What are Personal Parishes?

When I began my research on “personal parishes” in the Catholic Church back in 2010, the term was new to me…and I wasn’t alone. Many Catholics – well-informed lay and ordained, alike – aren’t aware of the term, which comes from Catholic canon law. “National parishes” is more familiar, but that term is now outdated and insufficient to capture the full array of people and purposes that this contemporary, non-territorial model of parish serves.

The introduction to my book Parish and Place: Making Room for Diversity in the American Catholic Church (Oxford University Press, 2017) begins to unpack all this. I’ve included a snippet below, defining the phenomenon. The book goes on to explore key aspects of personal parishes and their implications for community: e.g., changes in the meaning and enforcement of “parish” over time; ironies behind how parish boundaries are constructed; bishops’ multi-faceted decision making to establish personal parishes (or not); how personal parishes accommodate communities of ethnic Catholics; personal parishes dedicated to the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM), social justice, and more; and what all this means for community in today’s US Catholic Church.

As I say in the book’s conclusion, “Exploring how this happens within the United States Catholic Church shines a light on questions germane to all institutions’ responses to diversity, and to all places shaped by identity, community, and the power to draw (or erase) boundaries in-between” (p. 205)

Here’s that intro snippet to lay the groundwork, from pages 3-4:

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