The enthusiasm generated by Pope Francis’ first trip to America may prompt some Catholics to attend Mass more frequently, and to donate more to Catholic causes, according to responses to a new survey conducted by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute.

The independent, nonpartisan institute affiliated with Saint Leo University conducted a special poll September 27-29, just after the end of the pontiff’s American visit, to assess his impact. Of American Catholics polled, 92 percent said they feel either strongly favorably or somewhat favorably about their pope.

Saint Leo University theologian Dr. Michael Anthony Novak  explained the resonance a pope can have among the flock. “​People sometimes wonder why the visit of a pope can have such importance for Catholics. Catholic spirituality is a sacramental spirituality. That means that Catholics see visible things as being signs of God’s invisible activity in the world: in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, or in the water of Baptism, to point to two major examples. In the same way, the pope’s actual job is to be the center of unity in the Catholic Church: he is the bishop of Rome, united with all the other bishops of the world. When Catholics encounter the pope, they can get a stronger sense of the unity in love that they experience in God, because the pope—in his office and in his person—is the visible sign of that unity within the global Catholic Church.”

So it was interesting to see the responses posed by the poll specifically to Catholics taking the survey about their level of engagement. (The poll contacted 1,000 Americans from a variety of faiths, and 26 percent identified themselves as Catholics. The margin of error for responses from the Catholic subgroup is plus or minus 6 percent, while the margin of error for overall survey is plus or minus 3 percent.)     

As a result of the pope’s visit, I plan to… Percent of Catholics answering “Yes”
Increase my own Catholic Church service attendance 51.5
Initiate or increase donations to Catholic causes 39.3


Of course, intention and action are two different things, noted Dr. Christopher Wolfe, assistant professor of psychology at Saint Leo University. “When presented with the opportunity to tell or show others our good intentions to change a negative behavior, we tend to jump at the chance and also tend to ‘feel’ better after sharing; we enjoy letting others know just how ‘good’ we hope to be,” Wolfe explained. In this case, the authority of the people may lead people to report an intended increase in behaviors valued by Pope Francis and the faith, he said, adding that intention may predict actual change in behavior in some cases. But other influences matter, too, he said: “their own individual parish experiences may play a large, if not greater, role in whether or not they make the drive on Sunday morning or open up the wallet.”

Catholic Opinions on Papal Messages 

Messages Percent of Catholics who Strongly & Somewhat Agree
Young people from all backgrounds need hope and opportunity 95.5
Family life is precious and should be supported 95.5
The U.S. is blessed with many gifts 94.6
Business and technology can serve humankind 92.7
The U.S. is one of the world’s liveliest and most successful democracies 90.6
The U.S. could do more for the vulnerable 84.5
The U.S. has a positive history of religious diversity 87.4
The U.S. has a remarkable and impressive record of absorbing waves of immigrants 86.9
The pope’s decision to allow Roman Catholic priests to absolve women who have had abortions after they seek forgiveness 84.8
Protecting the environment is the responsibility of all Christians 85.4
The pope’s recognition that the process for married Catholics to obtain annulments of their marriages should be simpler and less expensive 87.0
Arms trading must be halted 85.7
The U.S. needs to do more to address global climate change 82.3
Wealthy nations should open their borders to migrants fleeing hunger and violence 70.5
The death penalty should be abolished everywhere 58.3


METHODOLOGY:  The poll sampled opinions of 1,000 approximately proportional to state population contribution nationwide. The survey was conducted September 27-29, 2015. All surveys were conducted using an online survey instrument. The overall poll has a +/- 3.0 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level on a composite basis.

About Saint Leo University

Saint Leo University ( is a regionally accredited, liberal-arts-based institution known for an inclusive Catholic heritage, enduring values, and capacity for innovation. The school was chartered in 1889 by Catholic Benedictine monks in rural Pasco County, FL, making Saint Leo the first Catholic college in the state. Saint Leo provides access to education to people of all faiths, emphasizing the Benedictine philosophy of balanced growth of mind, body, and spirit.

The university welcomes learners from all generations and backgrounds, from civilian occupations and the armed forces, and from across the country and more than 60 nations around the world. Saint Leo’s almost 16,000 undergraduate and graduate students may elect to study at the beautiful University Campus in Florida, at more than 40 teaching locations in seven states, or online from other locations. The university’s degree programs range from the associate to the doctorate. Throughout these rich offerings, Saint Leo develops principled leaders for a challenging world.

Saint Leo University boasts nearly 80,000 alumni in all 50 states, Washington, DC, five U.S. territories, and 72 countries.

Media contacts at Saint Leo Office of University Communications: Jo-Ann Johnston at (352) 588-8237 or or (Mr.) Kim Payne at (352) 588-7233 or