The Francis Effect

Attendance was up noticeably at the abbey on the Fifth Sunday of Lent, four days after Pope Francis was elected. Singing was more enthusiast than ever. I wanted to think it was about the new pope, that everyone else felt the same relief and hope that I did, but I didn’t want to jump to conclusions.  Maybe I was seeing what I wanted to see, I cautioned myself. Then it was the same on Palm Sunday. And every day of the Triduum. I don’t know when I’ve last heard the abbey church ring out with such joyful, exuberant singing from such a large group.

Then I read Fr. Ron Krisman’s comment here, “Something is happening, that’s for sure. I have spoken with both family members and friends. They all said that their parish churches were SRO (“standing room only”) for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper this year, as they had not been in previous years.”

An organist friend just wrote on Easter Sunday night, “We had numbers that have not been seen for years, despite it being spring break here.”

Some of this is inevitable after all the media coverage, to be sure, and not all of it will last. But the intensity of it is quite surprising to me. For now I’m just enjoying it.

What is the Francis Effect like at your place? What do you make of it?


  1. I was disappointed with the attendance at my parish for the entire Triduum. 60% capacity on Thursday, 50% on Friday, maybe 65% on Saturday – from a parish that is traditionally “social justice” oriented. I don’t know what correlation, if any, to draw between the new Holy Father and the attendance but we were definitely not anywhere close to standing room only and the singing was less than exuberant.

  2. I’m quite certain Pope Francis would prefer to think of it as the Jesus effect (with a little help from his friends).

  3. Interestingly, I commented to our liturgical coordinator that not only did our prish in Chicago seem noticeably fuller (well, maybe not fuller as there’s always overflow, so I guess I mean that people were lining up sooner) but as a the Cantor, I noticed greater singing participation in the Thursday service as well as todays Easter morning mass. Furthermore, there was a palpable joy during the Easter Vigil that wasn’t present previously or at least was more subdued. Everyone I spoke with agreed, but no one can identify what is different.

  4. We were packed, but I asked the people after communion if any had come because they were excited by our new pope. Not a single hand…I was startled. Then I asked if many of them had non-catholic friends who taken positive note of hs election. Lots of hands went up. Christ is risen. He is truly risen.

    1. @Jack Feehily – comment #6:
      I always appreciate your postings, but do you think you might have been putting people on the spot by asking if they had come to Mass on Easter because of our new pope? Who would actually want to admit to that?
      We had very full houses at everything during the Triduum, and I sincerely hope that all these people continue to fill our pews in the weeks and months to come.

  5. Attendances at Triduum noticeably up, especially the Vigil, but attendance at Chrism Mass down a bit (because the schools were still in session).

  6. I find it interesting that time and again Francis is being referred to as Papa Francesco, a friendly and informal address from English speaking people. That’s encouraging!

  7. The Gallup poll below shows that the south is on top in terms of religiosity and my home town in the top 10! We’ve seen no real spike since we’ve seen no real decline like Fr. Anthony has! 🙂
    Of course the south is the most religious, amongst some other places so this so-called spike in religious practice isn’t relevant to us, since we have never really seen the decline that more progressive communities have seen. Duh! shouldn’t this tell you something? Please note that the bottom (the 10 worse) are elsewhere than the glorious south! Please note that Augusta, GA is on the top 10 list! That’s where I am now on Easter Monday basking in this wonderful consistent glow! And this ain’t a April Fools’ joke either! 🙂

    1. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #9:
      “we have never really seen the decline that more progressive communities have seen. Duh! shouldn’t this tell you something?”

      Duh, beware of over simplification.

      At the Cathedral of St. Jude in St Petersburg FL we are remodeling and rebuilding our new cathedral.
      1. Tore out the altar rails in September.
      2. Moved the tabernacle way in the back.
      There is lots of excitement and expect overflow crowds.
      Same holds true at other progressive churches in Florida.
      Even Rorate Coeli howled, so we must be doing something right!

      1. @Dale Rodrigue – comment #29:
        …and what I left out was that St. Pete is farther south, 355 miles (572 Km) exactly. So I guess we are even more religious than they are in Macon?

  8. Our liturgies are always well attended. We received many converts at the vigil. I would imagine that the Benedictine affect is still at play there. I have noticed growing interest in the use of intinction for Holy Communion based on the new Holy Father’s continued example.

  9. I asked if any had come having been inspired by PopeFrancis. I certainly knew that people had come because they wanted to be. Inspired by theEaster story.

  10. Fr. Alan, there seems to be no limit to your smugness about your traditional parish. I too live in the south and our parish is strongly influenced by the best of Vatican II. The worshippers are many, and the faith is strong because Christ is risen, he is truly risen!

  11. One does not need to observe a decline first in order to see a spike. It is simply an increase in the first derivative with respect to time.

  12. Geez, Fr. Jack, how grumpy must you be across different threads if both AWR and FRAJM put you in a lather the day after we commemorate that, in your words, “Christ is risen, (H)e is truly risen”? And, yes it is April 1, in this world.
    Now to the thread-
    Francis’ name has only been publicly uttered in the the Universal Prayers and Canon since election, inauguration and subsequent papal adventures. Our four parish merged mini-diocese stays pretty close to the bone of orthodoxy, and if congregational attendance and demographics were indicators of universal RC vitality, you’d think “the kids are all fine.” We had 20 baptized at the mother church alone (don’t know about the the other three) 40 total received, but not including another forty received from the newly instituted Way Program last Feb. We’ll have 110 teen confirmandi at mother church, and another 80 or so at our sister second church this spring.
    What I’m starting to discern is a post conciliar Church coming to terms with itself wherein the lay and clergy (at least at our joint) are no longer sounding out territoriality and political protocols (not ignoring those that must be in place, of course) and getting to a place and routine where they can function with confidence, expand ministries and generally represent the face of authentic Christianity in a rural, but urban Bible belt landscape.
    In that regard, I’m thinking HHFrancis will be a huge asset to us all.
    Now if he’d install Charles Cole from the UK as maestro Capella Sixtini I could die a happy old geezer.

    1. @Charles Culbreth – comment #15:
      Christ is truly risen and life goes on. I was having breakfast at a local eatery when I read Anthony’s article about the pope and making The Way. There was a parishioner in the next booth over and I at once passed the info on to her before I even completed reading it. We had an animated discussion about Pope Francis. My guess is that she’s probably passed that on to several others. I had not expected an april fool’s joke on such a serious subject, so, yes, I was completely taken in. Be assured that I have recovered now from the grumpiness that you noted. Happy Easter!

  13. According to the data provided by Fr. McDonald following the annual October pew count, the number of persons attending his church on an average October weekend has declined from a high of 1,759 in 2003 to a reported 1,233 in 2012. During that period the highest report was for 2003, while the lowest was 1,111 reported by him in 2010.

    There are two other Catholic parishes in Macon. One has had a smaller decline, from an average of 593 attendees per weekend in October 2003 to 512 in 2012. The second has had a statistically insignificant drop from 319 in 2003 to 314 in 2012.

    In 2003, the October pew count showed that 36,992 persons occupied the seats each weekend in the Catholic churches across the Diocese of Savannah which is comprised of the lower 2/3 of the state, 90 counties, 38,000 square miles. In 2010, the last year with complete data, the total attending our churches was 37,213. By that measure, we are JUST holding our own.

    [The numbers reported from the Augusta Deanery where Fr. McDonald basks indicate that in 2003 there were 7052 Catholics in church on an average weekend while in 2010 the number had declined to 6542.]

    1. @Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh – comment #16:

      “O God, I thank you that the Catholics of Macon and Augusta are not like the rest of Catholic Americans – greedy, dishonest, adulterous – or even like all those who are not from the South who contribute to this blog. Thank you, God, for making us the most religious” (cf. Luke 18:11).

    2. @Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh – comment #16:
      So, are you the pastor of the *suburban parish* – to use Allan’s description?

      Appears that Macon has about 150,000 citizens (town in Texas) with three parishes for roughly 2,000 catholics – town went from 100,000 to 150,000 in 2012 because Bibb and Macon counties merged (notice that Allan completely skips over that). History reviews indicate that St. Peter Claver is less than 5 miles from Allan and was founded as an African-American parish – now has four masses on week-ends including Spanish; the *suburban* parish is out near the interstate and looks like it was a mission from Allan’s parish in the 1970s given the urban expansion at that time. Again, guessing that this is a small parish that has not, to this point, benefited from growth, added population, neighborhoods being built, and may have gained some with the county merger but Bibb County is rural and probably not catholic, etc.? It has only three week-end masses. Allan’s parish has 5 week-end masses and of course the latin masses during the week and once a month. Doesn’t look like St. Joseph’s has made any effort to respond or provide Spanish masses?

      Finally, Wiki indicates that from 2000 to 2010, Macon population only decreased by 6,000 folks – so, a 30% catholic decrease is significant and has happened beyond any type of *let’s blame the census and economy excuse* – and also in light of the fact that of the 2012 county mergers.

      FYI – compare that to my Texas reference, county seat like Macon with 150,000 citizens – three parishes and four priests with the first parish having about 1300 families; historical Spanish mission; now a parish with 800 families and a fairly new parish in the west where growth and expansion have skyrocketed. The oldest, central (sure wouldn’t say *inner city* parish as a large school; six week-end masses/50% spanish. This would be about 2-3 times larger with more catholics than Allan’s parish; yet they have two priest while Allan has two priests plus a retired msgr as a chaplain. Compare the work demands.

  14. Watch it, Fr. Krisman! Unlike the immigrant Fr. McDonald, I am a natural born Son of the South! My home town, a small fishing village on the east side of Savannah, is Thunderbolt, Georgia, with a 2011 population of (wait for it) 2,726!

  15. Careful, you two. AWR will sanction you for teasing the hapless Macon pastor. Keep in mind – on his own blog, he tells his poor readers that he is the ONLY one on PTB who is a *sane commenter*; and he, by his own self-appointment, is *clairvoyant*.

    And really – “1,759 in 2003 to a reported 1,233 in 2012” – what’s a 30% drop when you can offer the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite?

    And had to smile – a second Easter collection for DePaul USA, local Daughter of Charity site. Funny how quickly some *clerics* are suddenly finding a vocation for the *preferential option for the poor* (e.g. Cdl Dolan saying a mass at a prison on Holy Thursday – last minute, never done this before, etc., etc. type of thing)

    1. @Bill deHaas – comment #19:
      What Fr. k fails to point out is that the public school system in our county is horrible and that no industries are moving in and many others have relocated and in the census of 2000 compared to 2010 our county lost 15000 in population. But in the same time my parish has doubled it’s offertory and Bishop’s annual appeal and is in the midst of completing a $10 million capital improvements. Go figure!

  16. The survey that is linked is a comparison of various US regions where the top 10 most religeous are mostly in in the Bible Belt. This is about general practice and the conservative south whether Catholic or Protestant has faired better than the more or very progressive parts of the country where secularism trumps traditional faith and practices, so Fr. K sets up a straw man which does not deal with the general and substantial facts of the statistics of this particular survey and why progressive parts of the country quite a bit less religious. So don’t shoot the messenger, deal with the facts which doesn’t mean there isn’t decline in the South but that given the south’s religious conservatism ithe decline isn’t as severe as in those places where progressivism, religious or otherwise creates more of a delterious effect on religious practice.

  17. Now, now Bill. I can’t speak for you nor anyone else who haunts here, but I don’t need nor inquire to our friend FRAJM to confirm my self-awareness of my own certifiability, insanity wise. 😉

  18. With all due respect, Fr. McDonald, when I reported your October pew count numbers on your blog last year, you responded on December 29, 2012, by saying, and I quote, “Fr. Allan J. McDonald said…you forgot to mention that Bibb county lost 10,000 of the white population to Jouston County 20 miles away and on that period St . Patrick increased by 500 families all due to better public schools thus negating tour premis…”

    Is there an explanation why in December 2012 the loss of population in Bibb County was 10,000 and now it has jumped to 15,000? A 50% difference is surely statistically significant and should be explained.

    1. @Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh – comment #26:
      Look up the statistics yourself and report back which one is correct as well as the anomaly that Macon’s inner city parish has 4 times as many parishioners than Macon’s only suburban parish.

  19. Macon has inner city and suburban – really? and three parishes?? why? your Jesuit built edifice alone looks half empty even at the best of times? And just over 500 parishioners at each of the other parishes?

    Given the lack of resources – both clerical and financial, why three parishes? Can the diocese really afford that manpower? It is just reality in our Texas neck of the woods that parishes (whether inner/outer/suburban,etc) have 2000+ families and might have two clerics – altho, more and more have only a pastor with Sunday help.

    Also, wonder about the 30% decrease (whatever your rationalization since it could work both ways in terms of losing catholics or just losing population) – most parishes have a type of bell curve – 10-20% of parishioners give 50% of the operating budget; the rest give the other 50%. We are inner city with 2000 families and 190 families give $1000+ annually – 1800 families give less (and in cash, small dollar amounts, and it is a true sacrifice for them).

    So, you state elsewhere that about 50 folks attend the EF – could you find some of your big donors in that small group? One always wonders about these types of connections?

    And Fr. K quoted you (so, why look up the statistics?) And was the *suburban parish* built recently in expectation of Macon expanding and then our quasi-depression hit? And what does comparing your church to another have to do with what Fr. K quoted? (changing subjects again, Allan?)
    New industry – don’t you have Honey Boo-Boo?

    1. @Tom Piatak – comment #37:

      Tom, I think it’s more “bullying” than vitriolic. Fr. Allen seems to be able to handle himself quite well.. I think if it really were vitriol we’d all be called to task.

  20. Wasn’t this blog supposed to be about, What is the Francis Effect like at your place? What do you make of it?

    Well I am a church servant for the community “Siervos de Jesus” in a Charismatic Catholic Church in the Caribbean, specifically Puerto Rico. Our group as well as other church groups and public in general seem to applaud Pope Francis’ actions. In fact some Pentecostal leaders here in Puerto Rico have congratulated the Pope as being authentic and sincere in his actions. He has shown humility, kindness and mercy not only to his fellow clergy colleagues but also to the general public. Isn’t this what Jesus did in his ministry on Earth? The heart of the Lord is Mercy. May God continue to use Pope Francis, guided by the Holy Spirit, to be an inspiration to all nations and faiths that Jesus has risen and is the Light of the World for all men. Also, may some bloggers on this site be a little more like Pope Francis and learn from his humility. Every act of man for the Kingdom of God is for his honor and glory and not ours to boast.

  21. The statistics about Bibb County’s loss of population, which is Macon, are accurate. Most of those departing are associated with “white flight” due to the political tensions here as well as the desperately horrible public school system. When I arrived here in 2004, we had a significant population of parishioners from outside our parish boundaries, about 20 to 30 miles away in a booming part of our area, Houston County pronounced House-ton (Warner Robins area). They have the single largest employer in Georgia, Robins Air Force Base. There was one parish there in an antiquated small church building. Therefore they had several Masses in their gym. So people drove about 20 miles and more to join St. Joseph for its beautiful building and traditional setting. They opened a new church building in 2007 which is modern but quite beautiful seating about 1,300 people. That kept their people there and those driving to my parish migrated back to their neighborhood parish. A little south of Houston County was another parish, St. Patrick which in 2004 only had 70 families. The diocese moved the entire parish closer to Warner Robins and built a nice multi-purpose building around 2008. They are now up to about 500 families. So the majority of the losses in Macon have been from a significant white flight and Catholics returning to their geographical parishes some 20 to 30 miles away from Saint Joseph.
    But at the same time, the committed core at Saint Joseph has remained the same. We have almost 1400 families of which about 600 families actually participate weekly and quite generously. The others are hit and miss. We are a stewardship parish and our people are quite involved liturgically, with the poor and otherwise with their “time, talent and treasure.”

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