Recent Literature and Resources on Catholic and Faith-Based Work with Immigrant Communities

Center for Migration Studies, December 2020

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 Recent Literature and Resources on Catholic and Faith-Based Work with Immigrant Communities

The Center for Migration Studies (CMS) conducted an extensive literature review and compiled the following resources and recent research on Catholic and faith-based work with immigrant communities. These resources cover the work of a wide array of institutions, including parishes, elementary schools, colleges and universities, charities, health issues, and congregations. This compilation also presents recent literature on the impact of immigrants on Catholic faith communities, advocacy by Catholic institutions, ethical issues, resources on working with immigrants, and other issues.


The Journal of Intervention and Prevention in the Community devoted a special edition – with articles released in 2019 – to “Building a Sense of Communal Belonging in Catholic Parishes Serving Hispanics/Latinos.”

As Hosffman Ospino describes in an introductory paper, the study on Catholic communities with Hispanic Ministry conducted by Boston College (2011–2014) formed the basis of several papers in the collection. In a second paper, Ospino discusses opportunities and limitations for Hispanic leadership development within parish organizational structures.

Brian Starks and Gary J. Adler, Jr. leverage data from the study to assess the integration of Latino subgroups within parishes. They find that parishes that began Spanish language ministries before 1980 were more successful in integrating Latinos.

Tricia C. Bruce examines “personal parishes”, which are designated by bishops to minister to specific communities. Bruce notes that these parishes were more common for European immigrant communities, and relatively few have been designated for Latino communities.

Brett Hoover discusses power dynamics within multicultural churches, suggesting that Latinos often constitute a “silent majority” with limited power relative to their community size.

Joseph R. Ferrari and Kendall Crum argue that large, urban, and often poor congregations fail to achieve a sense of connectedness.

Mark Gray documents the evolution of multiculturalism among Hispanic Catholics and offers insight on the growing numbers of Hispanics preparing for new roles in parish ministry and leadership.

Susan Bigelow Reynolds and Andrew D. Reynolds study the integration of Hispanic parishioners in Catholic parishes with Latino ministries. They find that parishes that encourage the development of lay leadership better foster the integration of Hispanic communities in parish life.

Beyond this special edition, Susan Bigelow Reynolds published a case study in Exchange on a multiethnic parish in Boston, which exemplifies the growing diversity of parishes. This study examines how parishioners articulated their decision to join the parish.

In 2019, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) published a report titled “Shelter from the Storm: The Parish’s Role in the Faith Life of Vietnamese American Catholics in the United States.” The report discusses the challenges of Vietnamese Catholics in the United States and seeks to explain why relatively high numbers pursue religious vocations.

In a 2019 study in the Journal of Race, Ethnicity and Politics, Kiku Huckle examines the relationship between Latino population density, the presence of Latino ministers in the parish, and the likelihood that a parish offers mass in Spanish. She finds that these factors influence parishes’ decision to offer Spanish Mass, but parish leaders’ individual initiative plays a greater role.

A 2018 book edited by Hosffman Ospino entitled Our Catholic Children, Ministry with Hispanic Youth and Young Adults, addresses the important topics of how best to minister to vulnerable youths and to foster participation of Hispanic youths and young adults in church communities.

Elementary Schools

A new Center for Migration Studies (CMS) podcast and short essay features Partnership Schools, a network of nine Catholic elementary schools in New York and Cleveland that seek to improve and sustain Catholic education to children in marginalized communities.

Colleges and Universities

A December 2020 CMS podcast features Donna Carroll, Dominican University’s longtime president. About 10 percent of the students at Dominican University – which is located in River Forest, Illinois – are undocumented or are Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients. Carroll reflects on the challenges facing undocumented college students, including: lack of federal financial aid funding, the difficulty of career planning, and integrating into campus life. She also talks about the leadership of undocumented and “DACAmented” students and why the university adopted a Sanctuary Campus Covenant in 2017.


In August 2020, Catholic Charities USA released its annual survey for 2019, which reports on the extensive immigration, citizenship, and refugee resettlement services of Catholic agencies.

A 2019 article posted in the Catholic Charities USA website highlights the important work of Child Development Centers run by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Miami, Inc. in assisting immigrant families to educate their children and to negotiate daily challenges in the United States.


An October 2019 article in the journal of Translational Behavioral Medicine by Daniel F. López-Cevallos, Karen R. Flórez, and Kathryn P. Derose reports on a survey of Catholic and Pentecostal Latinos in Long Beach, California. The survey finds a link between religiosity and medical mistrust among survey participants. The article is entitled “Examining the association between religiosity and medical mistrust among churchgoing Latinos in Long Beach, CA.”

In a 2019 paper in Hispanic Health Care International, Susan Caplan examines Latinos’ cultural and religious beliefs about mental health.  She finds that many Hispanic/Latino faith-based communities view mental illness as a spiritual, not a medical concern.

In a 2018 paper in the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, Ephraim Shapiro finds that church attendance among Latinos correlates with lower rates of smoking and drinking, and greater physical activity.

Women Religious

A CARA special report from the fall of 2019 presents the characteristics of immigrant women religious in the United States over the last three decades.

Also in 2019, Mary Johnson, S.N.D. de N., Mary Gautier, Patricia Wittberg, S.C., and Thu T. Do, L.H.C published a book titled “Migration for Mission,” based on a study of 4,000 international religious sisters from more than 80 countries.

Impact of Immigrants on Catholic Faith Communities

In a 2019 paper in the US Catholic Historian, Simon Kim examines the impact of Korean immigration on Catholic faith communities in the United States and how Korean Catholics have adapted over time to their new lives.


In November 2020, the Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola University of New Orleans published its JustSouth INDEX 2019, an annual report that evaluates the 50 states and Washington, D.C., on nine social justice-related indicators. The index’s “immigrant exclusion” indicator covers immigrant youth outcomes regarding school and work, English language proficiency, and health insurance coverage.

The March/April 2020 edition of Health Progress, the magazine of the Catholic Health Association, featured an article on how hospital-based research expanded Medicaid coverage to undocumented immigrants in Colorado.

In 2019, Todd Scribner published a paper in the US Catholic Historian that examines the Catholic Church’s role in the passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, the nation’s last general legalization program.


In a 2020 edited volume titled Christian Theology in the Age of Migration, Peter Phan examines how migration raises new issues for Christian ethics related to human dignity and rights, states’ rights, social justice, and ecological justice.

The Center for Migration Studies released a chapter by Donald Kerwin, titled “Immigrant Integration and Disintegration in an Era of Exclusionary Nationalism,” for the forthcoming book, Christianity and the Law of Migration, edited by Silas W. Allard, Kristin E. Heyer, and Raj Nadella (London: Routledge, 2021). The chapter explores competing understandings of integration, including a Christian vision rooted in a commitment to human dignity and the participation of immigrants in their communities and nations.

Catholic Integration Resources

Since 2013, CMS has coordinated the Catholic Immigrant Integration Initiative (CIII), which seeks to document, understand and strengthen the work of Catholic institutions with immigrant communities. Its project webpage includes relevant publications, talks, and videos of the annual CIII gathering of diverse Catholic institutions.

The Center for Immigrant Integration at the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) offers training, best practices, and other resources for creating and expanding local Catholic immigrant integration programs.

The US bishops’ Justice for Immigrants campaign has devoted a webpage to resources that can assist Catholic agencies to engage with immigrant communities, including to facilitate their integration into the broader society and in Catholic institutions.


In a 2018 article in the Journal of Social Sciences, Nur Banu Kavakli examines the impact of Catholicism on intimate relationships among Latino young adults that take marriage preparation classes in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. She finds that these Catholics selectively reject Catholic teachings on relationships, particularly teachings related to sexuality.

In 2019, the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies published a special edition on the role of religion in the socioeconomic and cultural integration of immigrants and minorities, with a particular focus on youth. The eight studies in the collection cover seven countries: Belgium, Canada, England, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden.

In 2018, Religion Compass published a paper by Aida I. Ramos, Gerardo Martí, and Mark T. Mulder that offers a synthesis of research on Latino Protestants, concluding that Latino Protestants belong to diverse denominations and possess diverse worship styles. In a 2018 book titled The Story of Latino Protestants in the United States, Francisco Martinez charts the presence and diversity of Latinos in Protestant churches.