MC’s Bruce contributes to book about urban spaces and spirituality

MC’s Bruce contributes to book about urban spaces and spirituality

Dec. 12, 2016

Dr. Tricia Bruce, associate professor of sociology at Maryville College, wrote a chapter in the recently published book, Spiritualizing the City: Agency and Resilience of the Urban and Urbanesque Habitat (Routledge, 2017).

The book, edited by Victoria Hegner and Peter Jan Margry, “explores the intense and complex interplay between the (post) modern city and new religious and spiritual movement, bringing the city and its annexes into the foreground of current research into religion.”

Bruce’s chapter, titled “Preserving Catholic Space and Place in ‘The Rome of the West,’” is based upon research she conducted on Catholic parishes in St. Louis, Mo. The chapter looks at the use of the “personal parish” designation to protect Catholic churches in St. Louis, a city that also bears the moniker “The Rome of the West.”

“While St. Louis has a long and rich Catholic history, its downtown Catholic population has declined substantially,” Bruce explained. “This left many beautiful – but mostly empty – Catholic churches.

“During restructuring, the Archdiocese of St. Louis reallocated some of the area's Catholics so that these churches could be occupied and used for special purposes,” Bruce said. “By Catholic canon law, they became ‘personal parishes.’ New personal parishes – to be housed in these beautiful, empty churches – became hubs for special ministry to Hispanics, to Koreans, to social justice, to the traditional Latin Mass, to tourism and more. It let the diocese meet unmet need and ‘save’ its downtown churches.”

Bruce’s chapter explains how and why this occurred, drawing upon field observation and interviews with Catholic priests and diocesan representatives in St. Louis.

“Personal parishes helped preserve the symbolic, physical presence of Catholicism in St. Louis,” she said.

Bruce said the idea for the chapter originated from her response to a call for papers for a special seminar on religion and urban spaces hosted at the the University of Göttingen in Göttingen, Germany, in April 2014. The invitation got her thinking about her St. Louis data in terms of urban transition and changes to religious space, she said. Her proposed abstract was accepted, and she participated in a multi-day seminar in Germany with scholars from many disciplinary backgrounds.

“I further developed and revised my chapter from there, resulting in the version that readers now find in the edited volume,” Bruce said. “Other chapters, too, originated from this rich, multi-national, multi-disciplinary conversation in Germany about urban religion.”

Bruce said the Archdiocese of St. Louis is one of several case studies dioceses included in her broader research on modern personal parishes throughout the United States. Her forthcoming book on this topic, Parish & Place: Organizing Diversity in Contemporary American Catholicism, will be released in 2017 from Oxford University Press. The research for this book was funded by the National Science Foundation and Louisville Institute.

Bruce, the author of Faithful Revolution: How Voice of the Faithful is Changing the Church (Oxford University Press 2014 [2011]), also co-edited and contributed to Polarization in the U.S. Catholic Church: Naming the Wounds, Beginning to Heal (Liturgical Press, 2016). Her research and teaching interests include the sociology of religion, Catholicism, organizations, social movements and immigration, as well as applied sociology.


Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the Fall 2017 semester is 1,181.