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It takes more than fierce faith to answer a call to religious service. You also have to be debt-free. It’s a logical requirement — you’ll struggle to make necessary loan payments if you’ve taken a vow of poverty — but it’s also emerged as a significant obstacle to people hoping to join religious orders.

A 2011 Georgetown University report for the National Religious Vocation Conference estimates a third of serious inquiries received by religious institutions come from people with education debt, which averaged $28,000 (at the time, that was above the average of all student debtors). Of religious institutes that had received at least three serious inquiries in the last 10 years, nearly 70% reported having turned away an inquirer because of their debt load. More than 4,300 religious hopefuls cannot pursue their desired vocation because of student loans, the report concludes. At the same time, faith organizations aren’t exactly looking to turn away dedicated servants.

The Catholic Church has endured dwindling numbers of priests, sisters and brothers for decades, so candidates with student debt present an unfortunate dilemma. In 2003, a Catholic Minnesota businessman established a solution: Ask fellow Catholics to pay the debt.

The Labouré Society helps aspiring clergy and religious leaders resolve their debts through donations billed as “an eternal return-on-investment opportunity with 100% tax deductibility.” A recipient of the society’s aid was recently profiled in USA Today: Melanie Bruss was accepted into the Consecrates of the Most Holy Savior, a Catholic religious order, in November 2012, but she was told she had to get rid of her $140,000 in student loan debt before she could begin. The loans helped her get a graduate degree in counseling from Ball State University.

The Labouré Society covers aspirants’ loan payments while they’re in training, and if they are take their vows or are ordained, the society pays the remainder of the loan. Those who do not take their vows or are not ordained resume their loan payments. Bruss, 35, has raised more than $132,000 thus far, and it seems the society’s program has been quite successful: Since it started in 2003, more than 240 people have joined the priesthood or religious orders after paying off their debt with the Labouré Society.

For those not pursuing a life of religious service, there are still loan forgiveness options to explore. In fact, more than a quarter of Americans qualify for federal loan forgiveness programs. Borrowers need to remember that education debt can do a lot more than get in the way of your dreams: Debt has a large impact on your credit standing, which influences your access to other loans and the interest rates they come with. To see how your student loans affect your credit scores and potential loan costs, you can review your credit data for free on Credit.com.

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