5,000 2,500

Topic Description



Background of the Study

Priesthood is one of the helping professions of the world. The Priesthood is simultaneously four things: it is a sacrament of the new law instituted by Christ, it is a state of life to which some men are called by a special vocation from God, it is an institution without which there would be no Christianity on earth today. And it is a ministry of the Catholic Church by which Christ continues his own Priestly work of saving and sanctifying the souls for whom he shed his blood on Calvary. A Priest according to Geddes & Grosset (2007) is a person authorized to perform sacred rites; an Anglican, Eastern orthodox or Roman Catholic clergyman ranking below a Bishop. Catholic priests belong to different congregations or organizations in Nigeria, such congregations include the Vincentians, the Holy Ghost, the Claretians (Religious) and the Diocesan congregations. It is generally acknowledged that the priesthood as a vocation is inherently stressful given the intensive people helping component of the work (Arumugam, 2003). There is little doubt that priesthood stress and burnout can be detrimental to the mental health and wellbeing of the Priests and other related social systems.

Burnout is a state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when one feels overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demand. Burnout according to Sarros & Densten (2011) is a maladaptive coping mechanism to working conditions that are stressful, demanding, or lacking sufficient challenge and recognition. Maslach and Leiter (2008) defined burnout as an emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and reduced personal accomplishment that can occur among individuals who do ‘people work’ of some kind. For Pines & Aronson (1988), burnout is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion caused by long term involvement in emotionally demanding situation. It is not just physical and external, but internal and emotionally exhausting. Pines and Aronson went further to describe it as ‘having a tired soul’. Burnout is a gradual process that occurs over an extended period of time. It does not happen overnight, but gradually happens if one is not paying attention to the warning signals. The signs and symptoms of burnout are subtle at first, but get worse as time goes on.

The physical signs and symptoms of burnout include; feeling tired and drained most of the time, lowered immunity, feeling sick a lot, frequent headaches, back pain, muscle aches and change in appetite or sleep habits. Emotional signs and symptoms of burnout includes; sense of failure and self-doubt, feeling helpless, trapped and defeated, detachment, feeling alone in the world, loss of motivation, increasing cynical and negative outlook, decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment. Behavioural signs and symptoms of burnout includes, withdrawing from responsibilities, isolating oneself from others, taking longer to get things done, using food, drug, or alcohol to cope, taking out  frustrations on others, skipping work or coming in late and leaving early (Frendenberger, 2011).         For the purpose of this study priestly burnout could be said to be a condition characterized by a depletion of energy at the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual levels. Priests in Abuja ecclesiastical province have enormous work at hand which includes:- family visitations, sick calls, marriage counselling, youth guidance, celebration of many Masses on Sundays, lengthy confessions and preaching the word of God, among others.

The priests in Abuja ecclesiastical province have enormous work at hand as apostolate. The population of the faithful is too large and a few Priests lead them in various Dioceses ( In fact, Hart in Arumugam (2003) noted that priests lack boundaries in their apostolic work. According to Hart, no priest can visit enough, pray enough, study enough, prepare sermon enough or be involved enough in social issues. No priest ever has a weekend off. He is always on call. Thus, it is always easy or normal for priest in Abuja ecclesiastical province to feel that his work is never finished and that he can always cope with the demands on his time, let alone catch up on backlog. It is hard for him to feel a sense of closure or completeness. The majority of the studies such as Arumugam (2003), Francis & Ruthledge (2004) in the field of clergy stress and burnout document the high cost to clergy, families and congregational systems. This means that when a priest is experiencing burnout, it affects the Priest, the family and the congregation. This high level burnout has been attributed to the Priest’s community life, his apostolate and organization of his profession.

Community life may be defined as the interpersonal relationship experienced among individuals that are living together for a common goal (Eggenberger, 1981).  It also refers to a system in which most properties are publicly owned and each person works for the common benefit. This could be either in the religious or secular life. Community life in the Roman Catholic Church according to Style (2010) refers to a common life embraced by a group of men or women that generally accept a rule of life that emphasizes humility and the renunciation of worldly goods and pleasures. In the context of this work therefore, community is a body of people having common organization or interest and living in the same place and under the same laws.

Just as there are different congregations in the Catholic Church, so are communities, where priests live together as one family. The Holy Ghost, the Claretians, the Vincentians, the Diocesans Priests have their communities scattered all over the province. Generally, the Christian concern for community life is two- fold: involvement in the historical-socio-cultural condition of man which is always communal, and the affirmation of the essential of incarnation through community as an incorporation of individuals into Christ (Eggenberger, 1981). For the purpose of this work, community life can be defined as a situation where by a group of people live together for a common goal and under the same law.

Some of the qualities of community life include the following; tolerance, solidarity, respect, love, sharing, forgiveness, prayer and conflict. Conflict was included in the list of what makes the basic qualities of community life because it is inevitable. Conflict is not meant to show that a community has degenerated; instead it shows that the members of that community are alive and are participating in the affairs of the community (De Mello 1997). Conflicts at any level if not resolved amicably through appropriate communication, dialogue and understanding can be a stressor to the members of the community which might lead to burnout. A good understanding of apostolate will however help to foster a proper integration of members in the life of the community, where everyone sees his role as essential in the realization of the common goal.

Apostolate generally means the work, the ministry that a religious person and his or her community do. It is stated that every activity of the mystical body which is intended to spread the kingdom of God is to be called by the name of “apostolate” (Flannery, 2001). The word Apostolate is used to refer to the condition and office of the messenger than to his action (Klostermann, 1967). Thus apostolate simply means work and in this study is the work done by the Priests even those within the geographic focus of this work. For the purpose of this work, apostolate can be defined as the work which the Priest or a religious person does for the propagation of faith. The Priests here, in their apostolic work of sanctifying the world are vulnerable to burnout. The apostolate of each congregation rests on the vision of its founder.

The major apostolate of the congregation of the mission or Vincentian priests center on reaching out to the poor, formation of priests, educating the youth and preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. Thus the congregation of the mission has as her motto “pauperibus misit me” (I am sent to preach the good news to the poor) (Muller, 1984). The Vincentian priests founded in 1625 by St. Vincent de Paul go to the interior and very backward communities to share with them the gospel of Christ in order to live out the spirit of the founder. St. Anthony Claret who founded the Claretian priests 1849; primarily prepare them for the youth ministry and propagation and devotion to the immaculate heart of Mary. Claretian priests understanding this challenge of their founder, dispose themselves to go to any part of the world where they are needed. They are therefore called servant of the world. In other to reach the youths, they involve themselves in school apostolate, pastoral work and youth ministry. Rev Frs. Francis Liebermann and Poullart des Places, founded the Holy Ghost congregation of priests in 1703. They have as the chief apostolate, the pastoral ministry or pastoral care. In other to live out this vision of their founder, the Holy Ghost priests prepare themselves to carry out their pastoral ministry to even the most difficult places. To care for the faithful holistically, they involve themselves even in school missions and hospitals (Okpaleke 2002). Such commitment of priests could lead to stress.  When high aspirations are not matched by high achievement, stress is inevitable and this is the type that breads burnout (Boyd 1982). Often the priest takes full responsibility for failure in any of the many areas that his job involves and this may be caused by improper organization of his apostolate which in turn is a fertile ground for burnout in his ministry.

Organization is seen in terms of arrangement, configuration, design, format, composition, constitutions, make-up, pattern, and structure. Catholic priesthood has a kind of organization, which is called religious congregation. Each congregation has its own organizational structure. The organizational structure of the Vincentian priests includes the Superior General and his Council, the Provincial Superior and his Council, then the Local Superior. The Holy Ghost priests have their organizational structure as follows: the Superior General and Council, the Provincial superior and Council, the Local Superior. The Claretian priests have their structure as follows; the Superior General and his Council, the Provincial Superior and his Council and the Local Superior. The Diocesan organizational structure includes: the Bishop, his vicar and the consultors. As can be seen from these structures some have short organogram, for easy flow of communication while some others have longer organogram. Such longer organograms make communication flow somehow difficult for priest in distress. For example, a priest in the diocese who has a conflict with a colleague in the community may find it difficult to get the conflict resolved earlier because the major Superior who is the Bishop of the diocese may be hard to reach easily. The long process involved in resolving the conflict is such that the Bishop has to reach his consultors first before taking decision on resolving the issues, whereas those with short organogram such as the religious, the local Superior is always at hand to listen and dialogue with the confreres in distress; identify the problem and resolve the issue amicably without reaching the major Superior. This therefore entails that if a priest in distress is given immediate attention, he will be freed from his worries which might lead to burnout.

Commitment has become one of the most important factors influencing burnout in modern day occupational settings (Marmaya, Zawawi, Hitam and Jody, 2010). Organizational commitment is an emotional connection to particular organization. It is the identification which means the internalization of the organizations goals and commitment.

Thus, the organization referred to in this study is the church, her religious institutions and the administrative structures. Unlike every other organization secular / religious, organization can be a fertile ground for burnout of priests. This drain is especially true today with so much demand for health and human service workers. Work is assigned to priests solely on the virtue of his priesthood not considering the skill, abilities and knowledge beyond what the person has. Again trying to live out the professed vows of obedience, chastity, poverty, might lead to qualitative overload which can lead to exhaustion and early burnout in the priestly (life) profession.

Profession in the religious context according to Attwater (1997) is a contract whereby a novice freely gives himself or herself by the taking of vows, to the religious life in a community approved by the church. A religious is a member of a Christian faith who follows the Evangelical councils of poverty, chastity and obedience by profession of vows, living a life in common in an institute of consecrated life, in a manner of life approved by the church Attwater (1997).Profession of these vows therefore is an integral part of every religious  congregation. Examples include: Marist brothers, Holy Rosary sisters, Handmaid of the Holy Child Jesus sisters, Monks of St. Benedict, Holy Ghost sisters, De la salle brothers, Daughters of Divine Love, Daughters of Mary Mother of Mercy among others. For Attwater, (1997), profession of these vows therefore is an integral part of every religious congregation. According to the existing law, Religious profession denotes the act of embracing the Religious state by the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience according to the rule of an order canonically approved and it involves triple vows made to God and binding oneself to the rule of a certain order (Flannery, 2001). However, this study will be interested in the priests of the Catholic Church.

Professions of the Priestly vows also go with some difficulties and challenges. Such challenges and difficulties have potentialities of giving rise to burnout to a professed. After the profession of vows, the Priest is obliged to live out such vows. The living out of these vows brings about different challenges as daily experience reveals. From the researchers observation within the geographic focus of the study, the following signs of burnout were identified among Catholic priests: job dissatisfaction: some priests feel dissatisfied over their job; the reason for this could be feeling that they have little or no control over the work they do. There are also factors which promote burnout. They include: intention to quit, absenteeism, aggression and alcoholic addiction.

Intension to quit means that some priests have developed negative attitude towards self inferiority and incompetence which leads to a sense of powerlessness and discouragement. They thereby nurture the idea of quitting the priesthood. At other times, there is absenteeism which is the avoidance behavior. Absenteeism and aloofness often accompany the burnout syndrome among priests in Abuja ecclesiastical province. Priests thus affected will evade occasions of stress even when obligatory. Their presence at community events, input into community discussions, time spent with others is reduced. They also experience aggression which manifest in intolerance, frustration and anger which make the burnout casualty enormously difficult to accept since the ordinary occasion of human interaction in community living are substantially strained. There is a diminished tolerance for colleague’s mannerisms and a concomitant suspiciousness and lack of trust. Alcoholic addition has also been identified among some priests. In other to make up with their frustration, misunderstanding and miscommunication they resort to alcoholism.

Years of experience appear to play an important role within burnout. According to Francis, Louden & Rutledge (2004), priests who have been in ministry longer would have developed coping technic to prevent or reduce emotional exhaustion. Furthermore Duffy, Oyabode & Allen (2009), agreed that years of experience had significant negative relationship with emotional exhaustion and depersonalization thus older priests were less likely to experience feelings of emotional exhaustion and depersonalization. It could be that older priests who remain in the priesthood have developed a sense of emotional resilience and remain positive irrespective of the stressor at their work and that those who did not have this capacity leave. Therefore the result illustrates that young priests may need more support in order to develop resilience. A poor work performance or one below the usual level of competence is rapidly recognized as indignation of burnout.

These noticeable signs of burnout exist in various degrees and may be predicated on some variables such as community life, apostolate, organization and profession. It is against this background that this study sought to investigate how community life, Apostolate, organization and profession could predict burnout among catholic priests in Abuja Ecclesiastical province.

Statement of the Problem

It is generally acknowledged that priesthood as a vocation is inherently stressful. Wherever, people work and live together there are bound to be intense interaction, misunderstanding, miscommunication, ulterior motive and the likes. Priests thus affected will evade occasions of stress even when obligatory.  Personal experiences show an increase in the cases of burnout among Catholic Priests. Some priests in Abuja Ecclesiastical province tend to portray some of these signs; withdrawal from responsibilities, isolation from others, coming in late and leaving early for community programmes and functions, (and) becoming addicted to alcoholism and aggression towards the superior or authority which are signs of burnout. For instance, situations exist where priests abandoned their apostolate and travelled out without permission or notification to the authority for upwards of six months. In some other cases, priests leave their houses in the morning with their vehicles only to come back at night barefooted and drunk, the where about of their vehicles being unknown.

Some speculations are rife that priests exhibiting these signs of burnout may differ in intensity and types depending on their professional and apostolate affiliation. Against this backdrop, the problem of this study is to determine how community life, apostolate, organization and profession could predict burnout among catholic priest in Abuja Ecclesiastical province.

Purpose of the Study

The general purpose of this study is to investigate if community life, apostolate, organization and profession could predict burnout among Priests in Ecclesiastical Province of Abuja. Specifically the study investigates;

  1. Level of burnout among Catholic Priest in Abuja Ecclesiastical Province.
  2. Community life of the priests as a predictor of burnout among Catholic priests.
  3. The apostolate of the priest as a predictor of burnout among catholic priests.
  4. Organization within which catholic Priests work as a predictor of burnout.
  5. Profession of the priest as a predictor of burnout among Catholic Priests.
  6. Year of experience as a predictor of burnout among Catholic Priests.

Significance of the Study

The findings of the study will be useful to Catholic Church authorities, Catholic Priests, psychologists and the congregation. The findings of the study will affirm the usability of some aspects of conservation of resources theory propounded by Hobfoll (1998) in determining the predictor of burnout among Catholic Priests. This work will help the Priests to understand t their situation so as to know what they are passing through and begin on time to seek a remedy.

The findings of the study if presented in a retreat will help the church authorities to identify the signs of burnout among priests living in various communities and plan for health management support programme for them (priests).

Moreover, the findings of this study will be of immense benefit to the psychologists. It will expose how community life, organization, profession and apostolate could lead to burnout among priests. It will help to guide the psychologists on stress management training for the priests. When the burnout is managed the outcome includes job satisfaction for the priests, high productivity in the ministry and commitment to stay in the priesthood.

Finally, the findings of this study will be of immense help to the laity as it will help them realize that their priests could be exposed to stress and burnout and so (they) plan for social support for them. This can act as a check against maladjustment observed among priests.

The Scope of the Study

This study is delimited to the Catholic Priests in Abuja Ecclesiastical province of Nigeria. Abuja Catholic Ecclesiastical province was chosen because there are many Catholic faithful in it but few priests to lead them. In terms of content, the scope was limited to signs of burnout such as withdrawal from responsibility, Isolation from others coming late and leaving early for community programmes and functions and becoming addicted to alcoholism and aggression towards superiors and authorities: and predictors of burnout such as community life, apostolate, organization and profession as they contribute or influence the burnout among Catholic priests within the geographic focus of the study. For the purpose of this study, Catholic Priests in the province will be divided into two groups Viz: Diocesan/Secular and Religious which include the Vincentian, the Claretian, and the Holy-Ghost congregations.

Research Questions

The following research questions guided the study.

  1. What is the level of burnout experienced by Catholic Priests in Abuja Ecclesiastical Province?
  2. What is the relationship between community life and burnout among Catholic Priests?
  3. What is the relationship between apostolate and burnout among Catholic Priests?
  4. What is the relationship between organization and burnout among Catholic Priest?
  5. What is the relationship between profession and burnout among Catholic Priest?




The following null hypotheses were formulated and tested at 0.05 level of significance.

Hoi:  Community life does not significantly predict burnout among Catholic priests.

Hoii    Apostolate does not significantly predict burnout among Catholic priests.

Hoiii   Organization does not significantly predict burnout among Catholic priests.

Hoiv   Profession does not significantly predict burnout among Catholic priests.

Hov    Community life, apostolate, organization and profession do not     significantly predict burnout among Catholic Priests in Abuja Ecclesiastical          Province.

Hovi   Years of experience do not significantly predict burnout among Catholic priests in Abuja Ecclesiastical Province.

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