Ten men were ordained to be priests at the Cathedral of St. Paul on Saturday, the largest group to receive the Catholic sacrament in the archdiocese in nearly eight years.

Dressed in flowing white robes with their heads bowed in prayer, the men took their vows to serve and lead the Catholic faithful before 3,000 people at the historic St. Paul church.

Archbishop John Nienstedt presided over the ornate, nearly 3-hour-long ceremony and noted the significance of the 10 seminarians, who make up the largest ordination class at the St. Paul Seminary since 2005, when 15 men were ordained. Last year, only three men were ordained; in 2011 the number was five.

"Relying on the help of the Lord God and our Savior Jesus Christ, we choose these, our brothers, for the order of the priesthood," Nienstedt said in conferring ordination to the men. In response, ­attendees applauded.

There are 437 priests in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, which has nearly 800,000 Catholics; 325 of the priests are assigned to parishes and 112 are retired. All 10 men at Saturday's ceremony — eight of whom are from Minnesota — will be assigned to parishes.

Nearly 150 priests participated in the ordination, laying hands and conferring blessings on each of the men being ordained. In one of the most dramatic moments of the ceremony, the men lay face down before the altar in submission and adoration before receiving their priestly stoles and vestments.

The St. Paul Seminary has seen an uptick in enrollment, noting in 2011 its largest enrollment in more than 30 years with 100 seminarians. Seminary leaders credit the growth, in large part, to an increased effort by priests and church leaders to reach out to young men and encourage them to consider the priesthood.

Other seminaries across the country also have experienced similar surges in growth in recent years, though it hasn't been enough to stem the priest shortage facing the Catholic Church.

In the spring of 2012, 471 men were ordained in the United States and its territories; in 2011, it was 485. The figure has steadily decreased since the 1960s, when it hovered around 1,000, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Close to 1,500 priests die or retire each year.

There are approximately 39,700 priests (active and retired) in the United States and its territories.

"In the 1950s and 60s, you had an extraordinary number of priests [being ordained] and now we're dealing with replacing them," said Mark Gray, a researcher with CARA, adding that the number of priests is expected to continue to decrease in the coming years. "Eventually it will balance out."