Influx of African Priests, Nuns as US Clergy Numbers Drop

Influx of African Priests, Nuns as US Clergy Numbers Drop

( – We’ve heard about worker shortages around the country due to COVID-19, but there’s another type of shortage not many people talk about: clerics and nuns. From 1970 to 2020, the United States saw an approximate 60% drop in the number of priests while the number of sisters dropped by an astounding 75%. As a result, parishes around the country are shorthanded. Now, Catholic churches are turning to an unusual source to fill these vacancies: Africa.

Declining Numbers of Clerics and Nuns

There’s no single reason for the decline of these positions. Some speculate the requirements and process of ordination in the United States are too demanding, deterring would-be priests. In addition, fewer women are entering the convents, and the existing population of nuns is aging, most having joined back in the 1950s and 60s. But the need is real.

Turning to Africa

So why turn to Africa? As it turns out, Catholicism is exploding on the continent. Where it’s been slowly declining in the US, the opposite is true for Africa. Seminaries are full, and now, the priests are transferring to America to spread God’s word.

The Reverend Athanasius Chidi Abanulo, ordained in 1990, is one such priest. He’s made it his mission to reach as many people in the US as he can. He came here in 2003, moving from one post to another, including one in Alabama. Throughout his tenure, he’s developed a feel for how long he can deliver homilies while still entertaining those sitting in the pews. He also adapts to the community culture while mixing in some cultural stories from his homeland, hoping to spread the Nigerian spirit.

Nuns Relocating to the US, Too

It’s not just priests making the journey from Africa to the US; nuns are doing it as well. In 2004, Sister Maria Sheri Rukwishuro transferred from Zimbabwe to West Virginia to teach religious education in Catholic schools and to the public. At first, she was apprehensive, but she’s now a US citizen and loves her job and her students, saying, “It feels like home.”

The Catholic church has found creative ways to fill its vacancies rather than let the parishes go without vital positions such as a priest or nun. While the cultures may be different between the two continents, churchgoers and clerics alike can all come together in one primary purpose: serving the Lord.

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