The housing and property needs of the Catholic Church in the U.S. have drastically changed from 50 years ago. According to Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), the U.S. Church had nearly 161,000 religious sisters in 1970, and it had 41,000 religious sisters in 2020. But the problem is the Church still has housing all over the U.S. built for 120,000 religious sisters who no longer occupy them.
The decline of Catholic priests and religious brothers tells a similar story: 59,000 priests and 11,600 religious brothers in 1970 is now 35,000 priests and 3,800 religious brothers in 2020.
But the Church’s property story does not have to be caught in a doom loop of selling and seeing its physical footprint shrink further. While the number of priests and religious continue to decline, Maddy Johnson, program manager for the Church Properties Initiative at the University of Notre Dame’s Fitzgerald Institute for Real Estate, told the Register that Church leaders have an opportunity to “be proactive and creative” with the spaces they already have in order to evangelize a society that is suffering from loneliness and isolation.
“There’s a bottomless supply of underutilized Church property,” she said. “And so there’s boundless fields for innovative thinking.”
In fact, the Fitzgerald Institute will be joining the Global Institute of Church Management to co-host an upcoming conference in Rome on the topic, “Real Estate and the New Evangelization.” Billed as “the first event of its kind for managing Church assets,” the conference will take place April 28-30, exploring everything from “the theology of place” to case studies of “repurposing urban spaces to serve.”