The Irish Catholic Church in 1958 – A Statistical Overview

Seminarians strolling at All Hallow's College, Dublin, ca. 1955.

Seminarians strolling outside All Hallow’s College, Dublin, ca. 1955.

In January of this year, I posted a paper by Dr. Jeremiah Newman from 1958 on Priestly Vocations in Ireland. At that Conference in Vienna where he read the paper, he also gave a statistical supplement, which is posted below:

A. Priests and People in Ireland (Statistics from Irish Catholic Directory).

1. Total Catholic population of all Ireland: 3,257,400.

2. Total number of priests in Ireland (1956): 5,489.

3. Proportion of priests to people: 1 priest for every 593 Catholics.

4. Numbers of diocesan clergy and religious in Ireland:

                        1920       1940       1950       1956

Diocesan          3081        3354        3563        3772

Religious          754          1024        1481        1717

B. General Indications of Vocation (Priestly) Trend in Ireland.

1. Diocesan Clergy ordained — Totals for decades and averages per annum:

                             1920-30         1931-40         1941-50
Total                          926                  957                 857
Average per annum    92                    95                   98

2. Priests ordained in Ireland for English-speaking areas — U.S.A., England, etc. (Statistics from Irish Catholic Directory):

                               1921-30        1931-40        1941-50
Total                         797                835                874
Average per annum    79                83                   87

3. Departures (for the first time) of Irish priests to territories under Propaganda (Statistics from Pagan Missions):

                                 1935                  1950               1956
Total                          66                      185                   161

4. Total number of ordinations to the priesthood in Ireland during the year 1957 (Statistics from Irish Catholic Directory): 334.

5. Number of seminarians per 100,000 Catholics (Statistics from Herder Korrespondenz, May 1955):

Germany – 14

Holland – 18

Italy – 20

France – 22

U.S.A. – 26

Ireland – 75

6. Percentage of those who persevere to ordination (figures supplied by the proper authorities): 60%. With some Orders the figure is higher, being based on the novitiate.

C. General Statistics for Irish Overseas Mission Work.

1. It is impossible to get complete statistics. The number of Irish priests working abroad is unknown. We have as yet no Central Bureau of Ecclesiastical Statistics in Ireland. In addition, there are the added difficulties that some Irish priests working abroad are listed only according to the Diocese or Province of the Order to which they belong, while no figures are available for those Societies which have no foundations in Ireland but which recruit men there for their missions.

2. Non-Pagan Missions:

(a) Ireland’s missionary activities began amongst non-pagan, and English-speaking, peoples. For over a century, six major seminaries here have turned out a constant stream of diocesan priests for these areas. Example: St. Patrick’s College, Carlow, which, between 1920-1956 sent out priests as follows:

U.S.A. – 334

Gt. Britain – 274

Australia – 131

N. Zealand – 16

S. Africa – 10

France – 2

(b) Total number of priests ordained in Ireland for English-speaking areas, such as U.S.A., England, etc., between 1911-1950. (Statistics from Irish Catholic Directory): 2506.

3. Pagan Missions:

(a) At the beginning of the century Ireland’s missionary efforts amongst pagan peoples were carried on mainly by the Irish Provinces of the Society of African Missions and the Holy Ghost Fathers. At present these societies have respectively about 400 and 600 priests in the mission field.

(b) Two new Societies for missionary priests have been founded since 1918:

St. Columban’s Foreign Mission Society (1918) – 700 priests
St. Patrick’s Foreign Mission Society (1932) – 180 priests

(c) Other Orders have smaller numbers of priests on the missions.

(d) Total number of Irish priests in territory under Propaganda, excluding the Philippine Islands and English-speaking areas like Australia, etc. (Statistics from Catholic Missions):

 1931         1939         1955

  385            627           2162

4. Total number of Irish priests working overseas. The figure quoted by World Mission is one priest on the missions for every priest at home. This would make the number about 5,000.

D. Cost of educating students for the priesthood in Irish Religious Houses and Seminaries, during philosophy and theology courses. (Figures supplied by the proper authorities):

Capuchins – £1,000 for entire course (figures for some years ago).

Oblates – £1,500.

Passionists – £250 per annum (no separate accounts kept for students).

Redemptorists – £150 per annum.

St. Patrick’s Foreign Mission Society – £98 per annum (no separate accounts kept for students).

St. Columban’s Foreign Mission Society – £150 per annum.

Maynooth College – £150 per annum. This figure does not include the cost of books, clothes, travel and the many other necessary personal expenses of every student. According to a recent survey, about £900, on the average, is contributed by his parents towards the total cost of a student’s education while in Maynooth College.

Note: In the compilation of these statistics I have been greatly helped by Very Rev. T. Connolly, Superior, and Rev. Joseph McGlade, both of Saint Columban’s Foreign Mission Society.

See also: Priestly Vocations in Ireland (1958), Priests and People in Ireland (1957) and The Catholic Church in Contemporary Ireland (1931).


Posted on April 12, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Thanks for these statistics. When I entered the Columbans in 1961 I could not have even remotely imagined the colossal loss of faith in Ireland within less than 50 years.

  2. What is extraordinary is that many seminarians paid for their own formation and then set off around the World almost never to return.

    I see no way back from this in the short term and in one sense Ireland is now lost. Innately conservative societies like the USA and the UK will retain a remnant but the faith is disappearing from Soctland and the North of England for example.

    We have had successive generations of clerics and clericalised laity who refuse to admit there is a problem. In some cases, the self-loathing gives way to mini celebrations every time news of our stock falling lower is announced.

  3. This is great information. I do have great faith on Catholicism and go to church regularly and its great to read blogs like this which gives you detailed information about church history its very interesting to read Thanks for sharing it.

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