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Finding your calling: Religious orders use social media to attract Millennial candidates

More Millennials are joining religious orders. (WKRC)

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - There is a critical need in the Catholic Church for more priests. Now, there are signs the situation is improving.

In 2010, 37 men were enrolled in Mount St. Mary's Seminary. In 2018, there will be about 100. Twenty-nine of them will be first-year seminarians and most of them are in their 20s.

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati began a social media marketing campaign in 2018, targeting men between the ages of 16 and 34. It's designed to help them recognize if they are being called to the priesthood, and now Millennials are confirming that God is calling online.

"God calls. God has always called," said Fr. Richard Goodin.

And now, more young people are answering.

"They're out there. We just need to make the connection," he said.

The Catholic Church, one of the oldest religious institutions in the world, is using modern methods to attract Millennials. Goodin recruits for the Franciscans. He branded his effort with the phrase "Become a Friar" and got busy on social media.

"Now this is where I've started putting my chips. Instagram works really well because it can bounce to Twitter and Facebook. Twitter's not the biggest currency for us because news space is shorter, but we're there. The Pope is there, and I am smart at times; when I can tag him in I do," Goodin said.

Videos on YouTube help people become familiar with friars.

"I spent the money to have good material. And who filmed it? Millennials. Who did the editing? Millennials. Because I wanted the same people producing it who are going to be the people watching it to make that connection," he said.

Goodin first heard the call in the eighth grade. He heard it again while studying to be a mechanical engineer. Now, he's helping others recognize if God is calling.

"If I can help someone become a Diocesan guy, a Dominican or a friar, all to the greater glory of God in my opinion," he said.

In 2017 in the United States, 524 men and women entered Catholic orders.

"So that is definitely growth. We haven't seen these numbers in a while," said Sister Marilyn Kerber, the director of the Office of Religious with the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

The Tri-State is also seeing this uptick. One of them is Sister Tracy Kemme. She writes about her experiences on becoming a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati on her blog, "Diary of a Sister in Training."

"God called and I couldn't say no. So, I live in Visitation House with three other sisters. We have a monthly dinner for young adults; we recently had our first discernment retreat. We had seven young adult women who are considering religious life," said Kemme. "We always say, discernment is choosing between good options. Just for me, this is the one that really set my heart on fire."

The image of many religious sisters has changed. They look like us now.

"I am a full-time registered dietitian at the Free Health Center. Women are involved in a variety of settings. Still some very many in health care and teaching but also social work, pastoral work in parishes, working with social justice issues," said Sister Annie Klapheke.

That includes protesting the treatment of immigrant detainees and getting arrested at a DACA protest.

"So you can bring whatever your passion is and be a sister. You can be yourself and you can be a sister," she said.

After decades of dwindling numbers, the increase of those answering God's call is an answer to a prayer.

Click here to learn how to become a friar.

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