What's it like being Catholic in the South?

My wife and I are a young couple in our 20s, and we’re considering a move to one of a handful of southern U.S. cities from the Denver area. I have heard, from time to time, that Catholics are such a small minority in the south (although I’m sure it is less so in the big cities), that it is a constant challenge to maintain Catholic identity. I doubt there’s much discrimination or anything, but I do imagine that it feels like you’re the oddball out in an overwhelmingly Protestant culture, right? There are two things I worry about:

1.) The whole megachurch culture isn’t terribly substantive, and I fear that if the country grows more secular, the evangelical culture will be the first to evaporate and leave a super-hedonistic secular culture in its wake. That assumes that, of course, the south will secularize, and it may not, but my worry is that a lot of the religion in the south is more cultural than an intense devotion and love for Christ. I know that there are tons of wonderful, devout Christians in the south–but I just wonder if a lot of it is the whole come-to-church-hungover kind of culture you sometimes hear about.

2.) I also worry about the influence of Protestantism on the overall mindset of the region. Usually I think that Protestant influence is way better than, say, MTV influence. But I know that southern evangelicalism can create a kind of dualism in thinking that leads people to kind of have a “fun life” and a “faith life” which are somehow separate. Any thoughts about that?

On the other hand, the south is a wonderfully conservative, church-going part of the country. People are kind, community-oriented, faith-filled, and family-loving. And I also know that Catholicism tends to be especially vibrant and growing in the region, too. That’s exciting to be around.

We’re coming from Denver, which is a tremendous archdiocese that really is a crown jewel of the American New Evangelization. Catholicism is a very exciting thing, here, and it makes me nervous to leave. On the other hand, I imagine that the overall culture of the south is probably easier and maybe better to raise a family in.

Any thoughts about all of this are greatly appreciated.

If you like your diocese and you like where you are from, why would you move to the south just because it seems glamorous on television? Do you have family near you, and would you be moving away just to move to the south? If so, I can tell you this is generally a bad idea. If you like the south because it is community-oriented, leaving your family completely defeats the purpose of that. I would not recommend moving that far away unless you have more valid reasons other than simply liking the south. The south is a great place, but it is highly evangelical, which will be much different than living in the archdiocese of Denver.

Tell us where you are thinking of moving. “The South” isn’t one homogenous area - there are variations upon variations. Do you have work possibilities? I would say to find an area that suits you in lots of different ways, and churches being one of them. If you give us some possible candidates, we can thumbs-up or thumbs-down them.


Exactly, it depends on where you go in the south. I quite recently moved with my new wife to Columbia from the Cincinnati area. It’s warmer, I’ll grant you that. It’s January and we’re getting low to mid 70s most of next week, with 77 this coming Saturday and Sunday.

Granted, I’m still looking for a job right now, so I haven’t gotten out much to meet a whole lot of people, and only really have my wife’s friends that I know down here (one of which is a recent Catholic convert from Episcopalianism). So, I haven’t had to deal with much yet. But I’m more secure in my faith now than I ever have been, so I think I can handle it.

I’d say just study your faith, learn as much as you can about it and how to defend it and you’ll be ready for any attacks. But remember to treat them with love and kindness.

God Bless.

p.s. If you happen to move into my area, hit me up. It’ll be nice to make a new and faithful friend.

Ive lived in Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas. All have been welcoming of Catholics. In many areas, it would be wise to not disrespect the protestant and non-denominational faiths but I have never felt unwelcome in any of those states. The larger cities will all have sizable Catholic populations while small towns will be a lot less Catholic normally. Most Southern cities have had enough transplants that you wont have to look far to find Catholics that moved from other parts of the country.

The south isn’t what it used to be as far as religions goes. In Texas, Catholicism is the number one denomination, and it isn’t just from Hispanics. Many northern Catholics from cities like Chicago have migrated south. We have four very large and new Catholic churches nearby.

And most of the Catholic churches around here are vibrant and growing, whereas in the north they seem to be somewhat dead, and shrinking.

God bless you.

Live in Chattanooga Tn and Catholics seem to be pretty common around here i can think of 5 or 6 parishes near me. My own is very active and growing.

This may not answer your question since I am not from the South but nonetheless it may be of interest: My Buddhist-raised nephew moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to Georgia and commented to me in a letter that the Catholics in the South were “much nicer” and “less snobby” than the Catholics he knew from his school days. I remarked to him that the snobs were the exception to the rule since he had gone to a rather wealthy private school. But he nevertheless found the southern Catholics charming, generous, friendly.

I also reminded him that the Ku Klux Klan had had three groups that they wanted to annhilate: Blacks, Jews, and the “Papists”. (I don’t know if we are still in such good company on that list these days) But that is evidence that Catholics must have had an interesting place in the South.

The history of the Catholics in the South is a very layered history. And, in understanding our differences, I agree that the question of where? and what town? and which Catholics? are important questions to ask in your pursuit: A Catholic with deep roots in St Augustine, Florida? A black Catholic in North Carolina? An ex-Cuban Catholic in Miami? A Mexican, Lebanese or Irish Catholic in Texas? A Louisiana Cajun Catholic with French roots? A Vietnamese Catholic outside the City of New Orleans also with some French roots? (See the documentary “Mr Cao goes to Washington” about a Southeast Asian, Jesuit-trained lawyer who served a term in the U.S. Congress and followed his conscience, not the lobbyists.) Mother Angelica lives in the South, doesn’t she? And what about the more orthodox Latin mass communities that breach many different cultures and backgrounds?
We all go to mass and take Christ at the Eucharist. And, admittedly, some Catholics need re-education and evangelization all over this country!

Good luck in your travels. Denver’s evangelization needs to expand to the rest of the country. Bring your catechism and apologetics books, along with your Catholic bible, of course. I am sure you will find some good solid Catholics wherever you go if you just look around. The secularism is getting old and out of hand and many Catholics are longing for the Real and True again. The devil wants us to feel isolation and division, but with a Christ-centered faith we will find our way back together.

The only real difference I see is that it is often harder to find a parish when you are taking a weekend trip. There may not be a parish at all in some of the smaller towns that are far removed from larger cities.I’ve had to drive well out of the way to get to a Mass, but that only requires a little planning.

As some others have suggested, there is no one “The South”. The region is as varied as any other. And, no, there is not just one Southern accent either.

What others have said. But having lived both in Colorado and a city in the South I have to add - have you really considered how different the weather will be? Are you ready for really long humid and hot summers that are nothing like those in Colorado? No mountains to hike on (yes, I know abou Appalachians, but they are very different from Rockies). In Colorado, I lived in a place without an air conditioner and was very comfortable. In the South, I thought that the air conditioner and dehumidifier were the greatest inventions of the humankind. Also, do you ski? The snow in the mountains accessible in the South is nothing like the snow in Colorado. The trees are on the other hand much more beautiful in the South and there is always something in the bloom, so that is nice.

As for people, I found a lot of wonderful people in both places, and there is a growing population of Catholics in the South. But really, do think about the weather!

I live in Macon,Ga. population about 100K with three Catholic churches. The surrounding counties to the North, East and West don’t have Catholic churches. So those Catholics have to travel here about 30-45 minutes. The counties to the south of us have only one. We’re the only town with Catholic schools. Atlanta, Savannah and Augusta is a completely different story.
I went to college in a small Georgia town, there was one or maybe two sort of bigoted comments that I had never been prepared for.
Folks are generally just glad you’re Christian, although there are some who don’t understand and think we’re kind of like Mormons or something.
But folks here are mostly Baptist, Methodist, Non-Denoms or don’t attend.
Ashes on Ash Wednesday throws people for a loop.
I think Catholicism is somewhat rare, so when there are other Catholics around there is a sort of fraternity. We may sort of circle the wagons a little bit with Catholic pride. Some however are surrounded by protestant influences and may not have proper defenses and slip away.

When we moved down here from Denver 23 years ago, I loved the people immediately. So friendly! They’d spontaneously just talk to you in grocery lines, dressing rooms, anywhere really. Neighbors were neighborly, something I hadn’t experienced in Denver since I was a child. It was a huge and very positive contrast with Denver. It didn’t erase the climate shock, but it helped soften the effect of having about 8 mos. of tropical heat and humidity every year.

However, over the years, more and more people from up North have also moved down here, for work mostly. And over time, the character of the city has changed. We are more hurried, less courteous, and a WHOLE LOT less friendly than we used to be. I see it on the freeways and in stores - the constant rushing on the freeway, rude behavior such as not letting someone merge on, and no one speaks in stores any more, we all just keep to ourselves. :frowning:

The “old South” can still be found in some areas. I know some parts of New Orleans hold onto that character, but New Orleans would be a severe change from Denver and there are the valid concerns about hurricanes. The Catholic culture in New Orleans is super-strong, but other influences are present as well (drunkenness, gambling).

So let us know what your handful of candidates consists of and we will give you more feedback.

Yeah I think it greatly depends on the area.
Living in FL I can attest that you definitely have to drive north to be in “The South”…

Roman Catholicism will be the biggest religion in Atlanta in five or six years, surpassing Southern Baptists.

The megachurch culture is not that prevalent. What I find are lots of little churches with much diversity.

Evangelicals don’t scare me as much as they used to. Most are open to sharing faith, and as long as you don’t bash them over the head with your faith, they are willing to listen, to hear about the beauty and truth of your own faith.

Rather than Evangelicalism secularizing, I see its zeal, unwillingness to compromise on what it sees as unacceptable behavior and poor public policy, and it’s devotion to Jesus and Scripture as part of the reason why many pious Catholics are moving down south, and part of the reason why Catholicism is doing so well here in Atlanta. Evangelicals make many doctrinal errors, but their love of Jesus can’t be denied, and their willingness to Christianize their lives both publically and privately, is obvious.

There are Sunday only Catholics too, but many of my friends Evangelical friends are devout lovers of Christ.

Atlanta Suburbs.

Specifically, the handful of places we may have to choose from include, Nashville, Knoxville, Atlanta, Charlotte, and Birmingham. Most likely among all of those are probably Nashville or Birmingham, although we may have opportunities in the others, too.

Thanks for that. We’re also looking at Dallas or Houston, although I don’t really consider either of those cities the South, per se, and they are far more Catholic than, say, Atlanta or Nashville.

People greet you with “Have a Blessed Day!”
They also openly carry their Bibles and speak about faith in God.

I have never lived in the South while Catholic, but while living in rural Mississippi I became exposed to what my mother calls “Southern nice,” which is probably not fair to all Southerners but it definitely captured the people who lived around us. Basically, it described people who could use all sorts of nice manners with strangers, but once they knew a negative (or perceived as negative) thing about you every pretense was over. Such a “negative” thing might be not being a fundamentalist (and even mainline Protestant denominations in our town were fundamentalist churches - which is why we quit going to church shortly after moving there). I know it’s “fashionable” to pick on how backwards things are in Mississippi…but from my experience they really are, especially out “in the sticks.”

My mom lived in Raleigh, NC for a while growing up and enjoyed it although she said it was too hot (she’s like me and enjoys cooler weather). My grandparents still go back there frequently and say that it’s everything good about the South and the North put together. My husband’s family has vacationed for forty years in southern North Carolina (around Wilmington) and they love it. My in-laws spend a few months there every year when it isn’t as touristy. There are plenty of Catholic parishes in that area.

My aunt and uncle live in Alabama near Huntsville and they really enjoy it. My aunt is Catholic and belongs to a really active parish there.

I do think a lot of it depends on where, specifically, you go. The South is far from monolithic (just as every other area of the country.)

I live in the south, in an area that is largely protestant with a low Catholic population. I would recommend not moving to an area such as this. If you are looking in the south, I would seek out areas with higher Catholic populations. My husband and I talk/dream about moving to an area with a higher Catholic population but it’s not possible right now due to his commitment with the military. Having lived here all my life, I recently realized how much of a negative effect living in such an area has had on me. I didn’t realize how I let the strong Protestant mentality erode my own beliefs. Thankfully, I’ve been able to have my beliefs restored! But the hard part now is just having support and reinforcement from those around me who ‘get it’. It would be nice to know anyone who doesn’t think contraception is no big deal, would never abort but thinks they should support a woman’s choice, and that homosexuals deserve to be married too.

My husband and I have not a single Catholic family for friends. All of our friends are Protestant. It’s ok, we love our Protestant friends and even have Christian fellowship with them once a week but we really feel we also need the regular influence of Catholics too. Our church is far away and it’s hard to make friends there. We attend church events regularly but unfortunately, such events don’t lend themselves to developing friendships with other other families at similar places in life. My kids go to faith formation but then everyone leaves immediately after the structured class and because the church is not close by, they do not see these kids during the week at school or around the neighborhood. Our area is large and densely populated but there is only one Catholic school and it is very expensive compared to other Catholic schools. Yesterday, I saw a post on a catholic group asking other parents how they decide which Catholic school to choose and I though, ahh, that must be nice!

Also, I find that the Catholic churches we do have here, tend to be “liberal” as CAFers would say. The tabernacle is not inside the sanctuary, our church doesn’t have kneelers, excessive announcements before Mass, clapping in every Mass, the music is that which is heavily criticized on CAF, etc. There is one Catholic church closer to me but they don’t even have a permanent set-up (they use folding chairs and have for many years) and are founded on the idea of having Mass at homes in small groups. They call themselves “progressive” and their motto is about every family being a tithing family. They will come after you and let you know if you “owe” money for tithing.

I can tell you about the Diocese of Knoxville. We have a variety of churches to choose from–very traditional and less so. One of the churches has a EF mass every Sunday and several have masses in Spanish and one Korean mass. There are several Catholic schools and a terrific Catholic high school. There is a thriving community of Catholics here and a good place to live. I had the pleasure of living in Denver for ten years and I know the great weather there (also the great skiing). Have also lived in two places in Florida, Atlanta, New Orleans and Toronto. The South is a great place to live.

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