CV News Feed // Communio, founded in 2018, is a non-profit organization that works to strengthen marriages in partnership with churches across the nation.
Communio’s president and founder, J.P. De Gance, shared insights with CatholicVote on the organization’s recently published study on church attendance and family. The study found that fathers play a significant role in handing down the faith to children.
De Gance, a father of eight, authored the National Study on Faith & Relationships. According to the study, 80% of church attendees come from two-parent households.
De Gance explained that “the entire collapse of the Catholic faith in the United States is wrapped up in the collapse of resident fatherhood. And that is the bad fruit of the collapse of marriage.”
Recognizing broken marriages as a root cause of faith crises will take “introspection” on the part of churches, De Gance said.
He cited a 40-year-long study that found “when an adult describes his relationship with his dad as ‘warm’ or ‘close’ he is 25% more likely to report having the same religion as his parents.”
“What we know is that God has revealed Himself for all eternity as Father, and that’s not an accident,” De Gance said:
When earthly fathers seek relationships of warmth and closeness with their children, as well as what the research says is a non-overly coercive form of discipline, where there’s sound structure and rules, and discipline… In a way, it’s a human imitation of God the Father. God wants a warm and close relationship with us.
I don’t think it should surprise us that when dads have that kind of intentional relationship with children, that’s a really great framework or environment for faith to grow. When dads are intentional about being the spiritual leader in their home, where he models prayer, where he brings the family to mass: that’s the environment where faith is most frequently transmitted.
There’s a cognitive disconnect in church life, which is, almost every priest and bishop will tell you that the family is the building block for church and society, and that idea is held, at the same time, where we spend almost no money and resources on marriage and relationship ministry.
We need to have congruency between what we know to be true–that marriage and the family are the fundamental building block for society and the Church–and therefore, our ministry and our dollar should reflect that.
A separate survey De Gance conducted “found that 82% of Catholic parishes, and 85% of all churches in America, reported spending zero dollars each year on marriage and relationship ministry.” If “marriage is the most common pathway to grow in holiness,” he argued,
then we have to ask ourselves the hard questions at the parish level, the diocesan Church level: What are we on a practical basis doing to help married men and married women to grow in holiness through their vocation?
Communio helps parishes teach practical skills and spiritual disciplines of living marriage well. “Our parishes should be schools of love,” De Gance said, “places where men and women learn to discern relationships well, discern their vocation, and then discern their marriage.”
He added that too often, the only things churches do is meet “three-to-four times with a couple, they get married, and then they’re kind of on their own, for the most part, until there’s a crisis.”
That culture needs to change, De Gance argues. “We need to really accompany men and women, and when they’re married, as couples, in a life to grow in holiness through their vocation.”
De Gance shared that before founding Communio, he was involved in public policy. When he and his wife helped a loved one through a marital crisis, they learned “firsthand what happens when families fail.”
Around the same time, three couples he was friends with at his parish, who looked like their marriages were going great, all got divorced in the course of a two-year period.
“And that was cumulatively enough for me to realize that I wanted to take a lot of the learnings I’d done professionally and see about baptizing them, sanctifying those learnings, bringing them into the service of the Church,” he said. “That began the journey of creating Communio.”
Before it was officially established in 2018, Communio was
originally incubated as the Culture of Freedom Initiative at The Philanthropy Roundtable where [De Gance] served as the organization’s executive vice president. The Initiative raised and spent $20 million over three years in three different states seeking to identify the most effective strategies to boost marital health, family stability, and church engagement. From 2016 to 2018, the experimental initiative worked with an ecumenical network of churches and drove down the divorce rate by 24% in Jacksonville, FL.
De Gance also co-authored a book in 2021 with John Van Epp entitled “Endgame: The Church’s Strategic Move to Save Faith and Family in America.”
The book “analyzes pathbreaking empirical research and provides insights on new strategies churches are deploying to solve this crisis and save family and faith in America.”
De Gance added that Communio provides parishes with a childcare system during events so that parents can spend time together and work on intentionally improving their marriage.
He noted that being intentional about growth in one’s marriage often has a stigma about it. “If you go on a spiritual retreat, nobody will think that’s strange,” he said:
If I as a married man, or my wife as a married woman, say, “my husband and I went on a marriage retreat,” most people will think there’s a problem in the relationship. That’s a stigma associated with investing in your relationship. At the parish level, we have to destroy that stigma… As Catholics, we know on this side of heaven, we are always a work in progress, we’re always needing to grow in holiness, and our parishes need to be places where it’s normalized to invest in your marriage.
The Archdiocese of Kansas City partnered with Communio in 2022. After a year, the dioceses’ efforts to strengthen marriage and family life “are producing tangible, positive results,” according to the Leaven:
These parishes have sponsored creative opportunities ranging from “Toasting the Saints” to “Adoration Under the Stars,” from date night challenges to a family field night, and from a Valentine’s Day cooking class to a beer-tasting get-together. Events have often attracted strong attendance and excellent participation.
Moving into year two, the archdiocese plans on
repeating and tweaking some first-year offerings and tying into existing parish events by adding an evangelization or faith dimension to a social or recreational activity. This can be as simple as distribution of a prayer card. After three years of adopting and adapting the Communio model, the goal is that parishes will continue the marriage and family ministry tailored to the needs of their distinct communities.
Parishes interested in partnering with Communio can click here to learn more or contact Jared Smyth, Vice President of Church Engagement, at (720) 231-4744 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.