Mapping Mission History

Mapping Mission

From 'No Priest Land, USA' to 'Mission Land, USA,' Glenmary continues to chart the home mission challenge for the US Church

Maps have always been an important part of Glenmary's story.

It was a map that founder Father William Howard Bishop carried with him in the early 1930s as he traveled from one U.S. bishop to another trying to convince someone to sponsor his dream for a new home mission society. Successive versions of this "No Priest Land, U.S.A." map have been used by Glenmarians ever since to explain to U.S. Catholics that mission fields exist at home as well as afar.
Missionary Map of the United States
Father Bishop, who had worked for a map-making company while a student at Harvard in 1909, created the first "No Priest Land, U.S.A." map by hand. On a map detailing the United States' 3,000 counties, he colored in the over 1,000 that had no resident priest. This was the map that reinforced his own conviction that a special missionary effort was needed in Appalachia and the rural South. This was the map he laid before Cincinnati's Archbishop John McNicholas when he first met with him on a Saturday in 1937 hopeful that, at last, he might find a home for his dream.

In a diary entry later that day, Father Bishop wrote: "Saturday, April 17, 1937. The Archbishop of Cincinnati agrees to headquarter my society." The map worked its power. Glenmary's mission to rural America was launched.

Now, over 70 years later, maps still play a key role in charting Glenmary's future—and the missionary challenge for the U.S. Church.

And Glenmary is still making the maps!

The map that a Glenmarian today might hold up in one of the many annual mission appeals in parishes across the county is a far different map from the one Father Bishop created. More recent maps produced by the Glenmary Research Center reveal increasingly sophisticated analyses and a changing pastoral context. A 1988 map, for instance, tracks the number of counties with "at least one congregation with a full-time pastoral agent other than a priest."

The various editions of the early "No Priest Land, U.S.A." map became the image associated with Glenmary for decades. Hundreds of thousands of prayer cards featuring some version of this map on one side and Father Bishop's "Prayer for the Home Missions" on the other were printed and distributed over these years. Gradually, in the years after Vatican II, the title "No Priest Land U.S.A" gave way to "Mission Land, U.S.A."

The founding of the Glenmary Research Center in 1966 spawned a variety of new Glenmary maps. This map-making effort finds new energy at the beginning of each decade as new census data become available and a new edition of the Churches and Church Membership Study is published by the Glenmary Research Center.

A sampling of the titles of the maps spawned by the data from each new census and each new Church membership study reveals how far Glenmary maps have come from that first "No Priest Land" map of Father Bishop: Percent of Population Unchurched by Counties of the US: 1971; Ranking Christian Denominations by Counties of the U.S.: 1971; The Catholic Home Mission Fields of the United States (1976); Catholic Percent of Total Population (1982); Catholic Pastoral Ministry in the Southern United States: 1988; Percent of Change in Catholic Population: 1971-1990.