Over the past few decades, many dioceses have taken on the hard task of closing and merging parishes in urban areas. Too many buildings and not enough people have led to right-sizing, downsizing, renewal, planning, restructuring, or reimagining. As well-intentioned as efforts may be, they are often met with mistrust, anger, and sometimes defiance. Quick to put the blame on the priest shortage and financial woes of dioceses brought on by abuse-scandal lawsuits and bankruptcy, many ignore the simple fact that over several decades, Catholic parish life in America’s cities has changed dramatically.
Catholic immigrants from Europe built religious and cultural enclaves. Large city campuses featuring houses of worship, elementary and high schools, social clubs, and sports venues served a purpose. They kept hundreds of thousands of like-minded and like-living people together, safe (or so they thought) from what they believed were harmful influences. Togetherness in a supersaturated, culturally Catholic environment enabled tremendous growth and advancement. With each passing generation, Catholics found themselves better educated, more influential, and more prosperous. Today, many professionals who are Catholic owe some of their success to the immigrant parish “machine” of the last century.
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