By John Cooney
Eleven students are to be ordained priests this summer, a rise of nine from last year.
The figure is the highest to emerge from St Patrick's College, Maynooth in five years -- compared with nine for 2003, eight for 2004 and 2006, seven for 2005 and two for 2007.
The increase has been welcomed as a boost to Church morale in its current recruitment and publicity drive during a 'Year of Vocations' but it is still far short of numbers needed to off-set an ageing clergy.
Monsignor Hugh Connolly, the president of Maynooth, paid tribute to the generosity and commitment of the 11 new priests, saying their ordinations was a source of joy for the staff and some 67 students at different stages in their formation for the priesthood.
In spite of this slight upward trend, the numbers coming into the priesthood still fall far short of stemming a chronic decline in the overall total arising from deaths and retirement of an ageing priesthood.
Three of the new priests are from the Irish Church's biggest diocese, the Archdiocese of Dublin, which only three years ago faced the embarrassment of having no students ready to enter the priesthood.
Two of the other seven ordinands are for the diocese of Cloyne, and one each for Cork and Ross, Derry, Down and Connor, Elphin, Ferns and Dromore.
This means 20 of Ireland's 26 dioceses in the Republic and Northern Ireland will not have any new additions to their priestly ranks from Maynooth this year.
Latest figures for 2006 show there were 3,078 diocesan priests and 3,278 religious order priests.
However, other figures showed that 160 priests died last year, while only nine men were ordained.
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