Biggest challenge: Weekly attendance at Eucharist

 The nuns were excellent, but, with imagination and  training, laypeople do and can excel

       The nuns were disciplinarians and                     discipline (for children!) still plays a role in any        good parish

       New types of loving service engage more        parishioners







 Active Programs



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Renewing Parish Culture Book Review


The Catholic Education Institute is committed to working with parishes and their pastors and staffs in the on-going process of renewal and reinvigoration.  Our approach to that work is explored in depth in the book:  Renewing Parish Culture: Building for a Catholic Future, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2008 ISBN-13: 978-0-7425-5904-2; ISBN-10: 0-7425-5904-1. 


The following two reviews capture the essence and spirit of the book:


Reviewed by Lawrence Cunningham, Commonweal Magazine, September 21, 2009.

John J. Piderit, SJ, and Melanie M. Morey are the authors of the much-discussed {Catholic Higher Education: A Culture in Crisis} (Oxford University Press, 2006), which triggered many debates on the “Catholic character” of Catholic colleges and universities. The same authors have now teamed up again to write about the state of Catholic parishes in the United States.

In their preface, they write that while parishes are at the heart of the American church, the story of the American parish is today a “complicated narrative”--and not an entirely reassuring one. Most Catholics would probably say “amen” to that. Every day comes news of parishes being closed or consolidated, of priest shortages, of fewer Catholics attending Mass regularly, of Catholics for whom parish life is a mere memory.

But, as its title suggests, {Renewing Parish Culture} is less concerned with rehearsing the problems of parish life today than with focusing on ways to reinvigorate parishes. The authors' ideas are modeled on the success of the religious sisters who were so vital to parish life and other ministries a few generations ago. Piderit and Morey are not trying to duplicate a previous era in the church, but they do want to discover why religious sisters were so effective. Their conclusion: religious women in a variety of ministries “gave Christian witness, executed well, made deft dynamic adjustments, recruited effectively, exercised financial realism, and promoted growth and competition.”

The challenge is to transfer these virtues and methods to the parish. The authors divide the rest of the book into two large sections: one devoted only to parishes, the other to both the parish and the diocese. In the first section the authors write about how to develop a robust liturgical life, about the structure of religious education for both children and adults, and about ways to enhance service (diakonia--hence our word “deacon”). In the second section they highlight such familiar and vexatious topics as priest shortages and the development of lay leaders, as well as the ever-looming problem of church finances.

It is hard for me to judge whether their recommendations are practical, or even possible, since my own perspective is from the pew, but it does seem to me that this book would be an excellent point of departure for discussions at both the parochial and the diocesan levels. Informed by a sophisticated social theory and theology, {Renewing Parish Culture} arrives at some very concrete proposals. It is designed not only to be read and discussed but also to be used.

Reviewed by Audra Kunciunas, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Pastoral Projects Office, Australian Catholic University, Fitzroy, 3065, Victoria, Australia

Some suburban Catholic parishes in the United States are flourishing, especially in the more economically healthy areas. (It will be interesting to see the effect of the current economic crisis on these parishes.) However, it is not news that overall there is a decline in Catholic parish viability—studies show that fewer than 35 per cent of Catholics report they attend Mass two or more times per month. As in a number of other western cultures, regular Mass attendance is no longer the Catholic cultural norm. In Renewing Parish Culture, the authors try to address this significant waning of parish life.


Piderit and Morey describe Catholic religious sisters as “the most effective transmitters of Catholic culture in the United States.” The authors look at the strategies used by these women to successfully cultivate and transmit Catholic culture in specific institutional settings. They apply insights from the cultural legacy of religious women’s congregations over the past two hundred years to come up with new ways of nourishing parish life today. They also base this study on extensive interviews conducted in forty parishes, mainly in the New York City metropolitan area and some in Chicago.



Renewing Parish Culture Book Review Continued --->