Research Center Helps Glenmary Plan Its Future

Posted: 7/2/2012

Glenmary seminarians during 1950s update mission-need mapsSince 1966, the Glenmary Research Center (GRC) has been providing a range of research work to support and assist Glenmary, Church leaders and the wider society. But two projects in particular have earned national recognition for Glenmary as they've helped set a course for its future, says GRC coordinator Lucy Putnam. One is the GRC's ecumenical role in helping gather and publish data on religious affiliation in the United States, and the other is its ongoing creation of maps and county profiles showing U.S. mission needs and ministries.

The just-released 2010 "Religious Congregations & Membership Study" (RCMS) is the latest edition of an every-10-year national study on religious affiliation. The GRC served as publisher of the 1971, 1980, 1990 and 2000 studies and was a major stakeholder in the 2010 edition, funding the collection of all Catholic data. It also produced the new 28-by-38-inch wall map that depicts the 2010 "Major Religious Families" in the United States by county.

"Along with our maps, the studies have become flagship projects for the GRC," says Lucy, who is also Glenmary's archivist.

The national-study idea originated with the National Churches of Christ, which produced the 1952 "Churches and Church Membership" study to gather religious information about Americans after the U.S. Census Bureau stopped collecting this data for legal reasons. For the next editions from 1971 on, the GRC has cooperated with other religious bodies in gathering data.

These studies have consistently provided the most complete U.S. religious data available—and have become valuable references for people of many faiths. "Also," says Lucy, "the studies have gotten progressively more ecumenical in the number and diversity of religious bodies they cover."

Through its work on U.S. religious studies and maps, the GRC has also continued a Glenmary research tradition that dates back to the 1930s, when Glenmary founder Father William Howard Bishop used census data to create his "No Priest Land, USA" map. It highlighted the approximately 1,000 "priestless counties" in the United States—and graphically illustrated the need for a society of priests and brothers who could establish a Catholic presence in U.S. mission areas. That map appeared on page 1 of the first issue of Glenmary Challenge magazine in 1938, the year before Glenmary was established as a religious community.

Since then, Glenmary has produced maps that help identify future U.S. Catholic mission needs and chart the progress of Glenmary's ministry. Over the years, these maps also have been favorite visual aids used by Glenmarians in mission appeal presentations around the country. After the GRC was established in the 1960s, the maps and county-by-county mission-need profiles (Fast Facts) became an integral part of the center's work.

Now that the 2010 RCMS is released, Lucy says that her most pressing task is "merging the study information and 2010 U.S. census data to create new mission-need profiles for all the more than 3,000 U.S. counties, starting with the South and Appalachia." She points out that the key criteria which characterize a county with "high mission needs" include a low percentage of Catholics (less than 3 percent), a high rate of poverty (almost twice the national average), a significant percentage with no church affiliation, and a multicultural mix.

A new 17-by-22-inch mission-need map—based on these profiles—will be produced and available soon.

Liz Dudas is chair of Glenmary's mission planning committee, which is responsible for making recommendations about counties where Glenmary missioners and coworkers could serve in the future. The GRC's county profiles and mission-need map are critical for planning for Glenmary's future, Liz says, because they provide key information for evaluating and choosing new mission areas.

"It's an ongoing process," she says. "We use the Fast Facts profiles and map as our starting point, because they identify the counties we should consider. Then we do additional online and on-the-ground research. But without the GRC's initial input, we would be starting from scratch."

This information is also valuable for Glenmary missioners and coworkers, Church leaders and others in need of demographic and religious data.

Lucy says the GRC's primary goals are:

  • to collect and maintain databases of current conditions and trends (e.g., Fast Facts profiles of counties);
  • to provide services to Glenmary constituencies (e.g., mission planning committee);
  • to conduct specific studies in support of the Glenmary mission (e.g., Catholic data for RCMS 2010);
  • to maintain ties with groups related to Glenmary research activities (e.g., collaborators in RCMS work);
  • to publicize and distribute information and materials developed through the GRC (e.g., Black and Catholic in the Jim Crow South by Danny Duncan Collum).

But the GRC's most important role today," she emphasizes, "is providing accurate, relevant information about potential future mission areas so Glenmary can continue making the best choices for both county residents and the larger Church."

To request your full-size copy of the 2010 "Major Religious Families" map and new mission-need map (available soon), or to learn how to order RCMS 2010, contact the GRC at 800-935-0975.