As Catholics in the U.S., it’s impossible to ignore the statistics. For decades, participation in the Church has been shrinking. More U.S. Catholics have fallen away: In a 2018 survey from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, 26.1 million said they were raised Catholic but no longer identify with the Faith. Parishes are understaffed, with fewer priests: 36,580 in 2018 compared with 59,192 in 1970. Compared to the vibrant U.S. Catholic communities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries — largely influenced by the influx of immigrants from Catholic countries such as Ireland, Italy and Poland — dioceses have struggled to maintain their numbers.
Still, some dioceses across the country are defying statistics. There is an unquestioned demographic shift happening in the Catholic Church in the United States. Traditionally, the centers of Catholic life were cities like Boston and New York, Chicago and Detroit. In recent decades, however, much has changed. While some parts of the Northeast and Midwest have retained large numbers of Catholics (though fewer and fewer of them attend Mass regularly), the new vibrant centers of American Catholicism are in the South and the Southwest. Many dioceses in these areas are experiencing a veritable explosion in the number of Catholics — in many cases exceeding a million total people — causing them to need new parishes and new schools.
In this article, Our Sunday Visitor presents four of the largest dioceses across the country — one in the Northeast and three in the South and Southwest — that give hope for the future of the Church in the United States.