A shortage of priests is affecting the Catholic Church in Vermont, and confusion in the visa process isn’t helping.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington needs priests. Four priests are here under religious worker visas, and those can’t be renewed. The loss will affect parishes in Putney, Troy, Grand Isle County, West Rutland and Proctor.
“All four of them hope to come back,” Bishop Christopher Coyne said. “None of them wanted to go home.”
Three are from the Philippines and one is from Nigeria. Bishop Coyne said the church tried to help apply for green cards but the process took longer than they expected.
“They were a little disappointed because we dropped the ball in getting their applications done in a timely fashion,” Coyne said.
Coyne said the diocese relies on a certain number of priests.
“We set it up so that if we have 40 active priests in Vermont,” Bishop Christopher Coyne said. “We can cover what we need to cover, our churches, we can cover our institutions.”
One priest is retiring and the other is transfering, which will leave some parishes without a priest for at least a year. The loss will affect parishes in Putney, Troy, Grand Isle County, West Rutland and Proctor.
Another challenge for the diocese is the dwindling number of practicing Catholics in the state. “We are seeing a demographic shift and seeing less and less people in the churches,” Coyne said.
Sister Laura Della Santa with the Sisters of Mercy said there is still a need for people like her because of their presence in the community.
“Service to the poor, to educate, to visit the sick, and the imprisoned, and helping those in need,” Sister Laura said.
She believes sisters can offer faith, especially given the times we are in now.
“Otherwise it would be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel and believe and support each other,” Sister Laura said.