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Family Influence on Commitment To The Priesthood: A Study Of Altar Boys Nicholas R. Curcione Loyola Marymount University of Los Angrles Downloaded from socrel.oxfordjournals.org by guest on January 28, 2011 This paper examines a cohort ofaltar boys and attempts to determine structuralfactors that dis- tinguish between those likely to becomepriests and those not likely to do 50. Rather than pursuing a traditional framework, which a nalyzes organizational commitment in terms of social experi- ences encountered within an organizational role, a developmental approach is utilized. This perspectivefocuses on processesby which individuals are selected and socialized to the priesthood prior to actually entering the organization. The data indicate that uniformity offamily support is a key structuraljactor in diltinguishing the committed groupfrom the undecided and uncommit- ted. The priesthood is different from most other careers in that it is an ideological occupation 1 While providing an opportunity for the indi- vidual to meet his own needs for recognition and success, it demands commitment to a higher set of values which take precedence over one's own personal career advancernent.f In addition, the behavior required runs contrary to general cultural patterns in this society. For example, in the midst of increasing sexual freedom, focus on material gain, and rejec- tion of traditional authority, priests in many religious orders are required to practice celibacy, poverty, and obedience. By requiring members to take these vows, the order demands the denial of values which are secularly en- couraged. I n this respect, the priesthood is not only a highly distinctive occupation," it is perhaps the only occupation which demands such drastic 'For a general analysis of the ideological features of organizations see Etzioni's (1961) discussion of normative organizations. His treatment of the identitive power of such organizations is especially re- levant. 2In contrast, the secular organizations comprising our private enterprise system demand a commit- ment which is primarily based on the advancement of one's own career. However, in the priesthood, rewards, either in terms of simple increments in salary or promotions in rank are relatively infrequent, a fact which young aspirants are usually aware of well before they choose to enter. In this sense the decision to become a priest involves a motivation different from that in the choice of most secular careers. "Furthermore, the priesthood differs from other service oriented professions such as medicine and social work in that a priest is not exempted from tasks that would be defined as unbecoming to these professions. For example, as Cressey (1972:454) points out, the status of professional implies a position of high rank involving little or no dirty work. Doctors are not expected to carry bedpans and social 265 266 SOCIOLOGICAL ANALYSIS denial of dominant social values. Therefore, it poses this interesting prob- lem: how can a profession like the priesthood maintain commitment when this commitment necessitates relinquishing a large share of the society's major values? The question was explored in a study of the social processes relevant to the decision to enter the priesthood (Curcione , 1970). The aim of this paper is to focus on one phase of the larger study, the altar boy role and its relationship to the decision to become a priest. The focus on altar boys is important for a number of reasons. First, it was found (Curcione, 1970) that altar boys are recruited in disproportionate numbers to the seminary and eventually to the priesthood. Ninety-two percent of the Minor seminarians and 88 percent of the Major seminarians Downloaded from socrel.oxfordjournals.org by guest on January 28, 2011 were altar boys prior to entering the seminary. In addition, surveys on the social background of priests (Brooks, 1965) have indicated that as many as 90 percent of those sampled had been altar boys. Secondly, the altar boy role is a prototype of the priest's role. The distin- guishing feature of the former is assisting the priest at Mass. Rarely does a neophyte participate so directly in an activity which constitutes the single most important function of the position he may eventually occupy. Rather than restricting this analysis to the traditional framework which focuses primarily on the process of organizational commitment in terms of social experiences encountered within the organization itself, this paper utilizes an alternative approach.' The analysis proceeds from a develop- mental perspective which views the process of organizational commitment as a function of the social experiences encountered prior to actually enter- ing an organization. This shifts the focus of attention to the very earliest social influences pertinent to the decision to embark upon a religious career. Analysis through such a perspective is aided by the conceptual formula- tions of Becker and Geer (1960), Becker et at. (1961) and Merton et at. (1957) since they all emphasize the notion of stages. Utilizing Becker and Ceer's (1960:309) terms, the social experiences of altar boys are concep- tualized as the group's latent culture. These are collective understandings among group members derived from cultures other than that of the group in which they are currently participating. Accordingly, the altar boy ex- workers are not expected to carry food baskets to the poor. But similar kinds of activity are not defined as compromising the dignity of the priesthood. "The perspective which analyzes career commitment in terms of structural factors indigenous to the organization has been utilized in a variety of settings such as religious orders (Vollmer, 1957), law firms (Smigel, 1964), the police (Niederhoffer, 1969), and research scientists (Marcson, 1960). In a more general theoretical framework, this perspective is exemplified in the Barnard-Simon theory of organi- zation equilibrium (Barnard, 193R: 139-160; Simon, 1957: 110-22) and Homans' theory of distributive justice (Homans, 1961: 51-R2). FAMILY INFLUENCE ON COMMITMENT TO THE PRIESTHOOD 267 perience , in large part, constitutes the latent culture of a majority of priests. Despite the fact that Becker et at. (1961) found the latent culture of student physicians relatively unimportant as socializing agents for a medi- cal career, their study does suggest the importance of focusing on stages of career preparation since these were significant in the development of perspectives regarding their future career. Merton et at. (1957) also examined the career decisions of medical stu- dents and found the sequence of career decisions to be largely contingent on the reactions of others with whom the individual is socially related. Mer- ton suggests that this social process has a profound effect on both the sta- bility of the career decision and the degree of satisfaction with it. Following this argument, it is important to study the altar boy experience because it is Downloaded from socrel.oxfordjournals.org by guest on January 28, 2011 the first stage in a series of career decisions for many priests. These studies imply that family influences may be as important as organizational experi- ences in generating career commitment. Studies of the social background of student priests (Bowdern, 1936; Carthagena Study, 1955; Kenney, 1954; McCarrick, 1960; Jaeckels, 1959; and Fichter, 1958) suggest that minimally there are three pre-condtions necessary for becoming a priest: being born of Catholic parents; having parents who are closely involved with the local church; and becoming an altar boy. These factors are summarized in figure 1. FIGURE 1 SOCIAL PROCESSES GENERATING STRENGTHENED COMMITMENT TO THE PRIESTHOOD 3 4 5 Parents are Close contact Interest in and Altar boy devout Catholics( ) with clergy ----+ favorable toward+-----+ experience I ~l~ the priesthood + 2 6 Child is encouraged to Peer Group pursue the priesthood This model portrays conditions necessary for beginning a career in the priesthood. Starting with the family, highly religious parents encourage a positive attitude towards their son's considering becoming a priest, (1 and 2), because it is part of the value system of Catholicism to encourage one's children to pursue a religious vocation (Thomas, )951). High parental religiosity is closely related to the degree of contact with the clergy (l and 3); the more religious the parents, the greater their fre- quency of interaction with the clergy, and vice versa. However, there exists a reciprocal association between parental attitude concerning the possibil- ity of their son's becoming a priest and the degree of interaction with clergy (l and 3). Parents who want their sons to become priests strive to establish close social ties with the clergy. And the clergy will seek to main- 268 SOCIOLOGICAL ANALYSIS tain close ties with such a family since this presents a direct opportunity for vocational recruitment. A reciprocal relationship also pertains between the child's encourage- ment to pursue the priesthood and the interest and favorable perception he develops toward this role (2 and 4). The more the child is encouraged to pursue this career, the greater his interest, and the greater his interest, the more he is encouraged." In addition, when the child is encouraged by his parents, the clergy will, in turn, try to further this encouragement, and this necessitates social contacts with the child (3 and 2). If the child's family and the local clergy are successful in generating an interest in the child to pursue the priesthood, the first step in the child's Downloaded from socrel.oxfordjournals.org by guest on January 28, 2011 career preparation will be that of becoming an altar boy (4 and 5). At this juncture, a reciprocal relationship exists between the child's altar boy ex- periences and his interest in and conception of the priesthood. The family encourages this decision and the child becomes an altar boy. As a result, he develops a greater interest and a more favorable orientation toward the priesthood. In addition, since altar boy activities bring altar boys together, and thereby reduce the amount of interaction with non-altar boys, an altar boy peer group develops and a religious orientation emerges which is unique to this position (5 and 6). And since many altar boys are defined as good prospects for the priesthood by their parents and the local clergy, the set of peer group perspectives that develop concerning this career rein- force the child's favorable orientation to the priesthood. But all altar boys are obviously not alike, and the problem remains to distinguish between those who are likely to become priests and those who are not. This paper will focus on two central considerations: first, the at- titude of the altar boy toward a religious career; and secondly, his percep- tion of the degree of family support for his pursuit of a career as a priest. Research Procedures The sample included the total altar boy population (N =78) in grades five through eight from a Catholic elementary school located in a middle class suburb of Los Angeles." The statistical methods utilized were gamma and the chi square test of significance. i To determine what differences, if any, exist between altar boys who are differentially disposed toward such a career, the population was tri- 'Of course, there is perhaps some optimum level of parental encouragement associated with the child's interest in and conception of the priest's role. The child may feel he is being pushed if his par- ents are over-zealous in their encouragement. "Using respondent's reports of father's occupation grouped according to the Duncan scale, 71 per- cent of the boys' fathers have middle class occupations. There was no significant difference in this re- spect between altar boys and a control group of their non-altar boy classmates. 'Since the altar boys are a total population and not a sample. tbe use of chi square is open to debate. However, lacking any other criteria for deciding what relationships were significant or relevant, it was felt that a test of significance could be helpful. FAMILY INFLUENCE ON COMMITMENT TO THE PRIESTHOOD 269 chotomized according to their responses on an item measuring their at- titude toward the possibility of their becoming priests. Altar boys who indi- cated that they would definitely like to pursue such a career were classified as committed (n = 12).8 Those who were not sure were labelled as unde- cided (n=38), and those who definitely did not want to become priests were classified as uncommitted (n=28). Since a number of studies (summarized in Brooks, 1965) have found that student priests tend to differ from boys opting for secular careers in terms of their general religious orientation and families' religiosity, it was hypothesized that differences in these areas might also differentiate the committed, undecided and uncommitted groups. Consequently, these Downloaded from socrel.oxfordjournals.org by guest on January 28, 2011 groups were compared with each other on items measuring their percep- tion of family religiosity and attitude toward the possibility of their becom- ing priests and the respondent's religious orientation. Family Religiosity An indication of the extent of the parents' involvement with the local church is family religiosity. Since it was not possible directly to sample the parents of altar boys, the latter's responses to certain items were used to measure parental religiosity. A more objective measure could have been obtained if the parents were interviewed directly. Nevertheless, as far as parental influence is concerned in the decision to pursue a religious voca- tion, the altar boy's perception of his family's religiosity may be more re- levant than the parents' actual behavior. A religiosity index was constructed from items measuring the perceived frequency with which parents attended church and received communion, the number of parish organizations the parents belonged to, and the fre- quency with which their homes were visited by the local clergy. The four items measuring the perceived frequency of parental church attendance and reception of communion were assigned ranks of 5 through 1 in order of decreasing involvement. The number of parish organizations parents belonged to were assigned ranks of 3 through 1, and the dichotomous re- sponses indicating whether or not clergy frequently visited the home were ranked as 2 and 1 respectively. High family religiosity was defined as an index score of 17 or more; low religiosity as a score of 16 or less. To explore further the factor of family influence in the decision to become a priest, the altar boy cohort was dichotomized according to their perception of their parents' disposition toward the possibility of their becoming priests." One 'In reference to the relatively small size of this committed group and the issue which may be raised concerning the extent to which onc may draw gcneralizations, two factors should he takcn into consid- eration. First of all, the consistent magnitude of the differences on a variety of measures, and secondly, the fact that the sample as a whole incorporated the entire altar boy population. "It is interesting to note the breakdown of the altar boy's perception of his parent's disposition con- cerning the possibility of his becoming a priest. Out of a total of seventy-seven altar boys, twont v-two 270 SOCIOLOGICAL ANALYSIS group consisted of 31 altar boys who perceived one or both parents as being in favor of his becoming a priest, while the second group comprised 46 altar boys who perceived neither parent as favorable. Career Choice Preferred by Parents Two items were used to measure the altar boy's perception of his par- ents' preference for his future occupation. They were asked to select what they considered to be the preferred career choices of both their mother and father. These categories were dichotomized into choices for the priesthood versus preferences for non-religious careers. Religious Orientation Downloaded from socrel.oxfordjournals.org by guest on January 28, 2011 The respondent's religious orientation was conceptualized as the extent to which he manifested preferences for selected religious activities and personages that are generally defined as being highly compatible with the traditional demands that are imposed upon those who aspire to the priest- hood. Two indicators were used to measure this orientation. The first set of measures consisted of seven items that asked the respondent to choose between serving Mass or engaging in some "secular" activity generally deemed desirable by boys of their age group. Choices for "secular" ac- tivities were ranked 1, and choices for serving Mass were ranked 2. A high preference for serving Mass was defined as a score of 12 or above; a low preference as 11 or less. The second set of measures consisted of eleven items where the respondents were asked to choose a famous person whom they most admired. These people were evenly matched between "reli- gious" and "secular" figures. Similarly, "secular" choices were ranked 1, "religious"choices ranked 2. A high preference for "religious" figures con- sisted of a score of 18 or more; a low preference as a score of 17 or less. Career Conception In addition to comparing these two groups on items measuring their religious orientation they were compared with respect to their career commitment. While this dimension is similar to the attribute of religious orientation, it differs in the respect that it attempts to measure in a more direct fashion, the extent to which the respondent manifests an inclination to pursue the career of priest. Three sets of items were devised to tap this dimension. The first set consisted of eight items designed to measure the respondent's evaluation of the altar boy role. Since this role involves many perceived their mothers as being favorahly disposed toward the possihility of their hecoming a priest in cases where their fathers expressed other preferences. Conversely, there is only one case where an altar hoy perceived his father as being favorahle toward the possihility of his becoming a priest in a situation where his mother was not. FAMILY INFLUENCE ON COMMITMENT TO THE PRIESTHOOD 271 of the activities and symbolic referents that are incorporated in the priest's role, the altar boy has the unique opportunity to get an inside look at much of what priest-work entails. Consequently, it was reasoned that altar boys who negatively evaluated the altar boy role, would not be likely candidates for the priesthood. The categories were ranked 3, 2, and I, according to the degree to which a favorable evaluation of the role was expressed. A high evaluation of the altar boy role was defined as a score of 19 or above, a low evaluation as 18 and below. The second set of measures comprised ten items designed to reflect the respondent's evaluation of the priest'S role. They were assigned the same numerical ranks as the items above. A high evaluation of the priest'S role is Downloaded from socrel.oxfordjournals.org by guest on January 28, 2011 designated as a score of 23 and above, a low evaluation as 22 and below. The third measure was intended to determine the respondent's disposi- tion toward the possibility of choosing a religious vocation and consisted of one item which simply asked how he felt about such a career. Findings The large gamma value in Table 1 indicates a statistically significant dif- ference in the family religiosity among the three groups. Compared to those boys who perceive their parents as being not very religious, over five times as many of those who do perceive their families as highly religious express commitment to the priesthood. TABLE 1. ALTAR BOY ORIENTATION TO PRIESTHOOD BY FAMILY RELIGIOSITY. .Family religiosity index Orientation to priesthood committed undecided* not committed Total high 27.0 73.0 0.0 100.0 (10) (27) (0) (37) low 5.1 23.1 71.8 100.0 (2) (9) (28) (39) n = 76 Gamma = .90 X 2 = 42.34 df = 2 p<.OOl *2 respondents failed to answer the question. Whether or not these data accurately portray parental religiosity, the fact that a much greater percentage of those who perceive their families as highly religious are committed to, or at least undecided about the priest- hood, suggests that a religious home atmosphere is conducive to generat- ing a desire to pursue the priesthood. The data in Tables 2 and 3 pertain- ing to the respondent's perception of his family's attitude concerning his pursuit of a career in the priesthood provide some evidence for this. The large gamma values indicate that a majority of those who perceive their 272 SOCIOLOGICAL ANALYSIS TABLE 2. ALTAR BOY ORIENTATION TO PRIESTHOOD AND PERCEPTION OF MOTHER'S PREFERRED CAREER CHOICE. Perception of mother's career choice Orientation to priesthood committed undecided not committed Total career of priest 30.0 56.7 13.3 100.0 (9) (17) (4) (30) non-religious career 6.3 43.6 50.0 100.0 (3) (21) (24) (48) n = 78 Downloaded from socrel.oxfordjournals.org by guest on January 28, 2011 Gamma = .69 X2 = 14.43 df = 2 p <.001 2 X corrected for continuity = 12.43 p <.01 TABLE 3. ALTAR BOY ORIENTATION TO PRIESTHOOD AND PERCEPTION OF FATHER'S PREFERRED CAREER CHOICE. Perception of father's career choice Orientation to priesthood committed undecided* not committed Total career of priest 60.0 30.0 10.0 100.0 (6) (3) (1) (10) non-religious career 9.4 48.4 42.2 100.0 (6) (31) (27) (64) n = 74 2=16.70 Gamma=.77 X df=2 p<.OOl 2 X corrected for continuity = 13.86 p <.001 *4 respondents failed to answer the question. parents as favoring their pursuit of the priesthood are either committed or undecided about this career. Assuming these perceptions accurately reflect parental attitudes on this matter, we may tentatively conclude that the parents of the committed group are providing their sons with a distinctly different social climate in which to develop their future career commitments. This may also be a partial explanation as to why committed altar boys more often report their homes being visited frequently by the local clergy (this is one of the seven items in the index of parental religiosity). If the parents of the former group are more favorably disposed toward the possibility of their son becoming a priest, presumably they will be more receptive to visits by the clergy than parents who are not so favorably disposed. Since parents may recognize that such informal visits by clergy involve a subtle process of FAMILY INFLUENCE ON COMMITMENT TO THE PRIESTHOOD 273 TABLE 4. ALTAR BOY ORIENTATION TO PRIESTHOOD AND DEGREE OF PREFERENCE FOR SERVING MASS. Index of preferences for serving mass Orientation to priesthood committed undecided not committed Total high preference 31.3 53.1 15.6 100.0 (10) (17) (5) (32) low preference 4.4 45.7 50.0 100.0 (2) (21) (23) (46) n = 78 Downloaded from socrel.oxfordjournals.org by guest on January 28, 2011 Gamma = .70 X2 = 15.30 df= 2 p<.OOI X 2 corrected for continuity = 13.32 p<.OI vocational recruitment, parents who do not favor their son pursuing such a career may not be as receptive to these visits as parents who are favorably disposed. In effect, then, parents who are favorably disposed offer the clergy a more hospitable atmosphere than the latter group. In addition, the clergy perceive visits to such homes as useful for vocational recruiting. Finally, the two sets of indicators dealing with the respondent's religious orientation support the expectation that the committed, undecided and uncommitted altar boys will exhibit important differences in this area. On the first set of items that asked respondents to choose between serv- ing Mass or engaging in other secular activities, a greater percentage of those expressing a strong preference for serving Mass were among the committed group. The large gamma value in Table 4 indicates the mag- nitude of these differences. For the second set of measures where the re- spondent was asked to choose between famous "religious" and "secular" personages, those who chose "religious" figures were more often boys in the committed and undecided groups. As indicated by the large gamma TABLE 5. ALTAR BOY ORIENTATION TO PRIESTHOOD AND DEGREE OF PREFERENCE FOR RELIGIOUS PERSONAGES. Index of preferences for religious personages Orientation to priesthood committed undecided* not committed* Total high preference 28.6 51.4 20.0 100.0 (10) (18) (7) (35) low preference 5.0 47.5 48.8 100.0 (2) (19) (20) (41) n = 76 Gamma = .61 x 2 = 11.25 df= 2 p<.OI *1 respondent failed to answer the question. 274 SOCIOLOGICAL ANALYSIS value in Table 5, a significantly greater number of those who chose "secu- lar" personages were the uncommitted. Family Influence As previously mentioned, to analyze further the role of parental influ- ence in the decision to become a priest, the altar boy cohort was dichotomized according to their perception of their parents' disposition toward the possibility of their pursuing this career. These two groups were compared on items measuring their career conception and religious orien- tation, with the expectation that altar boys who perceive their parents as favorably inclined toward the possibility of their pursuing the priesthood will exhibit a more "religious" career conception and self-conception than Downloaded from socrel.oxfordjournals.org by guest on January 28, 2011 altar boys who do not perceive their parents as being favorable in this re- spect. In Table 6, the magnitude of gamma indicates that altar boys who per- ceive their families as being favorable to the possibility of their becoming priests, express a more positive evaluation of the altar boy role than those TABLE 6. PERCEPTION OF FAMILY DISPOSITION TOWARD POSSIBILITY OF BECOMING A PRIEST AND EVALUATION OF ALTAR BOY ROLE. Perception of family disposition Evaluation of altar boy role high evaluation low evaluation Total family favorable 67.7 32.3 100.0 (21) (10) (31 ) family not favorable* 37.0 63.0 100.0 (17) (29) (46) n = 77 2 Gamma = .56 X = 7.01 df = 1 p <.01 * 1 respondent failed to answer the question. who do not perceive their parents as favorable to this career. In fact, the distribution of responses is practically reversed for the two groups. Ap- proximately two-thirds of the former group are favorably oriented to the altar boy role, compared to approximately two-thirds of the latter group who have a low evaluation of the role. In terms of a future career choice it would seem that an altar boy's evalu- ation of the priests's role would be an even more important indicator of future commitment to the priesthood than his evaluation of the altar boy role. The former position has a definite time boundary(in most cases one cannot be an altar boy after the eighth grade) but, as every Catholic school- boy is acutely aware, the priesthood is a lifetime vocation. Table 7 sum- marizes the findings of the altar boy's evaluation concerning this role. As the large gamma value indicates, altar boys who perceive their parents as FAMILY INFLUENCE ON COMMITMENT TO THE PRIESTHOOD 275 TABLE 7. PERCEPTION OF FAMILY DISPOSITION TOWARD POSSIBILITY OF BECOMING A PRIEST AND EVALUATION OF PRIEST'S ROLE. Perception of family disposition Evaluation of priest's role high evaluation low evaluation Total family favorable 83.9 16.1 100.0 (26) (5) (31) family not favorable* 26.1 73.9 100.0 (12) (34) (46) n = 77 2 Gamma = .87 X = 24.72 df = 1 p <.001 * 1 respondent failed to answer the question. Downloaded from socrel.oxfordjournals.org by guest on January 28, 2011 favorable to the priesthood have a much more positive conception of this role as compared to those altar boys who perceive their parents as object- ing to this career choice. The large gamma value in Table 8 indicates that a significantly greater proportion of the altar boys who view their parents as being in favor of their becoming priests express an inclination to actually become priests as compared to the latter group. These findings are consistent with those ob- served in the preceding analysis where the altar boy cohort was trichotomized into the committed, undecided and uncommitted groups. There it was determined that the committed group perceived their par- ents as being more favorable to the possibility of their becoming priests than either the undecided or uncommitted groups. Thus we are confronted with the following set of findings: Altar boys who think that they would like to become priests (the committed group), perceive their parents (especially the mother) as being favorable to this de- cision. In addition, altar boys who perceive their parents as favorable to their becoming priests, indicate that they would like to become priests or are at least undecided about it. The question arises as to whether these hays want to become priests because their parents want them to, or if they per- TABLE 8. PERCEPTION OF FAMILY DISPOSITION TOWARD POSSIBILITY OF BECOMING A PRIEST AND DECISION TO ADOPT PRIESTHOOD AS A CAREER. Perception of family disposition Decision to become a priest positive undecided negative Total family favorable 29.0 58.1 12.9 100.0 (9) (I8) (4) (31) family not favorable* 6.5 41.3 52.2 100.0 (3) (19) (24) (46) n = 77 2 Gamma = .70 X = 13.95 df = 2 p<.02 * 1 respondent failed to answer the question 276 SOCIOLOGICAL ANALYSIS ceive their parents as being favorable toward this career choice because they themselves have already made this decision and are desirous of having others (including themselves) perceive a compatibility between their career choice and the career their parents have chosen for them. Rogoff's (1957) study of the factors involved in the decision to study medicine seems to indicate that the former interpretation is the more valid explanation. Her data revealed that "the younger the age at deciding to study medicine, the greater the importance in the decision attributed by students to their fathers" (1957: 122). If, as Rogoff suggests, the father-son ties are generally closer in early adolescence than they are when the sons grow older, it is reasonable to expect that these family ties, and therefore family influence, would be even greater in the case of altar boys because Downloaded from socrel.oxfordjournals.org by guest on January 28, 2011 they are younger than Rogoffs prospective medical students. (Altar boys ranged in age from ten to fifteen). The other important difference with altar boys is that the major parental influence stems from the mother, not the father. In addition, this interpretation is also consistent with the finding on the index of parental religiosity where statistically significant differences were observed among the committed, undecided and uncommitted groups. On one of the items in the index, committed altar boys, in contrast to the unde- cided and uncommitted, more often reported that their homes were fre- quently visited by the local clergy. It appears unlikely that there would be frequent visits by the clergy if their parents were not receptive to such visits and therefore not favorably disposed toward the possibility of their son be- coming a priest. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that altar boys who express a de- sire to pursue the priesthood do so primarily because their parents, espe- cially their mothers, are favorably disposed toward this career choice. It appears unlikely that they would indicate that their parents are favorably inclined toward this career choice simply to create an impression of com- TABLE 9. PERCEPTION OF FAMILY DISPOSITION TOWARD POSSIBILITY OF BECOMING A PRIEST AND DEGREE OF PREFERENCE FOR RELIGIOUS PERSONAGES. Perception of family disposition Preference for religious personages high preference low preference Total family favorable 61.3 38.7 100.0 (19) (12) (31) family not favorable* 36.4 63.6 100.0 (16) (28) (44) n = 75 2 Gamma =.47 X = 4.53 df = 1 P <.05 *3 respondents failed to answer the question. FAMILY INFLUENCE ON COMMITMENT TO THE PRIESTHOOD 277 patibility between the career they have chosen and the one their parents would like them to pursue. The same two sets of items used to determine the religious orientation of the committed, undecided and uncommitted groups, are utilized for the two groups dichotomized in terms of their perception of their parents' disposition toward the possibility of their becoming priests. On the first set of items where the respondents are asked to choose be- tween "religious" and "secular" people, the moderate gamma value in Table 9 indicates that altar boys who perceive their parents as being in favor of their becoming priests choose a "religious" personage more often than altar boys who perceive their parents as being unfavorable to this Downloaded from socrel.oxfordjournals.org by guest on January 28, 2011 career. The large gamma value in Table 10 suggests that there is a strong rela- tionship between perceiving parental disposition as favorable to the priesthood and the decision to serve Mass rather than engage in other ac- tivities. Sixty-one percent of the former group consistently choose the op- tion of serving Mass as compared to only 26 percent of the latter group. TABLE 10. PERCEPTION OF FAMILY DISPOSITION TOWARD POSSIBILITY OF BECOMING A PRIEST AND DEGREE OF PREFERENCE FOR SERVING MASS. Perception of family dispos Preference for religious personages high preference low preference Total family favorable 61.3 38.7 100.0 (19) (12) (31 ) family not favorable* 26.1 73.9 100.0 (12) (34) (46) n = 77 2 Gamma =.64 X = 9.56 df = 1 p <.01 * 1 respondent failed to answer question. In general, then, our expectations concerning the effect of family influ- ence on the career conception and religious orientation of altar boys are supported. The findings indicate that altar boys who perceive their par- ents as being favorable to the idea of their becoming priests have a more positive evaluation of the altar boy role and the role of the priest and are more favorably disposed toward the possibility of pursuing a religious vocation compared to altar boys who do not perceive their parents as being favorably oriented to this career choice. Assuming, then, that the altar boys' perception of their parents' disposi- tion toward the possibility of their becoming priests is a fairly accurate representation of their parents' attitudes on this matter, we may conclude that the families of altar boys who express a desire for their sons to become priests are providing their sons with a social climate wherein the decision to pursue this career is fostered. 278 SOCIOLOGICAL ANALYSIS Discussion and Conclusion This paper sought to demonstrate the utility of a developmental per- spective in the study of organizational commitment by focusing on a cohort of altar boys and exploring the factors that distinguish between those likely to become priests and those who were not. The differentiating variables were the altar boy's attitude toward a religious career and the un- iformity of his family's support for the pursuit of this career. The findings indicated that altar boys who expressed a desire to pursue the priesthood and who had uniform family support manifested a career conception and religious orientation compatible with the present state of the priesthood. Family background and the altar boy experience itself constitute the areas Downloaded from socrel.oxfordjournals.org by guest on January 28, 2011 whereby commitment to the career is generated. The traditional ap- proach, which views the process of commitment to organizations as a func- tion of the organizational experiences to which the recruit is subject, would have focused primarily on the Minor and Major seminary experiences and thus would have overlooked these important structural inf1uences. A developmental approach to the study of the process by which com- mitment to organizations is generated would prove useful in a number of respects. First, it takes into account the dual process of selection and socialization, the end product of which is "some degree of fit between the demands of an organizational role and the personality system of the oc- cupant" (Scott, 1964:518). A developmental perspective, by focusing on the structure of social relations and the pre-organizational experiences that the recruit is subject to prior to actual entry into the organizational role, places emphasis on those characteristics acquired as a result of a par- ticular selection and socialization process geared to the specific organiza- tional role. Secondly, a developmental perspective may help to resolve the problem of the utility of the concept of latent culture. Becker and Geer (1960:309) proposed that solutions to group problems based on collective under- standings derived from prior cultural experiences could be utilized "only at the expense of breaking some very important group rule or threatening the unity and continued existence of the group." As a corollary to this they further proposed "that latent culture operates mostly in social contexts and with regard to problems that are not defined as critical for the group." Their study of the socialization of medical students provided the basis for this formulation. They found that despite the fact that students were being trained for a career in medicine, the crucial influences on their perspec- tives were not medical in nature. Instead, because of the day to day exigencies of medical school, the unique features of the student's role were decisive in shaping student perspectives. According to the authors, under conditions such as these, the operation oflatent culture is not forthcoming because it is not particularly relevant to the situation at hand. FAMILY INFLUENCE ON COMMITMENT TO THE PRIESTHOOD 279 However, because the latent culture of medical students was not utilized in situations defined as critical, it does not necessarily follow that in other career contexts it will also be relegated only to those problems considered trivial and not worthy of collective attention. Becker and Geer do not argue convincingly why latent culture could not be utilized as an adapta- tion to important group problems in settings other than those of medical schools. Their analysis is similar to most contemporary organizational theory which has generally looked at commitment only in the context of elite and prestigious secular organizations.!? As a result, the theorists have not bothered to deal with the question of recruitment and pre- organizational commitment. The present study differs from the latter perspective in that it is concerned with a different type of organization (in Downloaded from socrel.oxfordjournals.org by guest on January 28, 2011 terms of the kinds of demands it makes on its members) and therefore a different problem of commitment. Finally, a developmental perspective may prove useful in studying the process by which commitment is generated in other career contexts since an important characteristic of this approach is that it utilizes a comparative perspective on career development. It lcnds itself to an analysis of organi- zations in terms of their inter-relationships with other organizations. To name but a few the priesthood recruits from the ranks of seminaries, the military from military training schools, and law firms from law schools. It would be useful to compare these careers in terms of the following ques- tions: For which occupation is family influence strongest? Why? How does a priest's career pattern differ from each of these? Along what dirnen- sions? Research into these areas should prove useful in the development of a theory of career commitment. Such comparisons can also shed light on the nature of the special requirements of religious occupations. REFERENCES Barnard, Chester I. 1938. The functions of the Executive. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Becker, Howard S., and Blanche Geer. 1960. "Latent culture: A note on the theory of latent social roles." Administratioe Science Quarterly 5: 304-313. Becker, Howard'S., Everett C. Hughes, and Anselm L. Strauss. 1961. Boys in White. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Bowdern, Thomas S. 1936. A study of Vocations: An Investigation into the Environmental Factors of Vocations to the Priesthood and Religious Life in the United States from 1919 to 1929. Unpub- lished doctoral dissertation, St. Louis University, St. Louis. Brooks, Robert M. 1965. "Sociological dimensions of the seminary." 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