminarians to Maynooth, while Tuam, Elphin, Kilmore and Cork and Ross diocese will send one student each.

Two students from Derry will complete their formation year in their home diocese and one Down and Connor student will begin his preparatory year at St Malachy’s College in Belfast.

One more will attend the Pontifical Irish College in Rome, two will attend the Beda there.

Last year a member of the Association of Catholic Priests warned Archbishop Martin's decision to transfer three seminarians to Rome could be extremely damaging to Maynooth.

Fr Brendan Hoban said it was "unfair" and said amid "consistent criticism" of St Patrick's College for being unorthodox or not traditional enough, the real issue of vocations was not being addressed.

Founded in 1795, Maynooth College was once the largest seminary in the world.

The drop in numbers at the national seminary follows the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin's decision to send its apprentice priests to the Irish College in Rome

It was built to train 500 Catholic priests every year but numbers have plummeted to around 60 in recent years.

Vocations had been expected to receive a boost following the ordination of former Manchester United footballer Philip Mulryne last year.

Fr Mulryne, who is reported to have once earned £600,000 a year as a professional footballer, returned to St Oliver Plunkett in Lenadoon in west Belfast for a special Mass just two days after he was ordained into the Dominican Order in Dublin.

He went to the Pontifical Irish College, in Rome to study theology for one year at the Gregorian University before entering the Dominican Novitiate House in Cork in 2012.

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