The College of Cardinals is gathering, and conclave will be convened soon to elect the 266th bishop of Rome. With 1.2 billion members, the Catholic Church is one of the world’s largest religious groups. In the U.S., there are 74 million Catholics, 23.9% of the population and 6% of all Catholics, according to the CIA World Factbook.

Although U.S. Catholics make up a relatively small portion of the Catholic population, they have a loud, powerful voice. In fact, of the 118 cardinals who are eligible to vote in conclave, 11 are from the U.S. Pundits are speculating that when the white smoke comes billowing out of the Sistine Chapel, the next pope will be an American. But how big of a role does Catholicism play in the U.S.?

Where do Catholics in the U.S. live?

Not surprisingly, states with the largest Catholic populations are the most populous, such as California, with 10.5 million Catholics; New York, 7.2 million; and Texas, 6.5 million; according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Click on image to enlarge map.

Click on image to enlarge map.

Smaller populations of Catholics are found in the Midwest, the South and the Northeast. Large populations of Catholics are in the greater Los Angeles area, New York City and the surrounding tri-state area, Chicago and Boston. Each of these cities has a large archdiocese. States with the highest percentages of Catholics are Rhode Island (59.5%), Massachusetts (42%) and New Jersey (41%). Each of these states has a long history of devout, multigenerational Catholics.

Click on image to enlarge map.

Click on image to enlarge map.

There are a few cities in Texas that have a high portion of their population as Catholic. They are Brownsville (85%), El Paso (80.8%), Laredo (74.5%) and Corpus Christi (70%), according to Catholic Hierarchy. These cities also have a high Hispanic population. According to Esri, a geographic information system company, the 2012 Hispanic population in these cities:

  • Brownsville: 93.2%
  • El Paso: 79.2%
  • Laredo: 95.4%
  • Corpus Christi: 60.2%

According to The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, nearly half of immigrants (46%) are Catholic, compared with 21% of the native born. This partly explains the high number of Catholics in towns with large Hispanic penetration.

Not all predominantly Catholic areas are Hispanic. For example, in Rhode Island, the state with the highest percentage of Catholics, Hispanics make up 13.1% of the population, lower than the U.S. average of 16.9%. In Providence, where 63.5% of the population is Catholic, according to Catholic Hierarchy, a high percentage of residents is of Irish or Italian heritage. The U.S. Catholic population consists primarily of people of white and Hispanic people. According to Pew, 65% of U.S. Catholics are white, and 29% are Hispanic.

Why this matters

Understanding the demographics and locations of congregations can help religious leaders learn more about members and prospects. This valuable information also can provide insight into programs, schools, charities and other services needed in the community. Knowing about the community population is especially critical to fundraising and messaging, key concerns of all denominations.

This information also can help in selecting the next pope. The College of Cardinals can use location-based information to better understand the types of people in each diocese and their location. It has detailed information on people who belong to the church, including where they live, how much they have donated and their favorite activities. The process of selecting a pope is steeped in tradition and handled in secret; however, the cardinals hope the next pope will represent all of their parishes.

More information about Esri’s data can be found at Esri.com/data. To learn more about Esri in general, go to Esri.com.

Pam Allison is a consultant for digital media, marketing strategy and location intelligence. Visit her blog at PamAllison.com.

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