National Catholic Register asks: “Catholic Community Life on the Wane”?

An article from the National Catholic Register on community life in the US includes insights on bonding and bridging capital distilled from my book, Parish and Place.

Here’s an excerpt, written by National Catholic Register contributor Nicholas Wolfram Smith:


“People are less and less connected to brick and mortar associations or organizations, where they actually go and show up and build relationships with one another,” Tricia Bruce, associate professor of sociology at Maryville College, told the Register.

Another trend in American Catholicism has been the breakdown of the territorial parish. Canonically, every Catholic belongs to his or her local geographic parish, but Bruce explained that Catholics in the U.S. increasingly choose to “worship where they want to” and may even register at those parishes instead.

As a result, parishes can become less connected to their local community, simply because their parishioners don’t come from the surrounding neighborhood. Because the parish may not draw people of different socioeconomic backgrounds from the same territory, she explained, this can lead to the parish becoming more socially stratified as more people of similar backgrounds congregate together and have less opportunities to connect with people from different demographics.

“Churches are great networks for finding a job or someone to date and marry,” said Bruce. But climbing the social and economic ladder becomes more difficult, she explained, if the parish’s members are largely drawn from the same socioeconomic strata.

Parishes, as community associations, not only bond together people who share a common trait, but also bridge differences among people, allowing connections to be made from which come new social opportunities.


Bruce, as the author of Parish and Place: Making Room for Diversity in the American Catholic Church, has studied the concept of “personal parishes” as one response to American parish life. Instead of being organized along a territorial basis, personal parishes are dedicated to a particular focus of a community, like the extraordinary form or a common ethnic background. Doing so can provide more unity and sense of community than a territorial parish often provides, though she said the concern is that they “codify the fragmentation” in the U.S. Church.


Read the article in its entirety here.




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