In San Francisco, many Catholics travel miles past their local church to find a parish where they feel most at home, part of a national movement that observers attribute to a mobile society and a church structure that no longer requires Catholics to attend church within their parish boundaries.

“Today’s Catholic experience is not governed by where you live. That’s just a reality,” said Dominican Father Michael Hurley, pastor of St. Dominic in San Francisco, which attracts people from throughout the Bay Area.

“The trend is for more parish-shopping,” said Charles Zech, co-author of “Catholic Parishes of the 21st Century,” (Oxford University Press, 2017) with Mary Gautier of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

The researchers found that more than 30 percent of parishioners and 40 percent of millennials attend Mass at a parish they choose, rather than the church closest to them. That compares to Catholics in the 1980s where about 15 percent of Catholics crossed parish boundaries to attend Mass, according to the extensive 1989 University of Notre Dame McGrath Institute of Church Life “Study of Catholic Parish Life.”

In San Francisco, three parishes epitomize that trend: the Jesuit parish of St. Ignatius, the Dominican parish of St. Dominic, and neighborhood parish Star of the Sea. While St. Ignatius and St. Dominic’s parish cultures are defined by the spirit of the orders that run them, Star of the Sea’s culture revolves around traditional liturgical practices and music, including a number of Masses celebrated according to the pre-Vatican II 1962 Missal of Pope St. John the XXIII.

Despite at times great differences in the liturgical and even political outlooks of priests and parishioners, all three parishes in their own ways attempt to create a parish as described by the U.S. bishops in their 1993 document “Communities of Salt and Light: Reflections on the Social Mission of Parish,” which begins: “The parish is where the church lives.”

“No matter how much we like to organize it, the church is not a group of buildings in an administrative structure. The church is a movement of people toward Christ,” said Claire Henning, executive director of Parish Catalyst an organization founded by businessman and philanthropist William E. Simon Jr. to help parishes thrive. “If you have to cross town to find that for yourself, to be disciples and to be led – then more power to you.”

Full story at Catholic San Francisco.