Looking at the list of America’s most populous dioceses, you see Catholic bastions like New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago.
Right behind those “big four” on the latest list is the Diocese of San Bernardino. At 1,740,655 Catholics, the Diocese is once again counted as the fifth largest in the United States.
“People would start going down that list and when they get to San Bernardino they might say, ‘who?’ ” quips Diocesan Archivist Peter Bradley.
Bradley compiled the population information for the Diocese and reported it to the Official Catholic Directory that is published each year. More than 22,000 new Catholics were counted for the Diocese of San Bernardino this year. Factors that continue to drive general population growth in San Bernardino and Riverside counties – affordable housing, new construction, economic growth – would partly explain the growth of the Catholic community, said Bradley.
But factors unique to the local Church are also driving population growth, he said, naming the long-running, stable leadership of Bishop Gerald Barnes, and the continuing emergence of Hispanic Catholics, as highlighted in the V Encuentro process.
“In terms of a driving force, I think the Hispanic community is bringing our numbers up,” he said.
Bradley pointed to the opening of several new, large Catholic churches in recent years as another exhibit for Catholic population growth. The two most recently built – St. James the Less in Perris and Our Lady of Soledad in Coachella – have not eliminated any weekend Masses despite more than doubling their seating capacity. Weekend Masses in these churches remain full.