How to Be An Old School Catholic 101 - Joining Your Geographical Parish

Linking up with Like Mother, Like Daughter.

This post is the first part in a mini-series called "Old School Catholicism 101." Just for fun, we'll be spending this weekend looking at some of the "Old School" aspects of our faith culture, and why they're worth a try. Join us?


This month marks one year since we joined our geographical parish. Although it isn't the first time I've belonged to my geographical parish (I did when I was growing up) it is the first time in our marriage that we have. Previously, we belonged to a different parish (in the same town) for a number of reasons, but when things realigned and we realized that the parish closest to our house would actually be a good fit right now...we jumped on the chance to join! We haven't looked back since. 

The other day was our parish picnic/festival and it was wonderful. There are so many aspects of our current parish that remind me of the parish I grew up in. Namely, our parish has a very homey feel. It is mainly made up of the people who live in our town (a town which is in a suburban type area but really feels like a small town). We see fellow parishioners when we're out and about in the neighborhood, and it's lovely to feel like a part of that community.


This little girl was super excited for the parish parade, which went right past our house, and for the games. I forgot how delightful kiddie games are when you're four years old.

I know a lot of you reading this post are not in your geographical parishes. I've been there - in a place where, for whatever reason, the parish was not the right fit for your family. There are 100 different reasons for this to be the case, many of them perfectly legitimate. 

But if you're able to join your geographical parish, I can't recommend it highly enough. There's nothing quite like being able to walk to Mass, hear the church bells from your back yard, and see your priest out for a run around the neighborhood. It makes your community really feel like home.

So, what makes this "Old School Catholicism"? Throughout the history of the Church (prior to the convenience of cars, especially) people belonged to their geographic parishes. It was simply how things were done. I think there is a wisdom to that, and I wanted to share with you what my experience with it has been this past year.


Our priests grand-marshalled the parade in a horse drawn carriage. It was pretty hilarious/awesome.

Maria had eyes for the scary rides only.

My mother grew up in a south side neighborhood in Chicago, in a time when that particular neighborhood was predominantly Polish. People lived in close proximity to one another, and supported each other as best as they could. Families shared duplexes with each other, or lived down the street. And the Catholic church was the heart of the neighborhood, plopped right in to the middle of a city block. It was a different time, for sure.

But there was a wisdom in that time, and I think the particular wisdom we can walk away with. If you live in the parish you attend, your very neighborhood becomes and extension of that Catholic culture. This certainly isn't the case everywhere, but it can be (especially in more urban areas as well as in small towns). Having your church in the heart of your neighborhood makes your church feel like home. Having caring clergy and an attentive office staff helps, too. If you're able to enroll your children in the school or religious education program, that helps even more. 

I don't know if this is universally the  case, but it also often seems to be the case that a parish embodies the personality of the neighborhood and its inhabitants. When you all live in the same area, you tend to share a similar outlook on life, finances, lifestyle, etc. simply because of the character of your community. There can be a wealth of diversity within the community, but there is a certain bond that you share, in a healthy community, simply by sharing space with each other. 

When we first joined our current parish, we weren't involved in any parish activities, other than going to Sunday and sometimes daily Mass. But just being at the church in our community, automatically made us feel like we belonged. We are blessed with super friendly and welcoming fellow parishioners, and that helped (like I said, our neighborhood really has a small town feel). But even that aside, we knew that we already shared the bond of living in the same community, with the people we worshipped with. And there was something special about that, a special sort of feeling of belonging.


She was so nervous...but she went on one of the rides. And she did a great job!

So, what if you're reading this and thinking, Well, I'm really glad you're having such a great experience in your geographical parish, Michele, but...I can't join mine. It doesn't have a school/the pastor messes with the liturgy/it isn't handicap accessible/we had an awful experience when we tried attending Mass there/the Mass times don't work for our family. I hear you! Like I said, we haven't always belonged to our geographical parish, and there are certainly times when it just doesn't work. I want to encourage you to join the parish closest to your house if you are able. If you aren't, here are some helpful tips for making your (non-geographical or geographical) parish feel like home:

1. Bring your parish to your home.

Hang your bulletin up on your refrigerator. Have your pastor over to bless your house and have him stay for dinner. Buy an image of your parish's patron saint and hang it in a place of prominence. When you get home on Palm Sunday, tuck the blessed palms from your parish behind the crucifixes in each room. Let there be reminders of your parish community sprinkled throughout your home.

2. Fully engage in the parish community.

Go to donut Sunday and your parish picnic. Volunteer to lector or help with your parish's St. Vincent de Paul Society. Take part in whatever little or big ways you are able to.

3. Participate in whatever liturgies you can.

If you are able to attend daily Mass at your parish, that is the absolute best way to insert yourself right in to the core of the community. People at daily Mass tend to take the time to learn each other's names and stories (since it's a smaller group) and you're more likely to feel at home in your parish if you know people's names and they know yours.

But if you can't go to daily Mass, you can still incorporate the daily Mass mindset in to Sunday Mass. Most people tend to go to the same Mass and sit in the same general area every week. Do you know the names of your pew buddies, or do you at least acknowledge each other kindly each week?

Also, go to Confession regularly at your parish, if it works with your schedule. (Our current parish has Confession times only once a week, and that doesn't always work for me, so I often go elsewhere. Again, there are a ton of instances where this isn't ideal, but if you can do it, it's worth considering.) Confession is a time when you experience the fatherly, pastoral care of your priest in a very particular way, and being able to experience the Sacrament with his help can be a real gift. 

4. Reach out to others first. 

I know that the best feeling in the world is having someone show you kindness at Mass. Having an older person smile at you when your toddler is breaking down (or better yet, sitting next to you and helping you keep that toddler happy!!), having a long time parishioner take the time to introduce themselves, etc. But sometimes, the other people at your parish may feel as nervous about approaching others as you do. Are you in the back of church pacing with your child and see a fellow parent? Take the time to smile, and maybe even comment on how cute their child is (or how loooong the Mass is...whatever you need to do). Smile genuinely at others during the sign of peace. In my experience, many people will open up to you if they see you being willing to be open to them.

5. Shake your priest's hand on the way out.

Okay, we are abysmally guilty of not doing this every week these days (since our toddler in residence has us in Mass survival mode), but if you're able to shake his hand on the way it! A priest will get to know who's there week after week, and the really nice ones will even ask you how you and your family are doing. ;-)

What are your tips for making a parish a home?


  1. Yes! Our parish here in St. Louis feels the same way -- although our picnic doesn't have a parade! I'll have to suggest that for next year. ;)

    We specifically bought a house within walking distance of our parish and most people at church know us as "those young people who walk." Plus we have met our across-the-street neighbor who ALSO walks to mass every week (although a different time) and walk with her to special liturgies like Holy Thursday.

    Like you said, going to daily mass is HUGE. It really makes people feel like you are involved in the parish and care. We try to make it once a week, on Tuesdays, and even that weak effort has made a huge impression on our fellow parishioners.

  2. This issue is super interesting to me. A friend from Omaha mentioned that the Bishop there enforces geographic lines for registering at a parish. Obviously you can be registered at one parish and attend mass elswhere, but it's an interesting idea.

    We just bought a house and many ping families have "warned" us that the geographic parish is pretty elderly and the priest has been struggling to engage people. Most instead drive to the next town over. We're opting to try to inject some life into our parish because we'd like to bring some balance back to the communities.

    I totally respect not following geographic lines, but if everyone just flocks to the "good" parishes I fear that the "bad ones" will just die out and those areas will completely lose a Catholic presence.

  3. Even our "geographic" parish is a ten minute ride away. We go up across the state border to another diocese, not just another parish. We've tried hard to belong to one of the nearby parishes, and I grew up in one of them, but our home diocese is so liberal it's just not acceptable. We would love being able to walk to Mass, although that isn't a common thing out here in rural suburbs. We have though a lot of moving closer to our parish but we stay across the border because of the better homeschooling laws. It's a tricky thing. I'm glad you have found a good parish close by, it definitively makes a difference.


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