Catholic News Service photo
Father Steve Wolf helps newly ordained Father Anthony Mutuku change into his priestly vestments during the ordination Mass for nine men at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville July 26. This was the largest single priestly ordination in the history of the state.
Catholic News Service photo
Father Steve Wolf helps newly ordained Father Anthony Mutuku change into his priestly vestments during the ordination Mass for nine men at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville July 26. This was the largest single priestly ordination in the history of the state.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Diocese of Nashville this summer has  witnessed an explosion of vocations, with a record number of men being ordained to the priesthood and the permanent diaconate and the continuing growth of the Nashville congregation of Dominican sisters.

On July 26, nine men were ordained as priests for the diocese in the  Cathedral of the Incarnation. It was the largest class of new priests to be ordained in a single Mass in the diocese's 177-year history.

"It reflects the fact that the life of faith as we know it and live it in the Catholic Church is very much appreciated and very much desired by people," Nashville Bishop David R. Choby said. "The commitment of the faith reflected in the lives of these nine men is a reflection of that same commitment we find in the community."

He added, "With the kinds of challenges we face in the world, to have priests to help us face those challenges is particularly important."

This year's ordination is a high-water mark for the increase in vocations in recent years, a trend that is expected to continue.

Since being ordained and installed as Nashville's bishop in February 2006, Bishop Choby has ordained 20 men as priests, with at least one ordination every year. Last year, two new priests were ordained and after the ordination of nine this year, as many as six are scheduled to be ordained in 2015.

In that three-year period, the number of newly ordained priests will  increase by half the current number of active diocesan priests, Bishop Choby said.

And the diocese continues to receive men interested in the priesthood. Four new seminarians will begin studies in the fall, which will give the diocese, with about 79,800 registered Catholics, nearly 30 seminarians.

"Not too long ago it seemed, for whatever reason, vocations to the priesthood were drying up," Bishop Choby told the Tennessee Register, Nashville's diocesan newspaper. "Through God's grace and the intervention of the Holy Spirit, there seems to be a renewed interest in the priesthood, which speaks well for the future."

The influx of new priests will allow some of the older priests in the diocese to retire, Bishop Choby said, and it also will allow him to assign more priests to serve in some of the institutions in the diocese, such as high schools and hospitals.

The diocese's permanent diaconate also has seen an increase in numbers. In June, 29 men were ordained as permanent deacons, the largest class of deacons to be ordained in the diocese's history. Now the diocese has about 65 active deacons.

In assembling the class, the diocese was looking for men that could help expand several particular ministries, including Spanish speakers to help minister to a growing Hispanic community and men interested in hospital and prison ministry, said Deacon Ron Deal, director of the permanent diaconate for the diocese.

Deacon Juan Garza of Clarksville, located about 45 miles northwest of Nashville next to the Fort Campbell Army post, is one of eight new deacons who speak Spanish.

The diocese has an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 Hispanics with only a handful of bilingual priests, Deacon Garza said. "I'm sure the priests are relieved to get the help from the new deacons," he said. "We're blessed to help the diocese grow. It's growing and it's going to continue to grow."

It's not only the number of clergy that is growing. The Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation, whose members have called Nashville home since 1860, this year will have about 300 members, the highest number ever. Beginning in the mid-1980s, the congregation has been steadily growing and has more than doubled its numbers in the three decades since.

Late July was a busy time for the Dominicans. On July 25, five sisters  made their final profession of vows; on July 27, 13 sisters renewed their vows and 17 postulants received the Dominican habit and began their novitiate; and on July 28, 12 sisters made their first profession of vows.

Twenty new postulants will join the community Aug. 15.

"As always, we thank God for his grace at work within these sisters, for the gift of their religious vocations, and for his blessings on this community," said Sister Marian Sartain, one of the Nashville Dominicans.

"It says a lot about young people that they want to give themselves," Sister Marian said. "They respond to a life of joy and love for the Lord. A lot of communities are seeing that. ... It's a beautiful thing to see right now. There's a real springtime in the church."

The sisters are happy to be part of the surge in vocations to religious life the diocese is seeing, Sister Marian said.

"It's a great time to be part of the diocese," she said. "The witness of the priesthood and consecrated life and married vocation strengthen one another. It's not about just numbers. It's about faith and the desire to give and be faithful."

The Nashville Dominicans, whose primary charism is teaching, are serve in 23 dioceses around the world, including in the United States, Canada, Australia, Italy and Scotland. And the sisters are planning to open a house in The Netherlands later this year, Sister Marian said.

"We're trying to be where the Lord calls us to be and see what he has in mind," Sister Marian said.

And across the board, the new priests, deacons and religious sisters are increasingly more culturally diverse -- an asset for church ministry in middle Tennessee, as the Nashville becomes more diverse.

In recent decades, the diocese has seen an influx of Catholics from around the world, including Central and South America, Vietnam, Korea, the Philippines, Egypt, other African countries and Haiti among others.

"Diversity is a strength, an expression of the richness of the life of the church," Bishop Choby said. "This kind of diversity concretely reflects the catholicity of the church."