“Catholicism and the Common Good”

I am grateful for the invitation to participate in a three-year fellowship colloquium with an interdisciplinary group of scholars thinking about Catholicism and the Common Good. Participating fellows include:

Jennifer Beste Associate Professor of Theology
Koch Chair for Catholic Thought and Culture
College of St. Benedict + St. John’s
Tricia Bruce Associate Professor of Sociology Maryville College
Jeremy V. Cruz Assistant Professor of Theology and Religious Studies St John’s University
Teresa Delgado Chair, Department of Religious Studies
Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics
Program Director, Peace and Justice Studies
Iona College
Kristin E. Heyer Professor  of Theological Ethics Boston College
Linh N. Hoang, O.F.M. Associate Professor of Religious Studies Siena College
Andrew Kim Assistant Professor of Theology Marquette University
Bryan Massingale, S.T.D. Professor of Theology Fordham University
Michael P. Moreland Professor of Law and Religion
Director of the Eleanor H. McCullen Center for Law, Religion and Public Policy
Villanova University
Shannen Dee Williams Assistant Professor of History University of Tennessee, Knoxville

We gathered for an initial conversation in Boston coinciding with the meetings of the American Academy of Religion (AAR), and will next convene at Duquesne University this Spring.


Society for the Scientific Study of Religion Annual Meeting, Oct 12-15, 2017

As always, I had an enriching experience at the annual meetings of SSSR (the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion). My participation this year included:

SSSR is among my favorite organizations and conferences. Join us next Fall in Las Vegas!

WUOT / NPR Interview about Parish & Place

I sat down recently with Brandon Hollingsworth of WUOT (Knoxville’s NPR-Affiliate) to discuss my most recent book, Parish and Place: Making Room for Diversity in the American Catholic Church. The description from WUOT’s website reads:

For decades, where Catholics went to mass was a matter of geography. But increasingly, the Church is making room for personal preferences, including ethnicity, social values or even the style of service. It’s called the “personal parish,” and it’s the subject of Maryville College sociologist Tricia Bruce’s new book, Parish and Place: Making Room for Diversity in the American Catholic Church.

In this conversation with WUOT All Things Considered host Brandon Hollingsworth, Dr. Bruce talks about the creation and evolution of personal parishes, and how they interact with Catholic tradition and custom.

Listen to the interview here.


Summary of _Parish and Place_ in “Religion Watch”

The October 2017 issue of Religion Watch includes a nice summary of Parish and Place, reposted below:

Parish and Place (Oxford University Press, $24.95), by Tricia Colleen Bruce, provides an in-depth look at the phenomena of personal parishes in the Catholic Church in the U.S., showing how they mirror Catholic diversity and how the institutional church manages pluralism. The church hierarchy establishes these parishes to serve specific groups that are not being reached by mainstream or “general” parishes. This classification can mean ethnic parishes that minister to such groups as Vietnamese or Hispanic Catholics though retaining language and ethno-religious traditions, or more recently, targeting those with particular theological or liturgical preferences, such as traditionalist Latin and Anglican-use parishes or ones based on a particular social mission. Bruce traces the use of personal parishes from their wide use by the hierarchy during the early waves of European immigration and then later enforcement of more limits out of concern for integrating Catholics into diocesan life. Currently, personal parishes are making a comeback, partly due to the pluralization and fragmentation of American Catholic life, making identity a priority. As Bruce writes, “Personal parishes enable Catholics to choose their world.”

But Bruce stresses that this trend is not largely driven from lay demand and differs from the “cafeteria Catholicism” where individual Catholics cross parish boundaries to attend the church of their choice. Rather, it results from strategic decisions by the hierarchy to defuse controversy and conflict in the diocese (for example, allowing Latin Mass devotees to be contained within their own parish), preserve diversity, and deliver specialized services to an underserved population. Personal parishes, numbering 1,317 congregations and constituting eight percent of American parishes, are likely to grow in areas where there is decline of territorial parishes. Bruce concludes that geographically bound parishes will increasingly co-exist with personal parishes, even as the latter structures reveal a loosening of attachments of Catholics to neighborhood and place.

See it also on the Religion Watch website.

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.