I was talking to a priest friend of mine today who is the pastor of one of our parishes in the Archdiocese of Washington. His parish is experiencing significant growth in recent years thanks to an influx of immigrants. He speaks Spanish fluently and has begun a Spanish Mass. The numbers at that Mass have tripled in recent months and he expects his overall parish to double in size in the next year.

Not all parishes are shrinking, and neither is the Church worldwide shrinking. There are areas in the world such as Europe where the numbers are way down. But in Africa the number of Catholics has increased by 7,000% in the past fifty years. The Church is shifting south and is getting “browner.”

Here in America too there is something of a contrast between the northeast and the southwest in terms of Catholic trends. The “up-town” of the old Northern Catholic Church is shifting lower down, to the South where the Catholic presence in the old “Bible belt” is now quite full.

The cities of the Northeast and upper Midwest were once teeming with Catholics. The city centers featured many and thriving Catholic parishes of various ethnic derivations. Catholics were uptown, down town and all around town. Some of the blocks in the older Chicago neighborhoods would even feature several parishes: there was the Polish Parish, the Irish, the German, and Italian, each of them little cities within themselves. Consider a description of old Chicago and other Catholic cities of the Northeast, by John McGreevy in his Book, Parish Boundaries which I summarize:

Virtually all the Catholic immigrant groups were within two generations of immigration, and all placed enormous financial, social, and cultural weight on the parish church as an organizer of local life. A Detroit study found 70% of Catholics claiming to attend services once a week, as opposed to 33% of the city’s white Protestants, and 12% of the city’s Jews….

The Catholic churches whether they were Polish, Italian, Portuguese, or Irish, simply dominated the life and activities of the community. The Catholic world, supervised by priests was disciplined and local. Many parishes sponsored enormous neighborhood carnivals each year (with local politicians making appearances and local businesses donating supplies).

Most parishes also contained a large number of formal organizations – including youth groups, mother’s clubs, parish choirs, and fraternal organizations – each with a priest moderator, the requisite fundraisers and group masses. Parish sports teams for even the youngest boys shaped parish identity, with fierce rivalries developing in Catholic sports leagues.

The dense social networks centered themselves around an institutional structure of enormous magnitude. Virtually every parish in the northern cities included a church (often of remarkable scale), a parochial school, a convent, a rectory and often ancillary gymnasiums or auditoriums. Even hostile observers professed admiration for the marvelous organization and discipline of the Roman Catholic Church. [e.g. Holy Family Church in Chicago with its massive school next door, more buildings are behind].

Brooklyn alone contained on hundred and twenty-nine parishes and over one hundred Catholic elementary schools. In New York city more generally forty-five orders of religious men lived. Nuns managed twenty-five hospitals…schools enrolled 214,000 students. This list of summer camps, colleges and universities , retreat centers, retirement homes, seminaries and orphanages was daunting.

For all Euro-American Catholic groups, neighborhood, parish, and religion were constantly intertwined…Small statues of Mary or local saints appeared in neighborhood yards, while crosses and religious artifacts decorated individual rooms. Catholic parishes routinely sponsored parades and processions through the streets of the parish.

Catholic leaders leaders deliberately created a Catholic counterpart for virtually every secular organization. The assumption was that the parish must make every effort to become the real center of attraction in the lives of the parishioners, it must become the hub around which a large number of their interests revolve. [McGreevy, pp. 13-28]

Decline – We are well aware and have discussed on this blog frequently that many of these once thriving centers of Catholicism are in decline. Parishes and schools are closing in large numbers. The dramatic decline in Mass attendance from numbers near or above 70% down to our current 27% is part of the explanation. But another part of the explanation in the migration of Catholics out of the cities and out of the Northeast.

The first of the great migrations took place after the Second World War when Catholic moved in large numbers to the newly created and growing suburbs. They moved from uptown and downtown to “out of town.” The once great churches of the city center grew gradually more empty and less vital.

The initial experience in the suburbs was similar: large parishes, large schools, large buildings, all packed to the gills, and many activities. But suburban life was less tightly knit and ethnic ties were also being lost in those days in the great melting pot of the American experience. In a very subtle, but steady way, the cohesiveness of Catholics and parish life was becoming less a dominant force. Slowly Catholics ventured out of the Catholic “Ghetto” and sought wider connections and approval outside the Catholic world. The election of John F. Kennedy both symbolized and furthered this trend.

Then in successive waves, the sexual revolution, and the over all cultural revolution of the late 1960s caught Catholics and the Church unprepared. As secularism has grown and eroded the influence faith once had, even many of the flourishing suburban parishes of the post-war era are now much smaller and far less vital.

The second of the great migrations is occurring right now as Catholics, in large numbers, have left the “uptowns,” “downtowns” and “just out of towns” of the northeast and are headed “low down” to the south, and the Southeast. A quote from a  CARA study back in 2010 illustrates this point:

[Consider that], in 2001, the Archdiocese of Atlanta had more than 320,000 Catholics, 131 active diocesan priests, and 77 parishes (note in 1991, the Archdiocese had 176,000 Catholics and 65 parishes). Moving a decade ahead, the diocese now has 900,000 Catholics, 141 active diocesan priests, and 87 parishes. Thus, the number of Catholics increased by 181% in the last decade but the number priests only increased by 8% and the number of parishes by 13%. This means the number of Catholics per parish in the Archdiocese has grown from 4,156 in 2001 to 10,345 in 2011. Ten new parishes have been added to accommodate 580,000 additional Catholics. [1]

Now that is remarkable growth. And many cities of the South and Southwest are having similar experiences. As can be seen, the growth is so remarkable and so quick that it is difficult to keep up. Due to a shortage of priests and other resources, the usual approach of southern and southwestern dioceses is to build large churches that can seat well over 1000 and establish what is, in effect a mega church.

I have celebrated masses in the deep south, in some of these parishes, and the experience is quite amazing. One parish near Jacksonville, Fla, where I celebrated one Sunday, seated over 2200. It was a tasteful, in fact a very beautiful Church, but it was big, with a fan shaped main floor and a spacious balcony ringing three sides. The place was packed that morning, with three other masses scheduled and a vigil the night before, all filled or at least well attended. Forty-eight extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion came forward to assist with the distribution. The parking lot outside featured shuttle buses to get the farthest parkers back and forth. The pastor explained that this was the trend in the south. With few priests, parishes have to built big to get as many Catholics in at one time as possible and keep the number of masses manageable for the priests.

At one level it all seems very exciting to hear of booming Catholic Parishes that need parking shuttle buses. It reminds one of the massive and flourishing parishes that once filled the northeastern cities. But there are some concerns that go with these mega-parishes. It is articulated at the CARA blog:

[A] study, conducted by CARA, … finds that larger U.S. parishes tend to have lower rates of attendance, lower levels of sacramental activity per household, and less giving per registered household than what is reported in smaller parishes. [So], there appears to be a size limit at which the parish community begins to become less active and less giving. [2]

In other words, such parishes risk loosing personal contact with souls. And without personal contact and a sense of being an integral member of a community, it is easier for people to drift and fall away. Large numbers can hide steady erosion for a while but it would seem that the impersonal nature of large parishes allows the faithful to become disengaged. They can also hide behind the notion that “someone in this big parish will handle the trouble that the pastor is enunciating.” As impressive as large parishes are, it is clear from our experiences after the war, and now, that they can also become unraveled very quickly if no one feels essential.

The CARA study concludes:

As we have shown in a previous post, there are not a lot of dioceses building new parishes in areas where the Catholic population moved and is growing strongly…..But a parish building boom will likely be needed in the U.S. Sun Belt in the 21st century….It may be time to ask, with great care as well, when and how do we open new parishes where they are needed? After moving, will Catholics always have a new Catholic home to “come home” to? [3]

I do not know what the perfect size for a parish is. And even if I say a number, vocations to the priesthood are simply going to be a factor. As for me, I have 900 registered families and about 550 on a Sunday morning. For me, this is a perfect number. It is large enough for us to be financially viable, indeed we do very well, money wise. It is also large enough that I can have a fairly diverse cadre of volunteers to accomplish needed tasks. Yet is small enough for one priest to handle and even can get to know many people well. It is small enough too that people know each other well and people are missed when the drift away. But this model cannot be sustained diocesan-wide. We just don’t have enough priests to staff enough parishes at this scale.

But, it would seem, that large parishes still need a small town feel and experience, according to the CARA study. It makes sense, otherwise, people get lost. So, small targeted groups that gather in large parishes are needed to provide the personal encounters so necessary in our Christian walk. Perhaps it is targeted Bible studies, fraternal organizations, mother’s groups, etc.

The great mega parishes of the 20th Century urban north had their day but collapsed quickly, for it would seem that their communal ties declined after the War, or were not as deep as they were thought to be. People left too quickly for us to conclude that urban and ethnic communities had ties that really bound them together after WWII. It would seem we were a 1000 miles wide, but only two inches thick. The large suburban parishes of the postwar suburban north and east have also struggled to keep Catholics tied in. Big looks great but it isn’t necessarily better. While it is true we cannot simply build lots of small parishes, we have to be creative and build communities within parishes wherein there is accountability and love, something personal and engaging, something which makes people experience that they are essential to the Lord and to the Church. Doin’ the uptown, low down, may not be the dance we want to recreate as the Church spreads (low down) to the south.

I am interested in your thoughts, especially if you are member of a large Catholic Parish.

Photo Credits:

Holy Family Church (Upper Right) from the Archdiocese of Chicago Archive,
Lower Left, Our Lady Queen of the Universe, Orlando, from the Website.
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Here are some fond remembrances of going to Catholic School in Chicago:

24 Responses

  1. Jamie R says:

    I suspect that a parish’s spiritual health – if I can use that term – depends a lot on the attitude and focus of the parish staff. I see that many ADW parishes have active parish councils, other committees, branches of various religious societies and groups, and numerous worship opportunities outside of Mass. Yet others (including my own parish, in Washington, DC itself) have very little. And, speaking only of my own parish, not a lot of interest by either my pastor or the office staff to get things going.

    What should we expect from parish staff, Msgr.? Does ADW set standards for parishes…such as requirements for parish councils and the like? Please note that I am acutely aware that several parishes are understaffed and that we should not look to our parishes to lead on everything.

  2. Pedro says:

    The history of our parish was a very sound and interesting one. Belonging to a low working class neighbourhood of aprox. 15.000 inhabitants, it was presided by a very charismatic pastor, don Jesús García, from (aprox.) 1957 to 2006. Thanks to him, it was possible to join the water repository to the new one in the suburb, all made by the neighbours, without the support of the Franco local authorities. He and others established one of the first Rehabilitated Alcoholics in Spain. Adult literacy classes, visiting ill people, Caritas…
    The parish was the true centre of the life of the suburb. Even agnostics and atheists collaborated.
    Nowadays things have changed a lot. The assistance to masses is low, and most of the parishioners are over 50 and 60. I remember, during my youth days (20 years ago) we youngsters were around 50, and there was a gap between us and the elders (barely a dozen of 35/40-year-old people). But most youngers dissapeared (included I, who went through a deep faith crisis), don Jesús retired and now the prospect is very sad.

  3. Gitanjali - Chennai, India says:

    Dear and Rev. Msgr Pope: This is from the City of Chennai, India. Congratulations and God Bless you for your insightful reflections. Thank you for acknowledging that the Kingdom of Christ is spreading in distant areas in silence and solidity. And I have just TWO observations: 1. Your sentence in Para 2, “The Church is shifting south and is getting “browner.” with that nuance on color could have been dropped. You know, I never realizeI am “brown” until someone labels me as such! 2. Kindly encourage supportively your Spanish-speaking non-Spanish Priest friend to incorporate Spanish songs during the Eucharist, not exactly English texts and tunes that simply alienate the immigrant Brethren. My region was blessed with certain Jesuits who loved so much my local language, that is as ancient as Assyrian, Sumerian, Babylonian, Greek and Latin, that they learnt it,
    wrote in it, composed dictionaries of it, and creatively contributed to the growth of it!

    • Robertlifelongcatholic says:

      With all due respect Gitanali, if you have never realized you are brown, until some one brings color and ethnicity into the conversation, then you are obviously blind or over exagerating to compensate for your own biased racial sensitivity. We are not basing this discussion on bigoted tendencies but on demographic facts. We provide Spanish, Vietnamese, Russian spoken masses as well as other languages for parishes with large ethnic immigrant group members. Perhapse if we just went back to universally performing the mass in Latin then we will all have level playing field. Dominus vobiscum.

      • withthegraceofGod says:

        Robert,

        Interestingly enough Gitanjali is most likely neither blind, over exagerating, biased or sensitive. Gitanjali is just simply not American and is most likely not used to the way that we use certain terms regarding race. Also it was a good point given that a very large amount of hispanics are not brown at all… my family included. South American countries such as Venezuela, Columbia, Paraguay, Uruguay etc. have large “white” populations. Uruguay is 88% white!!! Besides, Gitanjali is speaking more about a goal that we have forgotten a long time ago. I truly believe that God gave us the gift of being different in obvious ways to go beyond that and celebrate our commonality and humanity instead of to constantly point out the fact that someone or some congregation is “browner”. The day will come (hopefully sooner rather than later) when race will mean nothing; when it won’t even register. We are very far from that in the USA, especially here in the south (I live in NC) where all anyone can do is focus on the difference. One of the reasons I love the Church is that it belongs to no race or ethnicity.. it is universal. Lets move forward by taking the focus off of skin color… It is the most superficial aspect of who we are… it should be like height or hair color.

      • Gitanjali - Chennai, India says:

        a. Dominus vobiscum is something that came to be – there were other ways the Lord had been present elsewhere. Latin is not Universal; it couldn’t be a vehicle of level playing either. If you feel I am blind, I don’t know what impairment of sensory perception you suffer from. Let us read a bit of Church History.
        b. Your comment, “you are obviously blind or over exaggerating to compensate for your own biased racial sensitivity” speaks quite a lot of you.
        c. I am glad to hear that Spanish, VIetnamese, Russian spoken Masses are being offered in that part of the world. God bless all of us.
        d. Could we discuss demographics, utilizing other and more valuable variables?

        • Robertlifelongcatholic says:

          d. “could we discuss demographics, utilizing other and more valuable variables?” Well I guess we can start with obvious cultrual differences. What may constitute acceptable in one culture may be offensive in another. So who decides what is offensive. Argue that with someone of Wahabi sharia heritage. You can’t buy a bible in Saudia Arabia. As the saying goes, When in Rome do as the Romans do. We are talking about shifts of parish populations in the Church that negatively impacts western civilization countries such as in the U.S. and Europe which the Catholic Church has failed to grapple with while still expanding it’s growth in third world societies. Yet the third world citizens want opportunities available is westernized countries. At what point does society secularize and become detrimental to the aspirations of the Church. When culturalism is secularized by governments that pander to cultural sensitivies for political expediancy by telling religions what they can and can’t do due to unfair civil liberties practices, or theocratic regimes that place it’s citizens under tyranical authority. Now the true colors are just various shades of gray and since we have no gray races out there, no one can be offended accept maybe a saddhu or two that’s covered in ashes from some cremated dead guy and everybody knows you can’t offend a saddhu.

          • Gitanjali - Chennai, India says:

            My brother Robert in Jesus:

            I agree with you reg. Sharia heritages and inability to purchase a copy of the Holy Bible in certain regions. While I join you in denouncing them, let us also remember our many Sharia-like laws in 2000 years of history. Not everything was rosy with Church practises either. May be the Holy Father in Rome didn’t promulgate a papal bull of abuse; but those Christian zealots did quite a lot of havoc.

            However if we, both Catholics, are venturing to board our ships to evangelize the world with heads and hearts full of labels such as, “sadhu covered in ashes from some cremated dead guy etc”, God save us and Sts Thomas, Francis Xavier, John deBritto, Mother Teresa and others.

            Let us not kindly comment on our neighbors’ faith and praxis thereof disparagingly, please! “Logos” as well as “symbols” mean different things to different people. I suppose we are both continuing to take Hinduism 101. Light, water, incense, ash, palm leaves, oil, bread, wine etc. are our sacred sacramentals too.

            Yet I clearly hear your anguished pangs on religiosity, culturalism, secularism and the erosion of the Transcendent. Why not take these challenges as God’s call for a new Reformation of our culture. If St Paul could encounter and confront both the Epicureans and the Stoics of his day in Athens, why this depressing feeling of disengagement and alienation at the heart of Western Churches? Is secularism (which is not a monopoly of the West either) that is the devil, or the utter dearth of a breed of saintly, wise, imaginative, creative, compelling and intelligent stalwarts of faith as pastors and missioners.

            I pray that the womb of our Church be overshadowed by the Spirit of God to birth forth many who are holy and prudent, both lay and ordained…

            And I welcome to visit the tomb of Apostle Thomas, the body of St Francis Xavier, the martyred site of St John De Britto and Mother Teresa.

  4. Sue Korlan says:

    There is the other alternative, as demonstrated by my home diocese of Owensboro, KY, where the parishes are reasonably small and the priest travels to cover a couple of them on a regular basis. Look in the directory and you will see most priests have 2 parishes and one, the last time I looked, had 3. It is an alternative model, but of course it’s a mostly rural diocese.

  5. Jeannette says:

    If you want a parish to thrive, you need to keep replenishing the parishioners. If your parishioners don’t make new parishioners, you’ll run out of people and start to look like those Rust Belt parishes 1/5 filled with old people only. So, preach about Humanae Vitae, and ditch the cry room, nursery and Children’s Liturgy and let the little children come to Him (after eight kids, I have come to the realization that cry rooms are where vocations go to die).

  6. RichardGTC says:

    I prefer Catholic cathedrals to Catholic mega-churches. If necessity demands Catholic mega-churches, then so be it. I have never been inside a Catholic mega-church. I didn’t even know they existed until today.

  7. Ann says:

    the mega-non-denom churches have found the solution to the size vs quality problem and the author refers to it himself in describing parishes of the past–small groups for special interests, service, faith-sharing, social action etc.

    I am in Texas and growth here is phenomenal. The co-cathedral in Houston for instance celebrates Sunday Mass in 9 languages–this is the future of the American Church. History repeats itself–we are an immigrant church, and that means also a pilgrim church

    • TomD says:

      I worry about unity in a Church that celebrates in 9 languages. How do we celebrate our cultural diversity, which is really a secular attribute of human society, while maintaining unity in the Body of Christ?

      Maybe our forefathers (if I am permitted to use that term) had it right . . . unity through Latin in the liturgy. Problems seems to ensue when we try to “secularize” the Mass, by making it more “accessible” through the vernacular.

      To seek God sometimes means for us to make the personal effort necessary for unity . . . understanding a common language . . . the unity of the faith through celebration of the liturgy in Latin, rather than encourage our disunity by use of the vernacular in the liturgy. Just a thought.

  8. Daniel says:

    Interesting article, Msgr. Pope. My brother and I belong to two parishes: Assumption Grotto in Detroit, and Old St. Patrick’s in Ann Arbor. Grotto is a gem, with its cathedral style church, Marian shrine in the cemetery. The extraordinary form of the Mass is offered daily. For Easter, Christmas, and other holy occasions, special orchestral Masses are offered, with accompaniment by members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The practice of hearing confessions before and after Mass is what drew my brother and me to the Grotto. Grotto is healthy for a Detroit parish, but its membership is small, but most are stalwart Catholics willing to drive in from many miles away to assist at Mass. Many families home-school their children. The second parish we belong to is Old St. Patrick’s Church in Ann Arbor. This parish is set in the country. Masses fill the small church, and there are many devotions. Catholics are devout, and many are active supporting parish activities. We feel blessed to belong to each. I should mention that we are blessed to assist at Mass at the chapel at Domino Farms in Ann Arbor, where four Masses are offered on weekdays, and two on Saturdays. Confessions are heard after Mass, which is a blessing.

  9. I Like The Church Fathers says:

    The traditional Catholic model of parish affiliation goes back to pre-automobile days when it was impractical to travel a significant distance to a church. This model persisted into the twentieth century, but it finally began to break down with the process of suburbanization and the decline of cities’ downtown core. The Southern mega-churches are a natural response to large scale suburbanization. They could not have existed before the automobile.

    Besides the development of mega-churches in the South, the automobile has given the faithful an opportunity to church-shop. If your geographically designated parish church does not satisfy your tastes or interests, you can easily go to another church that you find more appealing.

    I know that some priests dislike church-shopping. They argue that church-shopping discourages communitarian spirit and it is fundamentally foreign to the pre-modern ethos of the local parish. This may be true. However, just as the Church accommodates a wide variety of charisms, so do the interests and needs of individual parishioners vary widely. For those who are concerned with Church-driven community service, a tight-knit suburban parish may be ideal. On the other hand, for those [like me] who love Church art and history and a sense of the grandeur of the Church’s mission, a small, modern, artless suburban church does little to inspire faith. That’s why I’m much happier [and more faithful, I think] in a large, old downtown church with statutes and old-style stained glass windows of Biblical scenes and Saints.

    I guess what I’m saying is that there is no “one size fits all” model when it comes to the issue of church size.

  10. Mark says:

    Msgr Pope,
    Our Diocese is a mix of small town and rural parishes and we are in the far Northern climbs on the middle of the country. Our parish has 1,500 family’s, two priest’s, one deacon, two faith formation director’s(birth to confirmation), two adult faith formation director’s(RCIA, retreat’s, etc.) 400 volunteer faith formation teachers, 65 volunteer bible study leaders. Very active Knights of Columbus, food shelf, Catholic renewal, New evangelization team, soup kitchen, summer sales, fall festivals. An eight grade school, with pre-k and kindergarten, after school care, special education and new gymnasium.

    I grew up in a Bohemian-German parish in a large Metro area, one that was close knit and connected with one and another, and since those day’s I have lived through out this country and the world. I have been in smaller parishes in foreign countries and Mega parishes in this country, and never was there a feeling of that closeness. I was quite excited 22 years ago when my wife and I found this place as it is as if I stepped back in time to my youth, back to a family oriented, close knit group of people so in Love with God, we may be many in number but we act as if we are few.

    growth without leadership and without a sense of belonging is a deterrent to growth.

  11. Deacon John M. Bresnahan says:

    I live in the Boston area. My daughter, her husband, and 4 kids live right outside Atlanta in a place called Lilburn. Lilburn is one of Atlanta’s suburbs exploding in size and doubly exploding in number of Catholics because of conversions, migration from the North and from around the world.
    This is all good, but I hope our Catholic Faith is not being watered down in the process.
    For example, they had to build a much bigger (and far more” modern” church for the Lilburn parish.
    In my opinion, and the opinions of others I have talked to when visiting the parish, the church is a modernistic disaster.
    Catholics are normally known for their love of art, imagery, icons, etc.
    There is virtually none in the church and apparently there are no plans to add any. Blank wall after blank wall –pure functional government assembly hall coldness and bareness.
    The stations of the cross are tiny and are weirdly installed in hard to find high places in a circle around the ceiling. Stained glass windows in the outer walls are modernistic style scenes from the Bible of a style I usually have only run into in a Protestant church.
    Most disturbing of all is the virtual denial of the Communion of Saints. There is one image of Our Lady of Guadaloupe. But forget any icons, stained glass windows, or statues of well known saints from St. Peter to St. Francis of Assisi to St. Padre Pio.
    Yet a number of convert accounts I have read have indicated that one of the aspects of Catholicism that draws converts is the warm humanity of our churches–a warmth they attributed to all the imagery of the Communion of Saints in our churches.

    • I Like The Church Fathers says:

      “Blank wall after blank wall –pure functional government assembly hall coldness and bareness. …Yet a number of convert accounts I have read have indicated that one of the aspects of Catholicism that draws converts is the warm humanity of our churches–a warmth they attributed to all the imagery of the Communion of Saints in our churches.”

      Exactly, John.

      Suburban churches, in general, are depressing for the reasons you’ve stated. They don’t have to be that way. Church architects have to realize that a Catholic church is about more than mere modern functionality. Artistic representations of Biblical scenes and the Saints are integral to a Catholic church. Just look at the great ancient, Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque churches of Europe.

      As you indicated, representations of the Saints are important. I would say they are just as important as Biblical scenes. The Saints were people we can identify with. We can be drawn closer to God through the witness of the Saints – ordinary people who demonstrated extraordinary Faith. The stories of the Saints are inspirational. Barren modern church architecture, sadly, is not.

  12. Robertlifelongcatholic says:

    Perhapse we should take a lesson from Ray Crock founder of McDonalds. Franchise, standardize menue,and to avoid anyone comming up three french fries short of a Happymeal, a buddy Christ action toy in every box.

  13. Ann says:

    We have no shortage of parishes here in my northeast suburban area. Too many most likely for the number of parishioners, and I’m sure there will be closures sooner rather than later. But there is one parish growing by leaps and bounds; it is run by a Franciscan order. And when I say growing, it is growing! Building new buildings even! And again, remember, this is in an area where parishes will probably be closing soon. The friars are doing something there that people are really attracted to, there is a feeling of joy. It is fascinating.

  14. Matt says:

    I grew up a member of St Matthew parish in Charotte, NC that went from saying Mass in a movie theater then in a basketball gym and now is the largest Catholic parish in the country by registered families. They’ve even built a couple spin off parishes during that time. I live in suburban Atlanta now and my parish here is experiencing the same growing pains.

    My thoughts on it all is that these parishes are far far too big. Its hard to have a sense of community in such a large parish but until we produce more priests from these parishes we will continue to have to struggle and adapt the mega parish phenomenon. I’ve learned that you have to get involved in certain ministries and be proactive about reaching out to those ministry leaders to get to know people. You can’t just show up Sundays if you want to get to know people, this is probably true of any size parish though. I help teach the RCIA program and I joined the KofC.

    I hear that our seminaries are nearly full so we will have some more priests coming in the coming years. I think our Bishops should have a plan for the growth by setting up a process on how to spin off a new parish from a mega parish in a nearby area once the funds and priests can be afforded. Maybe there could be a seperate fund started once the parish reaches 2000 families to start a building campaign for the spin off parish.

    However, I know from the parishes I’ve been a part off that it seems harder for the mega parishes to even meet their ever growing expenses given their enormous size. My current parish in suburban Atlanta still hasn’t built our Santuary and we’re saying Mass in what is a very nice temporary Santuary which will one day will become a large meeting space once we have paid off our first phase of building debt anbd begin the next phase which will be the Santuary and phase three is hopefully going to be a school, and we are nearing 3000 families.

    There are also dozens of parishes up North and in the MIdwest being closed. It would be awesome and great if instead of auctioning off or trashing a lot of the things that could be used like the pews, altar, stained glass, organ, etc and move those items from those closing parishes to newly opened parishes in the South where we could deperately use them and keep that tradition alive instead of just getting rid of them as we sell those parish buildings. I cringe when I think about what will happen to all that history when those Northern/Midwestern dioseses sell those buildings off.

    Another issue I’d wish we could address due to these demographic/migrations would be an increase in parochial schools here in the South. There are so few already and tuitions are astronomical for the typical Catholic family. Here in the Atlanta Archdiosese its about 7K per child for elementary and 10k to 15K per child from middle and high school level. There is no way at those prices that the typical Catholic family with 3 or more children can give their children a Catholic education. I’ve spoke to friends who lived up North and they told me it may only be 2-3K a year per child in dioseses up North. I’d like our Catholic school administrators and the Bishops to see if can find ways to reduce this cost, otherwise there is not choice but to put your kids in secular government schools unless you are rich enough to pay the high tuitions.

    I think part of the problem on the schools is that there just aren’t enough schools down here and they get crowded with waiting lists that start years before you child is even ready to start Kindergarden. Should it be that hard to get your children into a Catholic school if you are a practicing and tithing Catholic. I think another part of the problem is I know quite few non Catholic friends who somehow get their children placed into the Catholic school even though they are supposed to admit Catholic children first. These non Catholics see the Catholic school as a better value than local boarding or other private schools and value their higher level of education over public schools. Because they are not Catholic they pay higher tuition so maybe the schools admit them to get more money.

    Many, Many times I long for a Catholic culture that you describe during pre-war era Chicago or other Northern/Midwestern cities. Having been born in the early 1980’s all I’ve ever experienced is being part of smaller Catholic sub group to the larger increasingly secular dominate culture we have today.

    Here in the South although we Catholics are growing as a percentage of the population we are still the minority when it comes to religious beliefs. I’ve spent my whole life defending myself as a Christian to fundamentalist protestants who claim we are not even Christian. True Presence/Transubstantaton, Communion of Saints/Hail Mary/Praying to saints, Why confess to a Priest, and on and on, I learned to be prepared to teach and share the Truth to our protestant breathren when they challenge my Faith. I read up on anything Scott Hahn, Jimmy Akin, Matthew Kelley and other apologetists so that I can be prepared to defend the Faith.

    I’ve spent my entire life being accused of not being ‘Biblical’ by protestants and had to bear some pretty insulting things said about the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church over the years.

    I long to live in a community that is predominately Catholic and shares my values, where its not weird to go to confession monthly or mass daily. God willing that day will come.

  15. SHEPHERDMAXX says:

    Caught in a cross-fire at retirement.

    NJ is expensive, tax heavy and faith light.

    Should I remain where savings will be drained, and where my faith is sometimes very lonely?

    The daily prayer of St. Alphonsus – Visits to the Blessed Sacrament – speaks to Jesus’ loneliness in the Blessed Sacrament and our complicity in His loneliness. And how our forbears worshiped Him daily, if not more frequently

    Or should I relocate where it is more affordable and faith friendly? Or should I stay, praying in hope and prayer to see fiscal and faith reforms?

    If it were to come to pass, how would I respond to giving up life savings and losing my freedom or life-for my faith? Could I?

  16. GaryM says:

    I traveled for a few years throughout Central America on business. What I discovered was that most of these countries (except Mexico) were largely Protestant, not Catholic. Even more surprising to me, was that religious affiliation almost broke down by social and economic class. Catholics primarily being of the upper class. This was really eye opening to me since I always viewed everything south of the US as primarily Catholic. My business associate dismissively remarked to me at the time that they certainly are “doing their thing” but somehow they always die Catholic. Wow.

    Clearly, in the US, the migration from the north to the south may be more related to the availability of jobs, the standard and cost of living particularly for those in or near retirement, among other factors. It is not, it seems, a conversion of souls from other religions to Catholicism in the south vs. the loss of souls to other religions in the north. Holding domestic migration and immigration from other countries aside, the Church may not be as vibrant as some believe. My point is that an authentic spiritual revitalization is greatly needed. Unlock the Churches . . . restore holy hours and devotions, regular exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, Benediction, Stations of the Cross, prayer and Bible meetings, Legion of Mary, even expand out the daily Mass schedule etc. Engage the faithful by fulfilling on mission of the Church to enhance spiritual love and devotion to God. Without this, the faithful will be seeking, elsewhere. All can be lost so easily.

  17. Reta says:

    I’m wondering if all these parishes that are growing around the south and southwest have parishioners who know their faith or if they are more or less (what has been my own experience in living in several states and attending many parishes over the past 40 years) cultural Catholics who now have the experience of the fellowship the protestant churches have pulled so many Catholics in with.

    Nothing wrong with all the growth…..however I just wonder what the depth of their understanding of the faith is. We certainly don’t want to grow the Church without establishing deep understanding of what the Church teaches and has taught…….even before Vatican II! My experience is that although many churches are well attended the homilies rarely ‘teach’ but are feel good kinds of preaching.

    What would be your comment to this?

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