BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)- More than half of people raised Catholic in the U.S. leave the Church at some point.
Most don’t come back, but about 13 percent are cultural Catholics; non-believers who just can’t shake the feeling.
Nora Hurley is one of them.
“I went to Catholic school, and I went to church every Sunday,” she told News 4.
“Every activity that wasn’t even church necessarily, had God in it,” she said.
Hurley considers herself a free-thinker or an Athiest; she’s non-religious, but said her Catholic upbringing is ingrained in her.
“Losing your religion isn’t just one thing. It’s such a series of steps, because when you hold something so close to your identity, it really takes a lot to kind of peel away those layers and start to let go of that,” she said.
Rev. Msgr. J. Patrick Keleher is the Director of the Newman Center at UB.
“There has been a decline in attendance, and I think that has to do with, as you know, the decline generally of Millennials in participating in religion,” he told News 4.
Rev. Msgr. Keleher said while young people are attending church less, those who do attend are doing it with more fervor; taking it more seriously.
“I think that we’ve boiled religion down to a very concentrated little thing, when in fact it’s a very expansive thing, it engages everything,” he told News 4.
Alyson Borowszyk was also raised Catholic. The South Buffalo native remembers shortly after her confirmation, feeling a disconnect from the Church.
She, too, left; although she said she never stopped believing in God.
“At the time instead of seeking it out, I just walked away.”
But she didn’t stay away.
Borowszyk is part of the handful (11 percent nationally) of Catholics who leave and come back.
“There was always like an emptiness. Like, everything that I thought was going to bring me happiness maybe would for a second, but it was very temporary,” she explained.
So why do more than half of adult Catholics leave?
“The rules and regulations didn’t fit my life and instead of trying to understand it as more than that, I just kind of passed it off like nope, I’m going to do whatever I want, and I think that this is restrictive and I kind of went a different way,” Borowszyk told News 4.
For Hurley, it was a gradual realization.
“I have fond memories but I also have a lot of memories that make me angry. A lot of memories of sitting in church and hearing things that I felt like were very wrong.”
Hurley is happy without religion, but told News 4 leaving it hasn’t been easy on her family, especially her mom.
“It only hurts me because I know it hurts my mom, and I hate that she feels like she did something wrong.”
Rev. Msgr. Keleher said absue within the Church and its views on certain social issues has been a barrier between the younger generation and the religion.
“The Church hasn’t kept up with the times. It’s not the role of culture to keep up with the Church, it’s a dialogue between the Church and the culture,” he said.
Borowszyk now works at a Catholic radio station, aimed at connecting with younger people.
By age 24, she was back in the Church; she remembers the day when she said, she came home.
“I remember going to the parish that I grew up in, in Cheektowaga, and I was crying.”
“It was very hard for me to keep it together because part of me just felt like a sense of relief, like this is where.. this what I’m looking for, this is where I need to be,” she continued.
Whether you believe or not, the act of going to church is familiar for most. It used to be part of our routines, and it was what we did on a Sunday.”
The number of churches in the Buffalo Diocese peaked in 1966, there were 305 that year. 50 years later, there’s 188.
“Stores were closed on Sunday, bars were closed on Sunday. That’s a really important thing, there was nothing to do on Sunday,” Rev. Msgr. Keleher said.
“What a person did in Buffalo on Sunday if you were a Catholic, is you got up, went to Mass, stopped at a bakery on the way home, picked up a coffee cake and went home and had breakfast, because you couldn’t eat before Mass. So all of that culture has all changed,” he noted.
In 2014, the American Bible Society ranked the most and least “bible-minded cities.” Buffalo came in at 95 out of 100.
But Rev. Msgr. Keleher pointed out a lot has changed in 50 years.
There’s fewer family dinners around one table, and less conversations uninterrupted by our devices.
The problem, he said, is a lack of adaptation by the Church.
It’s a problem he said needs to be addressed, and he feels it can be.
The Buffalo Diocese is not shrinking as much as many others around the country, particularly in rural areas. Recently, it unveiled a new website to better connect with people in their 20s and 30s.