Parish Determined by Zip Code?


Out of curiosity, what determines which church is a Catholic’s home parish? Is it something you choose or is it determined by geography? What about when there are two churches very close to each other? I’m asking this because my county has two parishes and I live in a location where I’m like, an equal distance away from either of them but one is much bigger than the other. They are both 15 minutes away by driving. However, each one is in a different zip code. One is a much larger parish that is in the city and has a lot of young people. We’ll call that Parish A. The other is a smaller one that is close to a retirement home in the country and, therefore, serves an older population. We’ll call that one Parish B. Parish B., which serves an older population, is in my home zip code. If I were to go through with RCIA, I would hope to go through RCIA with Parish A. because Parish A. has a bigger population of people in their 20s-30s and I feel like it would be helpful to have Catholic friends close to my own age. My friend, who happens to live 5 minutes away from me, attends mass and is registered with Parish A., even though she shares the same zip code as Parish B. So I’m guessing zip codes don’t matter when it comes to parishes? Or maybe I’m confused? Or maybe my friend and I live right along the boundary?

Few people know the exact boundary of their parish. But you are technically a member of the parish in which you live. You can certainly go through RCIA in either parish.

Parish boundaries, at least in my city, pre-date ZIP codes.
Most parishes have a map that outlines their territory.

That said, at least in my diocese, parish boundaries don’t mean too much.
I have a church that is a 1/4 mile from my house, but I drive 11 miles, one way, to go to the parish I do.

Parishes are established all over the world. ZIP codes are established only in the USA and territories.

Can. 518 As a general rule a parish is to be territorial, that is, one which includes all the Christian faithful of a certain territory. When it is expedient, however, personal parishes are to be established determined by reason of the rite, language, or nationality of the Christian faithful of some territory, or even for some other reason.

In my experience in the USA, though this remains cononically true, pastors and parishes are quite willing to be flexible with “membership” :twocents:

(And, FTR, proximity to a church building does not necessarily indicate parish)

But I Am Not A Canon Lawyer.


A parish is a territory, not a building.

Parishes are defined the same was as states, counties, or cities.

Think of it this way: when asking “in what state do I live?” the answer is not determined by how close one lives to the capitol building or if one identifies more or less with either population, certainly not a matter of personal preference or choice. If you live within the boundaries of “State A” then that is your state; it’s that simple.

Parishes are exactly the same. They are territories (that’s the very definition of a parish).

As far as zip codes are concerned: sometimes a zip code can help in determining what is ones parish. Sometimes. It might be that after zip codes came into being, some bishops found it convenient to determine parish territory according to zip codes–especially if parish boundaries have been re-drawn in recent years. Even if that’s the case, it would be coincidental; zip codes are just a tool, not something the Church considers important.

Just for example. Here’s a description of one parish (at random) from the Archdiocese of Atlanta:
All of Madison County. All of Clarke County. All of Oconee County. The portion of Oglethorpe County west of the line that starts at the Oglethorpe/Madison County line and Hwy 22. Follow Hwy 22 (A/K/A Comer Road) south. Turn left on Hwy 78 (a/k/a Athens Rd) and head south until Hwy 77. Turn left on Hwy 77 (A/K/A Union Point Road) and head south until the Oglethorpe/Greene County line.


Your profile might indicate that you live in Georgia (or might not) so I picked that diocese just as an example. The parish was entirely random. It seems I got lucky as most don’t have a verbal description of the territory. However, if you zoom-in on the map, the boundaries are very clearly drawn.

In a few cases, there is one parish in a county. It seems that the boundary is the county itself.

I think this is so. My 82 year old father has been a member of our home parish since he was 5 years old. A new parish was built closer to our family home, but my folks were allowed to stay in our old parish even though they lived within the boundaries of the new parish. (Now they’ve moved to assisted living, so they are back within the boundaries of my dad’s nearly lifelong parish.)

Of course Fr. David is correct.

The best way to find out what your territorial parish is will vary from location to location. In some places the diocese and/or local parishes will have maps on their websites that you can use. In other cases you will have to do some digging.

I have found that where I live even the the priests and staff don’t always know where the boundaries are. My diocese is fairly lax about enforcing boundaries since it seems that local pastors have faculties for multiple parishes -at least in the same Deanery.

I live in a large city, I am registered as a parishoner at the parish of my choice, not the one closest to my house. I attend mass at different churches sometimes based on convenience. Call the parish office of the church where you feel you will be most comfortable and tell them you are interested in joining the Catholic church and going through RCIA. They’ll be happy to help you.

That’s been my family experience as well. Growing up we never attended mass at what was actually our parish church. In fact our family wasn’t even aware we technically had a different parish church until I came across a similar thread a few months back on CA discussing this very topic (and my old Catholic diocese is one of those that has a convenient map of its boundaries up on their website). To my knowledge the parish that was supposed to be our home parish has no record of anyone in my family or anything of the like. My parents and siblings were all members of the parish attached to our elementary/middle school, which happened to be a neighboring parish. And the parish we attended is the only parish that would have any record of us, sacraments performed, etc…

That said, given what happened at the parish we attended with 3 different abusive clergy deviants, perhaps we would have been better served going to what was supposed to be our home parish. :eek: To my knowledge they never had any priests go bad.

Our parish covers and serves 4 zip codes. They don’t function as an indicator, for the most part. True enough, MOST of the people are from one zip…but that’s the determining factor.
Our Archdiocese has recommended boundaries that are laid out. If you call the Chancery they will tell where you likely fall. But as we all know, people just go wherever they please.

Father David is correct as others have said, but in many parts of the U.S., “membership” is where you want it to be. For example:

My family and I reside in Parish A, Diocese 1. We are registered members of Parish B, Diocese 2. Our children attend school at Parish C, also Diocese 2, and we’re somewhat “honorary members” as a result. In fact, I’ve never received a sacrament, attended Mass, or otherwise set foot in our territorial Parish A - or anywhere in Diocese 1 other than walk in to see the building and walk out.

I am registered in a parish outside my parish boundaries. In the parish in which I live, the church and community is very contemporary, which is not my preference. I also believed, in my own opinion, there were some liturgical freedoms taken which seemed to lessen the reverence of the Eucharist. I attend there for sometime thinking I could just get used to it, but in the end going to Mass left me feeling less at peace.

I started attending the next parish over which is more traditional (small t). Not only do I feel more at peace going to Mass there I am involved with parish ministries. One day I hope to move within the boundaries of this parish.

In the state of Louisiana, the counties are called parishes. I wonder if there are there any parishes in Louisiana that are contiguous with the civil parishes.

The boundaries are sort of important, as the parish priest has legal obligations to the people living in the parish under canon law. Back when I was a young boy, we were living in a new subdivision that was developed just a few years earlier, on the outskirts of the parish. Our parish had the ccd classes on weekday afternoons after school, before my father got home from work and my mother doesn’t drive. It took a bit of an effort to get me enrolled at the adjacent parish’s classes, which were held on Saturday a.m., because we lived within the borders of the another parish by 50 yards.

When I moved I went to the Diocesan website and found where they listed the parish boundaries. I studied them for awhile and discovered I was close to the border and the closest church was in another parish. There seems to be no logic to the boundaries. I am across the border in another town in another zip code from the church. In the rural part of the Diocese the boundaries go something like this town and that town and up to the top of the mountain. That makes sense.

Nobody **seems **to care about what parish a person actually lives in around where I live but that doesn’t mean it is never an issue. It is just one I don’t know about.

I would suggest the OP find out what the actual boundaries are in case it does become an issue.

At least people are going to Mass, even if it is not at the church within whose territory they technically reside.

Just go to parish A.

Yeah, we see much encouragement to shop around for a parish “to their liking”.
Why not stay, get involved and be the change you seek?
I know our former pastor wanted desperately to make changes to less “trendy” things…but was afraid of the uproar and blowback. The parish had been very unkind to a previous priest who wanted to make some adjustments.
People, if you are truly educated, and truly want to help, most priests would welcome it.
Most people who complain the loudest, also don’t want to be part of the solution. It’s just easier to drive 25 miles out of the way. Kind of ridiculous, really.
Just my 2 cents. :o

This is really offensive. You make these huge assumptions regarding the reason some of choose to attend Mass in another parish. You make the accusation that we are parish shopping, that we are not educated, that we did not make efforts to work within a parish, that we did not speak to the priest about our concerns, that we are ridiculous, and complain the loudest and don’t want to be part of the solution.

You have no idea, other than what we have written here as to our motives to change. You have no idea the amount of prayer, discernment, heartache that goes into a change like this.

It must be easy for you to sit on your high horse judging those around you.

My parish priest told me when I moved that cathedrals are not part of the parish system. Even though I live in the parish of St. Henry, I still attend the Cathedral, where I have been a parishioner for over 30 years.

It isn’t just about going to Mass. It is about which parish and which pastor have the responsibility for pastoral care for any particular person. It is about which pastor has canonical jurisdiction over persons and/or places.

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