The numbers are in: almost 600 Catholic men will be ordained priests for the U.S. in 2015, an increase of more than 100 from last year. Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Raleigh, N.C. said April 7 that the increase in ordination numbers is “encouraging.” The bishop, who heads the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, noted that those to be ordained cited positive influences like “very high” support from their family, parish priests and Catholic schools. The 595 men to be ordained in 2015 is an increase of 25 percent from 2014, when 477 men were ordained to the priesthood. In 2013, 497 men were ordained Catholic priests, the U.S. bishops’ conference reports. A survey from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, based at Georgetown University, received responses from 411 of the men: 317 prospective ordinands for 120 different dioceses as well as 94 ordinands who are vowed religious. The median age of the priests-to-be is 31, a slight decrease from past years. Respondents to the survey said they first began to consider a vocation to the priesthood at the age of 17 and received encouragement to pursue a vocation from an average of four people. Most said a parish priest encouraged them, while under half said friends, parishioners, and mothers had encouraged them in their vocations. Most have been Catholic since infancy, though seven percent were converts. Eighty-four percent said both of their parents were Catholic, while about 37 percent said they had a relative who is a priest or vowed religious. Half attended Catholic elementary schools. They were somewhat more likely than other Catholics to have attended a Catholic high school and were much more likely to have attended a Catholic college than other U.S. Catholics. Almost 80 percent had been an altar server, while half had served as a lector. Seventy percent said they prayed the rosary regularly before they entered seminary, while a similar number said they participated in Eucharistic adoration before entering the seminary. Almost 70 percent identified their race as Caucasian, European American or White. Fourteen percent identified as Hispanic or Latino, while 10 percent said they were of Asian or Pacific Islander background. About 60 percent of 2015 ordinands had completed college before entering seminary. Father W. Shawn McKnight, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, voiced concern about new seminarians’ student loan debt. About 26 percent had educational debt when they entered seminary, averaging $22,500. “Considering the high percentage of the men ordained already having earned an undergraduate degree, it will be important to find ways to assist in debt reduction in the future,” Fr. McKnight said.