(WBIR) Knoxville is among the top cities in the nation when it comes to people converting to Catholicism.
Georgetown University-based research listed Knoxville 10th in the nation for its rate of converts. The reason for the switch - Catholics often date outside their religion and then marry spouses who convert.
Knoxville and Memphis tied for the No. 10 spot. Georgetown ranked Nashville a little higher at No. 8.
St. Patrick Catholic Church in Morristown is among the 40-plus parishes within the Diocese of Knoxville. The church held a confirmation ceremony on Wednesday night, with Bishop Richard Stika.
"We're a growing church both in people who are choosing to become Catholic, as well as people moving in from out of town. So over the five years that I've been the bishop, it really doesn't surprise me at all," Bishop Stika said.
In the past few years, East Tennessee has seen an increase in its Hispanic and Latino populations.
"We have various populations of cultures and Hispanic and Latinos are very large. So they bring a beauty into the church, as well as all the other ethnic groups. We just started a Vietnamese parish in Knoxville, Church of Divine Mercy, and they average over 200 Vietnamese on a Sunday," Bishop Stika said.
This past weekend, about 240 people converted to Catholicism within the Diocese of Knoxville. The church has maintained that average for the past several years. It is also a relatively new diocese at 25-years-old.
Michelle Mitrik of Morristown comes from a Protestant background and converted to Catholicism last year.
"A friend invited me to the Catholic Church. I thought you had a to be born Catholic; that's not true. From the first mass, it was just the right fit for the spiritual life I was looking for," Mitrik said.
Mitrik's husband comes from a Presbyterian background but was baptized Catholic.
"Our whole family has kind of taken this spiritual journey and he is now being confirmed and having his first communion tonight. It's a really special day," she said.
The actual number of Catholics in Knoxville is relatively small compared to Protestant denominations; only 2.6 percent of East Tennesseans say they're Catholic. The Diocese of Knoxville said there are about 63,000 Catholics in our area. Of the 196 dioceses in the country, Knoxville is consistently in the bottom three when it comes to the number of parishioners, according to the Diocese of Knoxville.
Since there is such a small dating pool among East Tennessee Catholics, men and women may look outside the church for potential mates.
Bishop Stika will be in Rome this weekend, along with Cardinal Justin Rigali and 14 others within the Diocese of Knoxville. Pope Francis will hold a double canonization of two former popes at the Vatican this Sunday.