The American Parish, By the Numbers

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St. Joseph’s Church in Amarillo, Texas (Photo by Bill McCullough)

Editors’ Note:  Weve asked a number of authors to discuss the state of the American parish and what it means to be church in a time of migration and movement. We also wanted to offer practical suggestions for how parishes can be more welcoming, just, and Spirit-filled in these times. Together, our contributors provide a picture of the U.S. church today, one not so much in decline as undergoing a profound transition. To read all the articles, see the entire collection, The American Parish Today.

 

Statistical overviews of American parish life typically start with the headlines: a declining national number of parishes and priests, and a growing list of parishes without a pastor in residence—or, worse, entirely closed. Even more startling are the sharp long-term declines in the number of Catholic baptisms and marriages, raising urgent questions about where the church’s future parishioners will come from.

But beneath these distressing national trends there’s also a complex story of regional diversity. Over the past seventy years many Catholics have migrated away from the traditional Irish, Italian, and German strongholds in the eastern and midwestern United States. Nearly 60 percent of Catholics now live in the South and West. As a result some dioceses, far from declining, are bursting at the seams with new Catholics. They’re arriving not just from elsewhere in the country, but also from abroad, testing the capacities of the relatively few parishes available to serve them. Yet even here, the pastoral realities of a shrinking priesthood, and the financial pressures facing the church everywhere, further complicate the ways in which parishes might evolve to serve these future generations.

As part of our special issue on the American parish, we’ve gathered some of the most illuminating and interesting data in a single, graphically illustrated document that you can see here (PDF).

We are grateful to Fr. Thomas Gaunt, SJ, and his colleagues at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) in Washington for their help in compiling many of the data elements in this package. All designs are by David Sankey.

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