Photo of UD’s Chapel of the Immaculate Conception taken by Sean Newhouse
Eric Grimm and Bridget Dennison contributed to this report
There has been a decline in Sunday Mass attendance at the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception on University of Dayton’s campus over the last five years, according to Campus Ministry documents. But the decline can be attributed to how attendance is measured rather than perceived disinterest among students.
The Archdiocese of Cincinnati, which UD is a part of, measures Mass attendance through an October Count, according to Ellen Garmann, the associate director of Campus Ministry for liturgy. Attendance is measured at each Mass in October and is used to determine the average number of people who attended Sunday Mass weekly during that month.
An average of 899 people attended Sunday Mass each week at UD’s Chapel in October 2015, which increased to an average of 965 attendees each week in October 2016. Campus Ministry did not have UD’s 2017 October Count, but a staff member for the Cincinnati Archdiocese chancery said an average of 848 people attended Sunday Mass at UD’s Chapel each week in October 2017. There was a weekly average of 764 worshippers at UD’s Chapel for Sunday Mass in both October 2018 and October 2019.
While these statistics suggest a decline in attendance, there are factors specific to UD that can skew the results.
“It’s hard to define what on average means because there are always things that make attendance fluctuate, and choosing the appropriate measure of center can be a challenge,” Garmann said. “October swings wildly for us.”
For example, UD’s Mid-Term Break falls in October each year, according to UD’s academic calendar. This hurts Mass attendance because most students are away from campus. Garmann also said the number of weekend Masses at UD has fluctuated over the last five years, which could impact attendance statistics. According to UD’s Campus Ministry webpage, the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception hosts four Mass times on Sundays this academic year: 10 a.m., noon, 6 p.m., 8:30 p.m.
Based on the October Counts, officials from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati reported that Mass attendance had dropped 21 percent across the archdiocese from 2010 to 2018.
Marty Bagatti, a 2019 UD graduate who worked as a chapel student worker when he was an undergraduate, said Campus Ministry works to attract as many students as possible.
“Because of being specifically at a university, priests are able to tailor their homilies to be more specific to college students,” Bagatti said. “Not every priest is great at this, but having homilies that are relevant and timely is always a really nice touch.”
Mass attendance is higher at UD compared to other nearby colleges. Xavier University’s assistant director for retreats and Catholic student outreach said roughly 400 students attend Mass each week, which she said is an increase from last year. Xavier, a Jesuit school in Cincinnati, has about 3,000 less undergraduates than UD, according to enrollment statistics provided by both universities, and offers only two Mass times compared to UD which offers four.
Holly O’Hara, a campus minister with the University of Cincinnati, said 300 to 350 students participate in programming for Catholics at the public institution. (Programming doesn’t necessarily only refer to Mass.) O’Hara said attendance has increased over the last five years.
“I think that growth in ministry comes through intentionality in relationship, authentic loving desire to walk with each other, events [and] opportunities that are actually fun and things that people want to do with their time, personal invitation and accompaniment is key and patience to allow the other to lead is vital,” O’Hara said.
A campus minister at a church affiliated with Miami University, a public institution near UD, declined to comment.
A 2014 Pew Research Center study found that 28 percent of U.S. Catholics ages 18 to 29 attend religious services at least once a week. This is a six percent decrease from 2007 when the think tank reported that 34 percent of Catholics ages 18 to 29 attend a weekly religious service.
According to a study done by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute from 2004 to 2007, college students’ interest in spirituality increased even though their service attendance did not. It reported that students found ways to be spiritual that do not require they go to a weekly service.
This article was written before Ash Wednesday, but according to Garmann more than 2,600 students, faculty and staff attended one of Campus Ministry’s seven Masses or four services on the first day of Lent. She said this is an increase of more than 300 attendees from last year.