Details from The Chattanooga Times Free Press:
There was the man inspired by the written words of Pope Francis. There was the agnostic professor. And there was the widow of a Baptist preacher.
All of them Tennesseans, and all of them recent converts to one of the world’s oldest Christian faiths.
In the South, Catholicism is growing. The Diocese of Knoxville was recently ranked among the top 10 in the nation for its rate of adult conversions…
Rates of Catholicism have always been strong in the Northeast and Midwest. But not in the protestant-heavy South.
So it’s no wonder that Catholicism is growing faster here.
Mark Gray, a senior research associate at the Georgetown Center, said marriage is a common driver of Catholicism, as non-Catholics marry Catholics. And in Tennessee, non-Catholics and Catholics are more likely to marry simply because there are not enough Catholics to marry only other Catholics.
In the Volunteer State, about 8 percent of people are Catholic. That compares with 40 percent in Massachusetts and the national average of 24 percent.
“Tennessee is the third-least Catholic state in the country, which is exactly where we would expect these conversions to occur, because that 8 percent are likely marrying non-Catholics,” Gray said.
In the Catholic Church, conversion is a commitment. It’s more formal and involved than switching from one protestant church to another. And conversion is a commitment to the faith, not necessarily a particular church.
Before joining the church, converts take part in a college-like class that can last from nine months to a year.
“It is a very long program, and it’s not something we take lightly, nor do the people becoming Catholic take it lightly,” said Marvin Bushman, the director of religious education at Cleveland’s St. Therese of Lisieux. “It is a big commitment.”
Knoxville Bishop Richard F. Stika said the church is growing from rising minority populations, mainly Hispanics. Knoxville recently established a Vietnamese parish. And this part of the country is attracting more retirees and families, many of whom are Catholic.
“We’re a growing Church, both in people who are choosing to become Catholic as well as people moving in from out of town,” Stika told the diocesan newspaper, The East Tennessee Catholic.