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A Look at Religious Demographics in Montco

Catholics top the list

The United States was founded on the principle that citizens should not be forced to believe in one religion — there is a freedom of choice.

As people immigrated to the United States, they brought their religious backgrounds with them, creating a melting pot of different traditions.

There is a strong Christian majority in the United States; Montgomery County reflects that with a Christian majority as well. But unlike the United States, which has a majority of Evangelical Protestants, Montgomery County has a majority of Catholics.

Of those belonging to religious institutions, about 18 percent belong to Catholic churches, according to a 2009 demographic study on socialexplorer.com.

Father Gus Puleo and Pastor Ron Lutz attribute the high Catholic population to immigration in our area.

Historically, Montgomery County has large populations of Irish and Italian immigrants, both of whom are traditionally Catholic, Puleo said.

Puleo works at St. Patrick’s Church in Norristown and said his area is very Catholic because they have a large Mexican population.

“They stay with the religion as they come in,” Puleo said.

According to the study, the average membership per Catholic congregation is 2,461 members. Puleo said with his church, it’s hard to tell how many members he really he has.

He said in the Mexican Catholic tradition, most followers do not become members of a specific church. Instead, they just attend the services.

“My church is jam packed every Sunday,” Puleo said, but said he his membership numbers wouldn’t accurately reflect how many people regularly attend his sermons. 

Pastor Lutz said his church exceeds the study’s average of 334 members per Presbyterian congregation; 500 to 600 members attend New Life Presbyterian Church in Dresher.

According to the study, Protestants make up 11 percent of the residents in Montgomery County who are members of a religious institution. This includes Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, United Church of Christ and others. Presbyterians account for 4 percent of the members.

Lutz said the number seemed accurate to him and attributed the larger Catholic population to the large numbers of Irish and Italian immigrants who moved to Montgomery County. He said German immigrants were another large group to come to Pennsylvania and they were split between Catholic and Protestant.

“Those numbers are pretty directly related to the immigration patterns over the years and the continuation of those traditions in those families,” Lutz said.

He said when people first migrated to the United States to practice their religions, many groups went to Italian-speaking churches, and Irish-speaking churches and added that it was the same with Protestant Norwegian, German and Swedish churches. Lutz said people worshiped together according to ethnic backgrounds because many people’s culture and religion are tied closely together. 

St. Patrick’s is doing the same thing today.

At St. Patrick’s, Puleo said he has two communities at the church: an Anglo community and a Mexican community. To compensate for both, Puleo said two of his services are given in English and three are given in Spanish.

“What’s great is that everyone gets along very well,” Puleo said. “It’s a very welcoming place, which is why people come. They feel comfortable.”

Montgomery County is also home to other religious traditions. According to the study, Jewish congregations make up 4 percent of the religious institutions and Buddhist make up 0.1 percent.  While the county has Islamic and Hindu institutions, their numbers weren’t significant in the study. 

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