The number of Americans who identify as Catholic has shrunk in recent years, and Connecticut leads the nation in that decline. While Norwalk is no exception to the trend — cumulative parish registration is down 11 percent and mass attendance has declined 20 percent across the city’s seven Catholic churches — one Norwalk church has found a way to grow.Saint Ladislaus Parish, located in South Norwalk, is the only Norwalk church that has seen an increase in both parish registration and mass attendance. It has grown Mass attendance from about 100 members three years ago to more than 500 on any given weekend, and parish registration has grown 48 percent since 2008.Patrick Turner, director of strategic and pastoral planning at the Diocese of Bridgeport, attributes the growing attendance to changes in the church that have drawn in a younger and more diverse crowd. “They’re a really exciting success story in South Norwalk,” Turner said. “It has absolutely blossomed in the last couple of years and I think there’s really two reasons for that. The first is they have a new, young, very dynamic pastor, and the second is he has added outreach to the Hispanic community in Norwalk.”
And there’s this:
In Norwalk, several of the Catholic churches have added services in languages native to their parishioners. At St. Joseph Church in South Norwalk, Mass is conducted in English, Spanish and French Creole. St. Mary Parish and St. Ladislaus both offer services in English and Spanish, and St. Mary is the only area church to offer Mass in traditional Latin. Erlinda Zelaya, administrative assistant at St. Mary, said the Sunday Latin Mass is by far the most well-attended service at the church. Zelaya estimated roughly 40 percent of the families in the parish are from Latin America. “Very few churches offer the Latin Mass,” Zelaya said. “We have a lot of people who come from all over Fairfield County for the Latin Mass and they’re members of ours because they like this particular mass.” Turner said it is this sort of ingenuity that can help draw people back to the church. “It’s an exciting story and what we obviously hope in all of our parishes over the coming years is they figure out some of the specific ways to begin to bring people back,” Turner said.
Photo: Alex Von Kleydorff / Hearts Connecticut Media