American Catholic: The Saints and Sinners Who Built America's Most Powerful Church

American Catholic: The Saints and Sinners Who Built America's Most Powerful Church

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by Charles R. Morris
     
 

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The rise of Catholicism from an insignificant sect in the early nineteenth century to America's largest and most influential Church is a story filled with a cast of immensely colorful characters. Some were great and imposing. Others were comic, a few even shocking and sinister. Charles Morris recounts the rich story of the rise of the Catholic Church in America with… See more details below

Overview

The rise of Catholicism from an insignificant sect in the early nineteenth century to America's largest and most influential Church is a story filled with a cast of immensely colorful characters. Some were great and imposing. Others were comic, a few even shocking and sinister. Charles Morris recounts the rich story of the rise of the Catholic Church in America with an acute eye for the telling detail and the crucial turning points. American Catholic is not only about the saints and sinners who built the Church, but also the story of how it became the country's dominant cultural force. By the 1950s, no other institution could match its impact on unions, movies, or even popular kitsch. Protestant leaders feared the Church would "Catholicize" the entire nation. But Catholicism was always as much a culture as a religion, and the Church visibly floundered when the big-city-based Catholic culture suddenly broke down, just about the time John Kennedy became the country's first Catholic president. The last section of the book explores the Church's continuing struggle to come to terms with secular, pluralist America and the theological, sexual, doctrinal authority, and gender issues that keep tearing it apart. But, surprisingly enough, Morris's grassroots tour - from ultraconservative Lincoln, Nebraska, to more open, experimental dioceses in Saginaw and Seattle - finds Catholicism alive and well, even flourishing, at the parish level.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Journalist Morris (Computer Wars) has here written a sound popular history of the American Catholic Church. Morris's story is the tale of how the religion of Irish immigrants in major urban areas came to dominate and form American Catholicism. In the 19th century, American Catholics faced a variety of prejudices. They were persecuted for being communists, anti-Christian and satanic. By the end of the 19th century, however, under the leadership of people like Bishop John Ireland, the Midwestern priest whose oratory emphasized the benefits of capitalism and Catholicism, and Cardinal James Gibbons, a moderate who pushed for both a Catholic labor organization and a papal university, American Catholicism grew to become the single largest American religious denomination by 1890. From the end of WWI until Vatican II, Morris writes, the American Catholic Church developed its own culture characterized by the virulent anti-communism of Joe McCarthy, the Index of Forbidden Books and Movies and the dogmatism of papal authority. For Morris, these years represent the triumph of the American Catholic Church. In a final section, Morris discusses the decline of American Catholicism after Vatican II, because of the issues regarding limits of authority and dissent, the role of women in the church and the future of ministry. This a splendidly written grand narrative of the rise, triumph and fall of an American religious denomination. (June)
Library Journal
In journalistic fashion, Morris (The AARP & You, Random, 1996) unfolds the story of the growth of the American Catholic Church and its reshaping by the faithful. He emphasizes culture over theology and focuses on leading figures of the day, especially bishops and their governing styles. A fluid writer and "cradle Catholic," Morris chronicles U.S. church history in the two parts of his work and draws from numerous archives, interviews, and popular and scholarly publications. The third part focuses on the development of major issues confronting the institutional church; he fairly objectively delineates so-called conservative and liberal views. The work is more personal in content and style than Jay Dolan's The American Catholic Experience (LJ 10/15/85) or Patrick Carey's The Roman Catholics (Greenwood, 1993). The author argues for what is most hopeful in the church, particularly its grassroots and increasing lay responsibility. Recommended for public and academic libraries.Anna M. Donnelly, St. John's Univ. Lib., N.Y.
The Boston Globe
One of the best . . .single-volume histories of the American Catholic Church.
LA Times Book Review
A cracking good story with a wonderful cast of rogues, ruffians and some remarkably holy and sensible people.
Kirkus Reviews
An adept, comprehensive history of American Catholicism, tracing its growth from immigrant obscurity in the 19th century, through its cultural dominance in the 1950s, to its current turbulent condition.

Morris (The AARP and You, 1996, Iron Destinies, Lost Opportunities, 1988, etc.) treats his subject with great respect and a certain wistfulness. Part I traces the path (already well trod by scholars) of Catholicism's American rise through WW I, focusing heavily on the Irish example (to the unfortunate neglect of Italians and Germans). In the rest of the book, however, Morris offers an ethnographer's clear perspective on the challenges of 20th-century Catholicism. He claims that the 1950s represented the "triumphal era" for American Catholics, who had mastered their own well-defined subculture and were venturing forth into the mainstream. (This era was symbolized in part by by the rise of Joe McCarthy, a Wisconsin Catholic who dictated the terms of patriotism in the 1950s, defining what all other Americans should be.) Yet Catholic assimilation came at the price of secularization; Morris notes that the chaos that ensued from Vatican II's massive changes had actually been brewing a decade before. Today, Morris claims, American Catholics are still trying to negotiate the legacy of Vatican II and to cope with the new institutional stresses facing their Church: Priests and nuns are aging, with few young people replenishing their ranks; a huge influx of Hispanic parishioners is challenging the norms of an Anglo religious establishment; and the debates over contraceptives, abortion, and women's roles in the church are intensifying. Through all of the current controversies, Morris finds that the vitality of the parish is relatively unchanged. It is not the grassroots, but the "middle and upper management" of the Church that needs to adapt, he asserts.

In all, a valuable synthesis of the American Catholic tradition; some of his insights on the Church's contemporary struggles are downright inspired.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780812920499
Publisher:
Crown Publishing Group
Publication date:
05/27/1997
Pages:
511
Product dimensions:
6.52(w) x 9.58(h) x 1.66(d)

What People are saying about this

Andrew Greeley
The best one-volume history of the last hundred years of American Catholicism that it has ever been my pleasure to read. What's appealing in this remarkable book is its delicate sense of balance and its soundly grounded judgments.

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