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July 6, 2015 | Volume 90 Number 18


photo: Tom Heding, left, met with Bishop DiLorenzo and the diocesan Pastoral Center staff on June 17 and 18 to present the findings of the Meitler study
Tom Heding, left, met with Bishop DiLorenzo and the diocesan Pastoral Center staff on June 17 and 18 to present the findings of the Meitler study.

Diocese gets demographic study to help map future planning

A recent demographic study of all parishes and Catholic schools in the Diocese of Richmond is being closely examined to determine areas of projected growth and trends to help with decision making regarding staffing and meeting the pastoral needs of people in coming years.

“The geographical area of the Diocese of Richmond is definitely projected to grow by another 1.1 million to 1.2 million by 2040,” said Tom Heding, president of Meitler, a strategic planning company based in Milwaukee hired to conduct the study.

According to figures from the 2010 Federal Census, there are now 5,600,596 people living in the Diocese.

Of this number, registered Catholics represent five percent, “but this is only pertaining to the data collected by the Diocese,” Mr. Heding said. “We’re just going by the number of people that are in the parishes.”

Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo, in consultation with the Diocesan Finance Council, asked Meitler to conduct a Diocesan Data study to guide decisions for the future needs of the Diocese.

Mr. Heding, with the assistance of the diocese’s Finance Office, gathered demographic data and other statistics. He also met with Msgr. Mark Richard Lane, Vicar General and Vicar for Clergy, and Father Michael Boehling, Vicar for Pastoral Services, as well as regional planning bodies to prepare a report to help parishes and Catholic schools in their future planning iniatives.

The number of parish families in the Diocese grew by one percent from 2010 to 2014, but the number of parishioners decreased by one percent.

In certain regions of the Diocese, Catholics represent up to 11 percent of the general population. These regions include Virginia Beach, Williamsburg and Local Planning Area 12 (Ashland, Buckner, Caroline County, Mineral and parts of Richmond).

The Diocese’s Central Vicariate is projected to grow by 38 percent by 2040. The Eastern Vicariate’s projected growth for the same period is 17 percent and that of the Western Vicariate is 11 percent.

“The birth rate of the Diocese has been in decline since 2008, thus the greatest impact on growth will be in-migration,” said Michael J. McGee, Chief Financial Officer of the Diocese.

The Meitler study confirms what other surveys also indicate.

“The mainline churches are all declining except for the Evangelicals, which are growing,” Mr. Heding said. “This is nationwide, not necessarily in Virginia.”

The study’s results are pointing to general themes of what lies ahead.

One: there will likely be fewer active Catholic priests over the next 30 years.

“We know it’s declining,” Mr. Heding said. “We will have fewer diocesan priests.”

Two: the number of children has impacted the enrollment of all schools in general, Catholic schools as well as public schools.

Three: the number of marriages has declined, following the national trend.

The number of infant Baptisms is also down.

“The only statistics which are higher is that the numbers for first Eucharist are up,” Mr. Heding said, but also pointed out that the number of Confirmations are down.

In the Meitler study the diocese’s three vicariates (Eastern, Central and Western) were examined as well as the 19 Local Planning Areas.

“We mapped the location of every family in every parish,” Mr. Heding told The Catholic Virginian.

St. Gregory the Great Parish in Virginia Beach is the largest parish of the Diocese with 4,863 families or approximately 11,000 individuals.

Other large parishes include St. Edward’s in Richmond, with 3,072 families; Our Lady of Nazareth in Roanoke, with 3,432 families; St. Bridget’s in Richmond, with 2,395 families, and St. Bede’s in Williamsburg has 2,867 families.

The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond has 1,240 households.

The survey found that the ratio of priests to parishes is 2,012, approximately the same as it was in 1950.

“We’ve come full circle,” Mr. Heding said. “It’s not a new experience. We’ve just forgotten the way the Church was 65 years ago. I found this fascinating.”

In a recent survey the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) found that 88 percent of priests of the Diocese of Richmond are 50 or older, with 68 percent age 60 or older.

Priests of ages 29 to 39 represent only six percent of the overall numer, with those of ages 40 to 54 comprising another 17 percent.

“To complement the 105 diocesan priests in active ministry, the Diocese has 18 religious order priests (Beneditine, Dominican, Jesuit and the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter) and 42 international priests,” Mr. McGee said. “They will continue to be an important element in the pastoral staffing plan for the Diocese.”

In statistics for Catholic schools, the Meitler study shows that while All Saints School in Richmond retains a black majority enrollment, it has gone from 96 percent black in the 2007-2008 school year to 58 percent today. The most recent school year had a 15 percent white enrollment, up from two percent in 2007-2008 and a 25 percent Hispanic enrollment, up from one percent during that same period.

“We also have Mass attendance records and seating capacity for parishes,” Mr. Heding said.

“The goal is multi-level,” he explained. “Any parish of Catholic school could ‘mine’ the data for their own plans.

Two parishes — St. John the Evangelist in Waynesboro and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in New Kent County — were studied with both parishes having separate six-page individual reports about future population growth in light of their current facility for worship.

The study was made to learn if either parish community should expand their current church building to anticipate a larger congregation.

The project by Meitler began in September 2014 and took nine months to complete. It marked the third time Meitler had conducted a survey in the Diocese of Richmond.

The first was a study of Catholic schools and the diocesan Office of Catholic Schools in 2007 and an update in 2023.

There is a power point presentation which “highlights the trends and projections for the diocese,” Mr. Heding said.

The project required a whole lot more than gathering statistics.

“It was more than just grabbing census numbers,” Mr. Heding said. “It involved meeting with the people who know what the numbers mean.”

The Meitler study was presented to the Diocesan Pastoral Center staff on June 17.

Additional presentations are being planned for Catholic school principals in August and a workshop will be given to all priests at this year’s annual Convocation in October.

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