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80 Years of Converts: the Ups and Downs PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Saturday, 20 March 2010 10:57
Holy Week and Easter are nearly upon us and there has been considerable talk about the large numbers of adults entering the Church this year through the RCIA process.

I'm going through my files and it is amazing the stuff I have collected over the years and forgotten about.  Like a wonderful little statistical report that the US Catholic Bishops put out in 2000:  Stats for all sorts of aspects of the American Church's life from 1789 - 1998.

Including the number of conversions to Catholicism in the US beginning in 1930.

So I made up this handy chart (Tom over at Disputations is going to be pea-green with envy!)


The sign posts:

The starting point in 1930: 38,232 become Catholic

A big leap in "converts" between 1930 and 1940 (a 93% increase!)

The pre-Vatican II high point: 146,212 who entered in 1960.

The post-Vatican II low point was the 75,123 who become Catholic in 1975

Then John Paul II becomes Pope and a huge recovery begins. By 1995, an average of 160,000 adults are being received each year.  The overall high point comes in 2001 when 178,000 enter, nearly 5 times as many as in 1930.

In 2006, 157,000 become Catholic.

The last year for which we have figures is 2008 during which 124,000 entered, a drop of 54,000 or a 30% drop in 7 years.

In 2009, no definitive count was issued but round estimates of 150,000 floating about.  And in 2010, some dioceses are reporting record numbers but we won't know the final total for a couple years.

In response to popular demand, here is graph of the Catholic population during the same years - with the exception of 2006 and 2008, which my graph refuses to include for some reason.  But since the Catholic population of the US just continued its slow climb in 2006 and 2008, the resulting graph shows the basic trajectory.  As of 2009, the US Bishops state that there are 68.1 million Catholics in the US which is a bit higher than the CARA figure.


Catholic population growth really took off during the baby boom and has never stopped since.  20 million in 1930.  Nearly 70 million today. We are the only western country that is expected to continue to grow through 2050.  It is estimated that the US will have nearly 100 million Catholics by 2050 and will be the second largest English speaking Catholic country after the Philippines.

Summary:  The reality is considerably more complicated than the paradigm that is accepted as fact so readily about the net: of steady growth followed by a single big drop after Vatican II.

The truth is we don't really know exactly why these swings in conversions occured. Why the big surge between 1930 and 1940,for instance?  The Nazis had marched into Poland and begun World War II in September of 1939 but was war and rumors of war the only factor driving conversion?  

Why the big drop from 157,000 in 2006 to 124,000 in 2008?  The scandal was 4 years old in 2006 but the numbers were still high.  Just a fluk?  Bad counts? Generational Shift?

where is God in all this?

What do you think?

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