Looking for a Catholic Church? While technology has made this job much easier, it’s still a difficult task. In 2006, the USCCB reported that there were 18,992 parishes in the United States. Considering that new parishes are constantly being built, and older ones are closing or merging, it’s an enormous challenge keeping track of all this information.
Here are a few online tools to help find specific information about a parish.
The Official Catholic Directory
Commonly referred to as ‘the Kenedy directory’, the Official Catholic Directory has been around since 1817 and is a wealth of information.
From their site
First published in 1817 by P.J. Kenedy & Sons, The Official Catholic Directory is the most authoritative resource available today. The new 2010 Edition provides Clergy and Non-Clergy members with the most up-to-date personnel changes, new appointments and assignments, and updated contact information for all 209 (arch) dioceses in the United States and the hundreds of (arch) dioceses around the world.
OK…technically, their information doesn’t seem to be online at this point. A couple years ago, I spoke with one of their representatives at a conference, and it does sound like they are trying to provide this information online. Regardless, it is probably the largest Catholic directory resource in existence.
Back in the day, http://www.MassTimes.org was THE go-to resource online, and almost every Catholic website had a link to it. Unfortunately, it has the look of having fallen into disuse, and the home page doesn’t even render correctly in Firefox. The good news is that I was able to find my parish by entering it into the search field – ‘holy family st louis park‘. My concern is that the outdated look and feel doesn’t instill confidence in the results. According to some small print at the bottom of the site, it’s now a part of TheCatholicDirectory.com – so it may or may not receive some development in the future.
TheCatholicDirectory.com, is a more modern looking site with the slogan – “Helping People Find Mass”. Oddly, when I entered in the same search term as I did at MassTimes.org, no results were found. If I reduced my search to “holy family”, many results were found – probably every Parish named ‘Holy Family’. Sure, since I know the zip code of the parish, I could’ve just entered that in the search form…which worked BTW. Another anomaly often found in web searches – whether to use Saint or St – appears to be an issue here as well. When I searched for my parish city using ‘st louis park’, it did not appear in the results. When I searched ‘saint louis park’, it did.
They do have a slick iPhone app available for free in the App Store. To be sure, mobile search is the future.
Church software vendor, ParishSoft, operates an online directory at http://www.parishesonline.com/. It was able to find my parish with the search ‘holy family st louis park’. However, when I clicked parish details, it led me to a page that looked like a place-holder with some very out-of-date graphics. In fact, the Archdiocesan shield they display is no longer in use and was changed about a year ago. The place-holder page does have a direct link to the ‘official’ parish website.
Since the website doesn’t use a modern-design, one has to wonder how reliable the information is.
The US Bishops do not have a directory or listing of parishes online, but it is worth mentioning they have a listing of Dioceses. My guess, is that the information is kept current.
Catholic.org takes a slightly different approach, and let’s you tap into Google maps at their online search tool.
The work put forth by the sites above is commendable, but if you’re just looking for a local parish, it’s really hard to beat Google. You can just Google “catholic church” and you’ll get a number of local results thanks to it’s geolocation features. You can quickly and easily find a map to the parish and a link to the church’s website.
Probably the highest reliability can be found at the Diocesan level website. Sure, there are some dioceses that are just now getting on the web bandwagon, but going forward I think they’ll have the most up-to-date information for everything from location to Mass times. Parish staff won’t notify Google or any of the other sites listed above with any changes, but they’ll very likely contact the local Chancery.