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Tracing the development of social reform movements among American Catholics from 1880 to 1925, Deirdre Moloney reveals how Catholic gender ideologies, emerging middle-class values, and ethnic identities shaped the goals and activities of lay activists.
Rather than simply appropriate American reform models, ethnic Catholics (particularly Irish and German Catholics) drew extensively on European traditions as they worked to establish settlement houses, promote temperance, and aid immigrants and the poor. Catholics also differed significantly from their Protestant counterparts in defining which reform efforts were appropriate for women. For example, while women played a major role in the Protestant temperance movement beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, Catholic temperance remained primarily a male movement in America. Gradually, however, women began to carve out a significant role in Catholic charitable and reform efforts.
The first work to highlight the wide-ranging contributions of the Catholic laity to Progressive-era reform, the book shows how lay groups competed with Protestant reformers and at times even challenged members of the Catholic hierarchy. It also explores the tension that existed between the desire to demonstrate the compatibility of Catholicism with American values and the wish to preserve the distinctiveness of Catholic life.
Copyright © 2002 The University of North Carolina Press.
All rights reserved.
Celebrating an American Catholic Legacy
The 1893 Chicago World's Fair marked the four-hundredth anniversary of Columbus's voyage to North America by celebrating the achievements of American culture and industrial capitalism. Situated on the Lake Michigan shore, the fair attracted over 27 million visitors after opening in May. The fairgrounds, in which imposing neoclassical structures surrounded a lagoon, sat on 664 acres and featured replicas of the Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria. Antonín Dvorák composed a symphony commemorating the event. A statue of Columbia, torch in hand, sculpted by Daniel Chester French and Edward Potter, presided over the fair. Diverse luminaries such as President Grover Cleveland, Swami Vivekananda, Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Herbert Spencer congregated in Chicago, reflecting its new status as a major city and its full recovery from the devastating 1871 fire.
That year William J. Onahan, a Catholic layman from Chicago, organized the Columbian Catholic Congress, held in conjunction with the World's Fair, to highlight the legacy of American Catholics. Catholics also arranged an educational exhibit and participated in the World's Parliament of Religions. Although many members of the hierarchy and clergy attended the congress, it arose from a lay initiative and many of the presentations centered on the roles of the laity. The issues debated at the Columbian Catholic Congress would challenge lay Catholics for the next thirty years, particularly the reformers examined in this study. Those issues having particular relevance to lay reformers included the impact of the Americanist controversy, which fueled the debate over the extent to which European traditions and languages should be preserved in the United States; the greater role of laywomen, African Americans and converts in the church; and the extent to which lay opposition to hierarchical positions would be tolerated. The changing ethnic composition of the church was another significant issue encountered by Catholics convened at the 1893 congress, as new, predominantly Catholic, immigrants from countries other than Ireland and Germany were arriving in steadily larger numbers, precipitating yet another stage of growth for the church. Despite the focus on unity at the congress, Catholics faced the challenge of reconciling the diverse traditions and experiences within their ranks. The issues addressed at 1893 lay congress reveal the context in which Catholic lay reform efforts occurred and demonstrate the growing confidence among Catholics in claiming their place in America's past as well as in contemporary society.
A similar congress had been held in Baltimore in 1889, days prior to the dedication ceremony for the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. The organizing committee members had voted to hold their subsequent congress during the 1893 World's Fair. The linking of the 1893 Catholic Congress to the World's Fair signified the emergence of Catholicism in the United States as a major religion, but it also highlighted the difficulty Catholics faced in gaining acceptance among their fellow Americans, as well as the internal divisions the religion faced in the 1890s.
Architect Daniel Burnham's creation of the White City fairgrounds sought to evoke elements of a past that could reconcile the new industrial order and concepts of progress with the values of an earlier era. Catholics, to some degree, shared with others that optimism about the United States and its future. The chairman of the Columbian Catholic Congress and well-known Knights of Columbus leader, Judge Morgan O'Brien, stated: "Naturally our minds go back to that event through the vista of years; we see the march of progress, the development of material and mechanical triumphs, and above all the struggle for emancipation and freedom."
Catholics had an additional goal at the fair: to prove the compatibility of their minority religion with the ideals that were articulated in the other forums and exhibitions. Yet their participation was marked by internal divisions over ethnicity and points of view to be expressed at the fair. Catholics still needed to reach a consensus about their own identity, even while seeking to change perceptions of held by others. The controversies surrounding the nature of lay group participation both reflected and anticipated the changing roles of those organizations.
The timing of the 1893 lay congress was also significant because just two years earlier Pope Leo XIII had delivered his encyclical letter on the condition of labor, Rerum Novarum, which precipitated a greater emphasis on social issues among the laity, clergy, and hierarchy. Rerum Novarum would serve as the catalyst for the advancement of Catholic lay reform initiatives just as the Social Gospel movement inspired a greater commitment to social reform among Protestants in the United States.
The Catholic use of the symbol of Columbus arose primarily as a defensive tactic in an era in which anti-Catholic prejudice remained strong. The era, however, was also one in which the Catholic Church was better equipped to address prejudice than it had been in the past. As historian Christopher Kauffman has argued, while Italians in the United States were adapting Columbus into a symbol particular to their ethnic group, the founding of the Knights of Columbus in 1882 marked a simultaneous effort by Catholics to transform him into a universal symbol of their faith. As part of their effort to demonstrate the compatibility of their religion with American institutions and traditions, the 1893 Catholic Congress attendees sought to establish a Catholic American historical memory based on Columbus and his voyage. Catholics appropriated the symbol of Columbus and his benefactors—Ferdinand and Isabella, the king and queen of Spain—as their own. They thus promoted their claims as authentic Americans and challenged the prevailing view that English Protestantism constituted the United States's only valid religious legacy.
Daniel Dougherty, a layman from New York and speaker at the 1889 congress, marked the impending Columbus quadricentennial by asserting that "without Catholic Columbus, America would not have been discovered." He further argued that "the finding of the new world, and the vast results that have flowed to humanity, can be traced directly to the Roman Catholic Church and the Roman Catholic church alone." Dougherty thus rewrote the history of the settling of America as a Catholic rather than as a Protestant event.
The Americanist Controversy of the 1890s
In his speech inaugurating the 1889 lay congress, Archbishop John Ireland proclaimed his optimism about the new century and the role of Catholics in it. "Despite its defects and its mistakes, I love my age. I love its aspirations and its resolves. I revel in its feats of valor, its industries, and its discoveries. I thank it for its many benefactions to my fellow-men, to the people rather than to princes and rulers. I seek no backward voyage across the sea of time. I will ever press forward. I believe that God intends the future to be better than the present."
As a leading member of liberal contingent of the hierarchy, Ireland and his allies attempted to increase the power and action of the laity to address social issues and to become fuller participants in the church and in American life. He exclaimed: "Let there be individual action. Layman need not wait for priest, nor priest for Bishop, nor Bishop for Pope." Alluding to tensions that would soon culminate in the Americanist crisis, Ireland asserted: "The Church of America must be, of course, as Catholic as ever in Jerusalem or Rome; but so far as her garments assume color from the local atmosphere she must be American. Let no one dare paint her brow with foreign tint, or pin to her mantle foreign linings." Ireland and his Americanist allies soon clashed with conservatives in the hierarchy, who maintained close ties to Rome and stressed the unique role of the Catholic Church in American life.
Four years later, the opportunity to present the merits of Catholicism and its compatibility with American institutions in conjunction with the commemoration of Columbus's voyage heightened the significance of the Catholic Congress in a decade of intense controversy within the American church. Internal tensions arose during a period of external conflict, as anti-Catholicism underwent a resurgence. The American Protective Association (APA), an anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant group, had formed in 1887 and experienced sharp growth in 1893. Some Catholic newspapers split their front-page coverage of the 1893 congress with news of APA activities.
The Americanist controversy of the 1890s, which divided the liberals, or Americanists, within the American hierarchy against the conservatives, also had ramifications for Catholic lay groups. Along with Ireland, the leaders in the former camp included Bishop John Keane of Richmond and Reverend Denis O'Connoll, rector of the American College of Rome, a good friend of Ireland, who would later succeed Keane as bishop. Archbishop Michael Corrigan of New York and Bishop Bernard McQuaid of Rochester led the conservatives and gained the support of German Catholics. Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore generally sided with the liberals, while Bishop John Lancaster Spalding of Peoria refrained from aligning with either group. The split reflected a fundamental tension between the church's emphasis on ethnic issues and the view that Catholics must demonstrate the compatibility of their religion with American life. Americanists sought to gain legitimacy within society as a whole and to promote the acculturation of Catholics. The tension between these two points of view permeated many lay activities until after World War I.
Yet the dichotomy between the liberal and conservative views, as traditionally presented, often misses the complexity and contradictions inherent in the two sides' positions, and in the labels assigned to those views. For example, McQuaid differed from Ireland on several points—he held a more pessimistic view of American society, vigorously supported parochial schools, and eschewed participation in party politics. But McQuaid also strongly supported Rerum Novarum, the separation of church and state, and an emphasis on English language instruction in parochial schools. He sought to train and educate American priests "who were prepared for the world as it is today" and rejected proposals to appoint bishops for each immigrant group. Conservatives such as McQuaid argued that because acculturation of immigrant Catholics would occur over time, it need not be actively promoted. Similarly, Ireland's Americanist perspective, which lauded America's achievements over those of Europe, revealed nationalist sentiments that meshed well with American foreign expansionist views and was in some ways too eager to embrace Anglo-American culture. Personality clashes and representation of the issues in the press accentuated actual differences between the two perspectives.
The Americanist controversy reached its pinnacle in 1899, when Pope Leo XIII issued an apostolic letter, Testem Benevolentiae, declaring unorthodox some of the views often attributed to Americanists. These included the idea that in order to attract followers, the Catholic Church needed to change its doctrines in accordance with modern circumstances in the United States. That view gave rise to the fear among the hierarchy that doctrine would vary and change, rather than rest with tradition and papal authority. The pope's objection to the Americanist view emphasized that the individual needed external direction for his or her spiritual life. The letter further declared that there could be no distinction between passive and active virtues; all virtues required action and therefore humility, obedience, and abstinence remained necessary to modern life.
The immediate controversy, and the subsequent apostolic letter, had emanated from a translation from English into French of a biography of Isaac Hecker in which Hecker's views were interpreted by some conservatives as constituting Americanism. Hecker, a well-known Catholic convert born in New York in 1819, was a former Lutheran, Methodist, and transcendentalist who founded the Paulist Congregation in 1858. Hecker was known for his emphasis on the importance of the indwelling Holy Spirit to the internal guidance of Catholic spiritual life. The translation of his biography, however, went farther than that. It suggested to some that Hecker believed that natural virtues were superior to the supernatural and that the Holy Spirit's presence in the individual soul was more important than the sacraments and institutional aspects of Catholicism. For many in the hierarchy, these ideas attributed to Hecker strayed dangerously toward Protestantism and the heterodoxy of illuminism. That latter concept emphasized a direct relationship between God and the individual, implying that the priest's role as liturgical mediator was not essential to religious practice. Although no one was actually accused of heresy during the controversy, the liberal members of the hierarchy felt they had been placed on the defensive and denied that they had ever espoused the views said to be Americanist. Recently, however, several historians have suggested that Americanists did in fact advocate views that were later denounced in Testem Benevolentiae.
The Americanist controversy of the late 1890s has been the subject of several studies by historians of American Catholicism. While acknowledging the Americanists' emphasis on a more active role for the laity, few historians have discussed in depth the implications of the controversy for the development of lay groups in this era. In fact, this tension between acculturation and accommodation into American society, on the one hand, and the ethnically based traditions of Catholicism, on the other, permeated organized lay activities, from Catholic temperance to the German Catholic Central Verein, from efforts to assist immigrants to the views inherent in the Catholic settlement house movement.
Ethnic tensions within the American church escalated further following a call for increased numbers of Germans in the hierarchy of the American church and increased attention to immigration issues. In 1871 Peter Cahensly, a German businessman and Reichstag member, had founded the St. Raphael Society as an immigrant aid organization for German Catholics emigrating to the United States. He was especially critical of the American Catholic hierarchy's role in immigration; in 1891 he maintained that because of their inaction, a large number of Catholics left the faith upon their arrival. In addition, he advocated the continued use of the German language among the immigrants and the appointment of German and other foreign bishops to the United States. Cahensly belonged to a lay group from a Catholic congress in Lucerne, Switzerland, which voiced those concerns to the pope. Members of the liberal American faction in the United States, especially Archbishop John Ireland, condemned Cahensly's actions as highly inappropriate, and others characterized "Cahenslyism" as foreign interference.
The Americanist controversy was intensified by the fact that in the United States the church allowed ethnic groups to establish their own parishes within their communities rather than join existing ones. While that issue might have faded in importance as subsequent generations of German Catholics gained a preference for English, the infusion of other non-English-speaking Catholic immigrants beginning in the 1880s again brought the issue to the foreground. Once considered a temporary measure by the hierarchy, national parishes were now viewed by many Catholics as integral to their religious life. This system allowed German, Italian, Polish, and other Catholic immigrants to hear sermons, give confessions, and educate their children in their native languages, although mass was universally conducted in Latin. As we will see, the creation of these new parishes fueled controversies between immigrant laity and the American-born hierarchy, and amongst immigrants themselves.
Another issue that concerned Americanists was the fate of labor organizations to which large numbers of Catholics belonged. The church had condemned Catholic involvement in secret societies. Cardinal Gibbons, however, interceded on behalf of the Knights of Labor, which had enjoyed strong support among Catholic workers, so that the pope would not prohibit Catholic involvement in that group. Terence Powderly, an Irish Catholic who strongly advocated total abstinence, headed the Knights of Labor. Powderly attended the World's Fair but did not speak at the Catholic Congress.
While language as a component of ethnic identity was not an issue among Irish Catholic groups, the continuity between their brand of Catholicism and nationalist issues was heavily emphasized by many Irish Catholics in the American church in the late nineteenth century. The Land League, an Irish nationalist organization led by Charles Parnell and Michael Davitt to achieve Irish home rule and to secure greater land tenancy rights, became especially popular among Irish American Catholics in the 1880s. The Land League agitation of that decade received widespread support from many Irish Catholic clergy members as well as laity and permeated much of the lay activism in the late nineteenth century and later, while nationalist sentiment laced the rhetoric and agendas of other lay groups active in this era.
Another dispute that illustrates the coexistence of Americanist and ethnic tendencies is the McGlynn affair. Dr. Edward McGlynn, a well-known New York priest and pastor of St. Stephen's Church, served as one of the earliest supporters of the Land League movement among the American clergy and spoke at the 1893 Columbian Catholic Congress. McGlynn served as an important figure in the period of Americanist controversy because of his liberal political stances, including his staunch belief in the separation of church and state, his opposition to government funding of private or parochial education, and, most important, his support for Henry George's single tax plan. In the 1860s McGlynn and other liberal New York priests had been involved in a group known as the Accademia, which expressed views similar to those later expressed by Americanists, particularly those concerning the reconciliation of American democratic values with the church and the parochial school issue. Despite widespread support for McGlynn among the laity, especially women, the conservative archbishop of New York, Michael Corrigan, suspended him twice and then prohibited Catholics from attending his lectures. After McGlynn was summoned to Rome and refused to go, he was excommunicated. The pope later overturned McGlynn's 1887 excommunication, and Corrigan reassigned him to a parish north of New York City.
Just as many individuals held both ethnic and Americanist views, the actual demarcation between Americanist and conservative approaches toward issues was far from absolute. For example, while stressing that their movement would help the Catholic position in the United States and increase individuals' upward mobility, temperance advocates also emphasized their ties to Father Theobold Mathew's midcentury campaign in Ireland and their support for Irish nationalism. And Archbishop Ireland, a major advocate of the Americanist position on behalf of the laity—especially in the areas of temperance and Catholic colonization—had views that reflected elements of acculturation as well as a strong identification with specific ethnic issues.
The labels characterizing the two views prove somewhat misleading in describing the groups' goals. Certainly the conservatives sought to preserve many European Catholic traditions. Yet while that stance has been described as conservative, it was the liberals who often advocated an accommodationist rather than a cultural pluralist solution to the conflict between American and European values and traditions. Some elements of the Americanist stance, therefore, might better be characterized as conservative.
Anti-Catholicism served as yet another factor in the debate between the Americanists and the conservatives because the former group feared that cultural retention would serve to exacerbate growing charges that Catholics were disloyal to the United States. The decade of the 1890s, when these internal conflicts emerged, was also characterized by an upsurge in anti-Catholicism. Anti-Catholicism had subsided for a few decades but arose again in part because of increased Catholic immigration from southern and eastern Europe, and also because of the growing fear of Catholic political control in cities with substantial Catholic populations, including Boston, New York, and Chicago. Prejudice and organized activity were strong in Massachusetts as well as in the Midwest, where Catholics had established significant roles in urban politics. Anti-Catholicism was also reconstituted as a result of the increasing profile of the Catholic Church outside the Northeast. Therefore, by suggesting their growing presence in American society, participation by Catholics in a highly visible forum such as the World's Fair had the potential to heighten, as well as to dispel, antagonism toward them.
The American Protective Association gained a substantial increase in members beginning in 1893, following William Traynor's rise to leadership in the group and the occurrence of the severe economic depression that year. In 1893 Traynor's Detroit newspaper, the Patriotic American, published a fabricated papal encyclical supposedly issued by Leo XIII. The fake encyclical was said to release Catholics from their loyalty to the United States and to order them to "exterminate all heretics" in September of that year, a date that roughly coincided with the one on which "the Roman Catholic Congress shall convene at Chicago, Ill." Anti-Catholicism also flourished in many Protestant churches. But other Protestants, such as Washington Gladden, an influential minister closely identified with the Social Gospel movement, strongly condemned anti-Catholicism. Gladden began an article in Century magazine by noting the irony in the fact that anti-Catholicism had undergone a resurgence during the same year that the Parliament of Religions at the World's Fair sought to promote religious toleration. Citing Rerum Novarum, Gladden asserted that Leo XIII had proved to be "perhaps the most enlightened and most progressive pontiff who has ever occupied that throne: the whole policy of the Church under his administration has been tending toward a reconciliation with modern civilization."
It is not surprising then, in such a hostile climate, directed both against Catholics and toward the 1893 congress in particular, that Catholics at the congress felt compelled to highlight their loyalty to American values and institutions, to emphasize that Catholics had been integral to the nation's founding, and to discourage those who sought to emphasize Catholics' European heritage from participating freely at the fair.
The Laity at the Congress
Both the 1893 congress and the earlier one that took place in Baltimore in 1889 stressed themes of Catholic unity. Henry Brownson, a layman from Detroit and the son of Orestes Brownson, the famous convert, had conceived of the 1889 congress and gained Archbishop Ireland's support for it. Though Bishop John Henry Newman and Cardinal Henry Edward Manning of England had earlier proposed hosting a congress for English-speaking Catholics patterned on those in continental Europe, their plans never came to fruition.
William Onahan was the most prominent layman at both the first and second congresses. An energetic man and inveterate organizer, Onahan was involved in a number of lay activities at the local and national levels. In addition to organizing the 1889 and 1893 congresses, he served as an officer of the Irish Catholic Colonization Association, became president of the Holy Name Conference of the St. Vincent de Paul Society when it formed in 1857, and joined the Catholic Institute, a lay group that sponsored public lectures. As a young man in Chicago, he had attended lectures by such Catholic luminaries as Orestes Brownson, Thomas D'Arcy McGee, and Bishop John Lancaster Spalding. Those speakers seem to have influenced his activities in later years, since both McGee and Spalding were major proponents of rural colonization efforts. Later he hosted both Charlotte Grace O'Brien, an Irish reformer, and Father James Nugent of Liverpool when each toured the United States promoting immigration assistance programs.
Onahan served as an impressive example of upward mobility among the Catholic laity and as a spokesman for an emerging sense of noblesse oblige. The son of a carpenter, Onahan was born in Leighlin Bridge, County Carlow, Ireland, in 1836. His older siblings had all died in infancy. He came to the United States as a teenager with his family, which had initially immigrated to Liverpool, hoping to improve their economic opportunities. His mother died there of cholera. After a brief time in New York, Onahan arrived in Chicago in 1854 with his father and his two younger sisters, both of whom later joined the Religious of the Sacred Heart. He worked as a shipping clerk at the Rock Island Railroad, using his income to support both his father and sisters. Soon he became a city booster, serving on the Chicago Board of Trade and the Board of Education, and helping to organize the Hibernian Savings Bank in 1867. He also served as president of the Illinois Catholic Historical Society. He benefited from political patronage by becoming first the city's collector and then its appointed comptroller. In addition to his political and civic career, Onahan owned a real estate and insurance firm and became a bank president. In 1890 the University of Notre Dame awarded him the Laetare Medal, presented to an outstanding layman, largely in recognition of his efforts in organizing the first congress. In his later years, he donated his private library, rich in Irish history and literature, to the Quigley Preparatory Seminary. For Onahan, the 1893 Catholic Congress, convened in his adopted city, represented a culmination of his efforts to champion Catholic lay activities.
Katherine Conway, a Boston journalist and novelist, was another layperson involved in planning the 1893 congress. She complained that New England delegates felt "crowded out" of the congress, in part because it was hosted by Chicago Catholics. The fact that the congress was held in Chicago instead of a more established eastern city further highlighted the growing influence of midwestern members of the hierarchy, as well as the burgeoning numbers of Catholics outside of major East Coast cities and the increasingly national character of the church.
The participation of women in the 1893 congress signaled a significant departure from previous gatherings, from which women had been excluded. In fact, the 1893 congress featured several women speakers, most of whom emphasized topics of a historical or artistic nature rather than contemporary issues. The decision to include women's speeches at the 1893 congress, in contrast to the 1889 gathering of laity, gained impetus from the fact that women had organized a Congress of Representative Women at the 1893 World's Fair. That gathering had the potential to appeal to Catholic women, had they been excluded from the Catholic Congress altogether. During the planning stages, the position of women at the Catholic Congress became sharply contested. The inclusion of Catholic laywomen thus reflected both their emergence in the public sphere and the continued controversies surrounding their roles.
Katherine Conway objected strenuously to the concept of a "Woman's Day" that would separate women presenters from the rest of the program. Conway, the acting editor of the Boston Pilot, was a contradictory figure. An active, assertive, and unmarried career woman, she extolled the importance of marriage for women and strenuously opposed women's suffrage initiatives in Massachusetts. She repeated her objections to the forum in several letters to William Onahan, in every instance providing a different argument against, or an alternative plan to, Woman's Day. Later she asserted that men would not attend the program, because it would seem a "dreary bore" to them. She told Onahan to withdraw her name from the program, contending that "that 'woman' business is overdone in non-Catholic circles." She also appealed to Onahan's primary goal of improving the image of Catholics among the public in general. "Let us show to the observant non-Catholic public that clever women are not a brand-new thing, not a nine-day's wonder in the Catholic church." Conway implied that women should not raise issues of particular interest to their sex but should instead demonstrate their intelligence only on general topics in forums alongside men.
In objecting to what she viewed as a pale imitation of Protestant and secular groups, Conway sought to keep American Catholicism free from critical discussions of women's roles and rights. She complained about the segregation of women: "I have always had a horror of the exploiting of women as women in any public gathering," adding that she opposed "the raising of 'the woman question' among Catholics." These comments suggest that it was not simply the fear that women's segregation would marginalize them that displeased her, but also the idea that such a forum could lend itself to the expression of prosuffrage or feminist viewpoints. To bolster her view, she listed the names of those who agreed with her position, including the husband of Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, a Woman's Day speaker. She mentioned having dined with Cardinal Gibbons, implying that he, too, supported her position. Conway's opposition to the Woman's Day forum extended beyond her private correspondence. As editor of the Pilot, she ran articles questioning its appropriateness.
The relationship of women to the Catholic community as a whole became a point of contention between Katherine Conway and Onahan (and others), who sought to emphasize women's issues by having a separate program for them in the congress. Conway denounced Alice Toomy, who helped to promote Woman's Day. Toomy supported feminist causes to a greater degree than did most Catholic women. Conway threatened to withdraw her participation from the congress if Toomy spoke. Apparently, Toomy did not become involved in the Catholic forum on women, speaking instead on dress reform and marriage at the Congress of Representative Women.
Conway eventually proved unsuccessful in her efforts to eliminate the Woman's Day program from the congress; the organizers devoted one day to women speakers. Yet Conway may have won a battle over semantics. The official proceedings indicate that the organizers ultimately skirted the issue of an official Woman's Day program. They recorded that "Thursday, the fourth day of the Congress, might well be called Woman's Day, the claims and glories of the gentler sex being eloquently presented by some famous Catholic ladies."
In contrast to many of the papers given by Catholic laymen, and by many women in the Congress of Representative Women, the women's topics presented at the Columbian Catholic Congress focused on historical subjects rather than on contemporary Catholic women's issues. Isabella, the Catholic queen of Spain, became a popular historical symbol for modern-day Catholics discussing the role of women in the church. Mary Onahan's speech on "Isabella the Catholic" asserted that "the age of woman dates not from the 19th century, but from the 1st; is due not to modern civilization, not to modern progress, but to something grander than either—the mainspring of both—the religion of Christ and his Church." Onahan lauded Isabella as an exemplary Catholic woman, because "this inner spirit of religion, of law, permeated [her] whole life and character." By using a fifteenth-century example, Onahan challenged the notion that modern values were responsible for the improved status of women and drew upon a Catholic legacy of female influence. Archbishop Ireland also commended Isabella, noting that Columbus "could not have succeeded without the practical patronage of Isabella. Be Isabella honored by America's generous recognition of women's sphere." He also applauded women's enlarged role at the 1893 congress.
Rose Hawthorne Lathrop's paper, "Women and Mammon," served as an exception to the dearth of discussions on contemporary women's issues. She described diametrically opposed archetypes of women and warned of wealthy and vain women who concerned themselves with material matters at the expense of their spiritual lives. She contrasted this dichotomy, essentially that of Eve and Mary, with the more universal representation of man as "courage, energy, [and] constructive force." Lathrop then called for women to "arise and defend your rights, your abilities for competition with men, intellect, and professional endurance. The hour [has arrived] when you are to prove that purity and generosity are for the nation as well as for the home. If it is well for you to imitate the profoundest students, the keenest business minds, the sublimest patriots, is it not well for you to imitate the noblest and tenderest of your sex?" While Lathrop did not reject public and professional roles for women, she highlighted the importance of domestic virtues of purity and tenderness, as opposed to those of "idle" and material women. That theme permeated contemporary discussions of Catholic domesticity and the views of Catholic women's groups.
By providing a voice for women in the Catholic Congress, organizers could regulate the content of women's issues and provide a more traditional forum for women than existed in the secular and more feminist-oriented setting of the Congress of Representative Women. The inclusion of women occurred partially in response to external forces, particularly the increasing prominence of Protestant-oriented feminists and reformers in the public sphere. But the development also coincided with an increasing recognition in the 1890s of American laywomen's roles within the church, which expanded as they became involved in new activities. Yet, despite women's progress, their responsibilities and roles in the church remained subordinate to men's.
African American Catholics: A Minority within a Minority
African American Catholics held their fourth annual congress in Chicago in conjunction with the 1893 Columbian Catholic Congress, having held separate congresses in 1889, 1890, and 1892. To some extent, the gathering of black Catholics at those earlier congresses reflected the primary motive of the participants in the 1889 and 1893 general Catholic lay congresses—to achieve wider respectability in the majority society. But African Americans within the Catholic Church, a minority within a minority, sought to gain acceptance among their coreligionists as well. Therefore their meeting at the general gathering of lay Catholics was an important development in their status both as African Americans and as Catholics.
The black lay congress in 1889 marked the first time that members of the African American Catholic laity met as a group at the national level. That congress was organized by Daniel Rudd, an African American journalist raised in Bardstown, Kentucky. The son of former slaves who had brought up their twelve children as Catholics, Rudd hoped to encourage black Catholics in the United States, whom he estimated to number around 200,000, to join together to promote their interests within the Catholic Church as a whole. Early in 1889, eleven months prior to the general lay congress, African American Catholics gathered in Washington, D.C., and met with President Grover Cleveland at the White House.
Daniel Rudd also served on the organizing committee of the 1889 general lay congress and encouraged the committee members to include blacks in their forums. He came under criticism for his stance, however. Despite Archbishop Ireland's strong support for African Americans in the church, his secretary, Father Byrne, complained about Rudd's seeking a greater role for blacks at the general congress. Byrne closed a letter to Father John Slattery, one of the foremost advocates of African Americans in the church, with a racial slur against Rudd, a remark that reflected the continued racial intolerance among many Catholics.
Byrne's reaction was not surprising, in light of the uneasy, often hostile, and sometimes violent relationship of African Americans with immigrant German and, especially, Irish Catholics in the United States during the nineteenth century. Immigrant Catholics had overwhelmingly supported the Democratic Party, in part as a result of anti-Catholic sentiment in the other parties—Whig, Republican, and Know-Nothings—during the antebellum era. Irish American racism emanated to a large degree from the fear of economic competition with free African Americans and the threat of intensified competition and northern migration after emancipation. In urban areas in the North, both groups were heavily concentrated in manual labor and domestic service positions. The Democratic Party in the North was far more receptive to the needs of immigrants and other poor urban whites than was the Republican Party, while few Democrats supported abolitionism. This uneasy relationship between urban Catholics, African Americans, and Republicans erupted in violence during the 1863 New York City draft riots, in which members of the urban working class, many of whom were Irish, protested the class bias of a Union conscription law allowing military exemptions for $300. The mainly Irish protesters assaulted and killed, or looted the property of, free blacks, elite abolitionists, and others associated with the war.
But, as historian David Roediger argues, job competition and other economic circumstances cannot entirely explain the animosity that Irish Americans held toward African Americans. In fact, their major competitors for jobs were other white workers. Roediger also rejects the notion that Irish Americans felt animosity toward African Americans because they associated abolitionist sentiment with the British. He argues that Irish Americans expressed animosity toward African Americans openly because such racial violence was widely acceptable in America. Many white Americans had, during the mid-nineteenth century especially, cast Irish Americans in a separate racial category from themselves—as similar to, and sometimes inferior to, African Americans. Indeed, political cartoonists in both England and the United States in that era portrayed both groups as simian. Irish Americans gradually became defined as white, and they used their increasing political power to maintain their status.
Roediger also discusses instances of successful intergroup coexistence and notes that the animosity between the two groups was not inevitable. In nineteenth-century Ireland, prejudice against blacks was not fixed, and several popular Irish leaders, most notably Daniel O'Connell and Father Mathew, strenuously supported abolition. But O'Connell's position against slavery did not receive support among Irish Americans. It was in the American context that Irish racism solidified.
Given the history of Irish American racism during the nineteenth century, it is not surprising that the relationship between the African American participants in the Columbian Catholic Congress and other Catholic attendees proved strained. William Onahan asked Father Slattery, an advocate for African American Catholics who had helped organize one of the earlier black congresses, for suggestions on an African American speaker. Without elaborating, Slattery responded that few African American Catholics would prove appropriate. It is probable that Slattery had objected to Daniel Rudd's call for black Catholics to be integrated into the general program of the 1889 lay congress rather than being placed in a self-contained forum on black Catholic issues.
On the surface, Rudd's objection to a self-contained forum for African Americans at the 1889 Catholic Congress paralleled Katherine Conway's objection to a separate Woman's Day four years later. Yet there were significant differences in the two situations. In 1889 African Americans had already held their own conference to discuss issues particular to their community. Further, the view that African Americans should remain exclusively within their own forum during a general congress must be seen in the context of legal and cultural segregation, an ideology and practice that had been crystallizing in the South in the late nineteenth century and had solidified into a uniform social system by around 1900.
Despite this tension, African Americans did participate in the Columbian Catholic Congress in 1893. In June of 1893, William Lofton, a black Catholic dentist from St. Augustine's Parish in Washington, D.C., wrote to Onahan requesting that he consider having a black Catholic representative read a paper at the congress. He suggested Joseph Spencer, president of the executive committee of the Colored Catholic Congress. Spencer asked whether there would be many black representatives at the Columbian Congress and suggested that when the black Catholic congress adjourned it might then join the Columbian Congress.
In a letter to Onahan, Slattery noted that Lofton's idea for merging the Colored Catholic Congress into the Columbian Congress "would prove a good stroke in the eyes of the public." Ultimately, however, Onahan passed over Spencer and selected Charles H. Butler, a Treasury Department clerk, to address the congress on the subject, "The Condition and Future of the Negro Race in the United States." Although Butler's speech avoided major controversy, he did criticize the Catholic Church for having failed to engage in missionary efforts among newly freed slaves in the South, noting that many Protestant denominations had done so. Father Slattery reiterated Butler's view, adding that Protestants had allocated $35 million dollars into such efforts in the South, including the establishment of southern black colleges. During the 1893 congress, African American delegates approved the constitution of a new group, St. Peter Claver's Catholic Union, elected its officers, and arranged for a fifth black congress in 1894. The union, to be based in Washington, would support institutions to assist African American Catholics. The fifth conference occurred in 1894, but it had significantly fewer participants than the 1893 congress. Ultimately, however, the organizers of St. Peter Claver's Catholic Union lost momentum, in part due to conflicts over leadership, how strongly to oppose discrimination, and the Americanist controversy. A few decades later, the Federated Colored Catholics, a group that arose during World War I, revived national African American Catholic organizational efforts.
According to historian Cyprian Davis, African American Catholics, at their late-nineteenth-century congresses and elsewhere, "appropriated for themselves a Catholic history. Where other ethnic groups looked to their European ancestors for their Catholic roots, the black Catholics in America looked to the early church in North Africa for theirs." Davis adds that African American Catholics often alluded to African historical references and to African Catholic saints, such as St. Benedict the Moor and St. Martin de Porres, a Latin American saint with African roots. In emphasizing such historical ties to Catholicism, African Americans strengthened their claims as equal participants in the American church. Indeed, by highlighting the international context of their religion, black Catholics showed distinct parallels with Catholics of recent European heritage. Despite long-standing racial tensions, then, African American lay leaders were able to gain greater recognition from their coreligionists through a fuller involvement in public forums. The participation of African Americans at the Columbian Catholic Congress symbolized an important advancement in their relationship with other American Catholics and improved their status within the church.
Catholic Converts and Lay Viewpoints
Catholics at the 1893 congress also stressed the number of prominent Anglo-American converts to the faith. That group signaled the strengths of Catholicism and its compatibility with American institutions. Converts, especially those who were active in Catholic issues, tended to come from wealthier, better-educated backgrounds than the vast majority of Catholics. The fact that one participant, Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, was the daughter of Nathaniel Hawthorne, the well-known novelist, and that she was descended from some of New England's elite Protestant families was heavily emphasized at the 1893 congress. Lathrop and her husband had converted to Catholicism in 1891, having previously baptized their only child as a Catholic. Others at the conference highlighted the fact that General William Tecumseh Sherman's wife was a Catholic. This strategy of emphasizing the illustriousness of converts was evident to many participants at the conference. When Katherine Conway suggested some possible Boston delegates to Onahan, she remarked, "They are born Catholic, and between ourselves there is a little sensitiveness sometimes as to the seemingly less consideration for that element."
The congress's emphasis on converts may also suggest that Catholicism had not produced sufficient numbers of successful individuals indigenous to its own community, or that Catholics remained less than confident about the ability of those born into the faith to serve as emissaries or symbols to American society at large. As subsequent chapters reveal, the tension between criticizing Protestants and simultaneously seeking their approval permeated Catholic reform. Any critique of Protestant reforms and approaches to religion could be subtly undermined as Catholics welcomed Protestants into the church and encouraged them to pursue leadership positions among the laity and hierarchy. The congress's emphasis on well-known converts from Protestantism, moreover, proved somewhat difficult to reconcile with their simultaneous condemnation of Protestant proselytizing efforts directed at new immigrants.
Although the congress was organized to demonstrate that the Catholic laity supported the principles articulated by the hierarchy, this issue also led to some controversy. The requirement that lay speakers and clergy submit a copy of their proposed papers to the congress's organizers for approval by the bishop came under fire from several participants. John Rozan, slated to discuss Polish Catholics, wrote to Onahan, "I must express my astonishment to hear that . . . I shall encounter any objections and be obliged to send my paper in advance for the approval of the Committee, a rule I suppose, which by the way I was unable to find in the programme." He then withdrew from the congress in protest. Another layman complained that the policy would reinforce the notion among Americans that Catholics were "priest-ridden." Reverend Walter Elliott, Isaac Hecker's Paulist biographer, and conference speaker, stated: "I know, or think I know[,] why so odious a quarantine regulation has been made, but I wish some other means could have been found to secure the same good end."
M. E. Elder, a niece of Archbishop William Elder of Cincinnati, also questioned whether the laity could freely express their views at the congress. Writing to Onahan regarding her paper on rural migration, Elder mused, "I fear that utmost freedom is not permissible in this case. Is it ever proper for the laity to discuss questions which imply blame to the bishops and clergy? . . . What does surprise me is the way we have of eulogizing ourselves." Elder thus criticized the congress for celebrating American Catholics' achievements at the expense of addressing their challenges.
Onahan had discussed the issue of lay expression at the 1889 congress in a letter to John Lee Carroll of Ellicott City, Maryland, a conference participant, stating: "It will not do to allow the impression to go abroad that the Congress is in 'leading strings,' and that the members are not free to speak their minds." John Hyde, a Detroit member of the organizing committee for the 1889 congress, objected to the policy of submitting conference papers to bishops on the grounds that it implied "a doubt of the layman's all-rightness." Hyde informed Onahan that both Henry Brownson, the originator of the 1889 lay congress, and M. J. Harson had criticized the policy. The policy had come in response to concerns expressed by Cardinal James Gibbons, who, in the wake of the McGlynn affair, feared that such papers would stir controversy in America and result in Vatican disapproval. Archbishop Ireland concurred with Gibbons, despite his public call for greater lay initiative.
The freedom of expression issue was further complicated by the fact that the sessions were not open to all. Instead, both conferences required that attendees receive a letter from their bishops. The Organization Committee stated that while the congress "should be free and open to all Catholics, at the same time some necessary restrictions and limitations were obviously required to guard against the intrusion of persons who might claim to be Catholics and yet be possessed by a disloyal spirit and under the influence of false or pernicious principles." The statement implied that without restrictions, anti-Catholic groups might disrupt the congress's sessions. Therefore proponents of the approval policy prevented those Catholics who were known to hold significantly dissenting views from voicing their opinions at the public forum. Yet, despite those restrictions, controversies among the laity nevertheless emerged regarding the direction in which the church was moving.
Organizers discouraged the discussion of ethnically based issues, despite their popularity among some attendees. One audience member brought to the floor an additional resolution condemning the British government's rejection of home rule for Ireland, which was rejected by the Committee on Resolutions. Some supporters of the resolution protested that action. But despite significant support for the Land League by the U.S. clergy and laity, the congress's organizers sought to avoid addressing any political issues that interfered with its goals of demonstrating the loyalty of Catholics to the United States and its government.
New Immigrants and the Church
Although the participants at the 1893 congress sought to stress the compatibility of Catholicism and American values, neither they nor other Catholics could ignore the fact that ethnic issues would remain a major focus of the church in the ensuing decades. Debates over those issues would no longer be confined to the children and grandchildren of German and Irish immigrants. Instead, diverse groups of new, largely Catholic immigrants from Italy and eastern Europe, as well as French Canadians, reinvigorated long-standing debates over ethnic assimilation and identity among the laity, at a time when those more established groups had not resolved those issues among themselves. While the new immigrants had not yet organized significant social reform efforts by this era, the influx of those new immigrants made it more difficult for German and Irish Catholics at the 1893 congress to demonstrate the strong links between Catholic and American traditions.
Reverend Joseph Andreis of Baltimore presented a paper at the 1893 congress on the topic of immigrants, in which he called for greater toleration toward Italian Catholics. In particular, Andreis emphasized the need for better religious instruction of Italian immigrants. He stressed that while many Italians had never received appropriate religious instruction in Italy, they should nevertheless be considered Catholic. Appealing for greater tolerance among American Catholics for Italian immigrants, he argued: "If it is a crime to be Catholic, poor, ignorant of the language of this country, and possessed with customs at variance with the American-Born, they are certainly guilty; but, Thank God, this America repudiates even the thought of raising a tribunal to take cognizance of it."
Concerns that rural Italian immigrants neglected to attend mass or participate fully in parish institutions, or questions about eastern European immigrant attitudes toward ecclesiastical authority, echoed earlier debates in the Catholic Church. In fact, Irish devotional practices had changed substantially since the "devotional revolution" of the 1840s, when Irish Catholics first began attending mass and participating in other religious rites on a regular basis. Moreover, among German Catholics in the nineteenth century, controversies had arisen over lay trusteeship and, more generally, the relationship between the laity, clergy, and hierarchy in cities such as New York. Thus, as members of those groups rose to positions of leadership in the hierarchy and gained middle-class status, they had to contend with such issues among new groups of Catholics whose religious practices seemed inimical to their own.
New immigrants, the large group of predominantly Catholic people who arrived in the United States from southern and eastern Europe in the period from 1890 to 1930, were less likely than Irish or German Catholics to create regional or nationally based lay groups committed to social reform or charity in the Progressive era. Through natural increase combined with heavy immigration, the American Catholic population grew rapidly, from 6.3 million to 16.4 million between 1880 and 1910. Italians comprised about 17 percent of the total permanent immigrants to the United States from 1899 to 1924, Poles over 7 percent, and other eastern Europeans combined, 9 percent.
As recent arrivals in precarious economic circumstances, new immigrants often worked as low-skilled industrial laborers in steel, brass, and textile mills, in meatpacking and assembly plants, and in mining and construction. Women often found employment as domestic servants or as home-based workers. Immigrants tended first to establish institutions, such as union locals, building and loan organizations, immigrant banks, and mutual aid or fraternal societies, that would provide them with greater economic stability. Issues of economic opportunity, national identification, tensions over church leadership, and intra-group conflict also impeded the involvement of new immigrants in comprehensive social reform efforts in the early twentieth century. They tended to be the targets of such efforts more than the initiators. Along with addressing an increased diversity of religious traditions, the church was also faced with the enormous fiscal challenge of building and staffing churches, schools, orphanages, and other institutions to minister to its burgeoning membership. Many middle-class lay Catholics, including Columbian congress participants, were eager to prove the compatibility of their religion with American society. But new Catholic immigrants seemed to reinforce rather than minimize the impression that significant cultural differences separated Catholics and other Americans.
New immigrant Catholics often clashed with members of the Irish-dominated hierarchy, whom they often characterized as indifferent or hostile to their ethnic and religious traditions, and viewed themselves as second-class citizens within their church. Indeed, the fact that new immigrant groups often attended mass in the basements of existing churches (an arrangement known as a duplex parish) seemed to symbolize their unequal status. The uneasy relationship between new immigrants and ecclesiastical leaders had roots in Europe. Rural Italians arrived in the United States with a tradition of anticlericalism arising from the Italian clergy's alignment with Italian landholders. The attitude of the American hierarchy and clergy toward the new immigrants was far from uniform, however. Many sought to accommodate the needs of the newest members of the church while facing financial constraints and shortages of priests of particular ethnic or linguistic backgrounds. Victor Greene has argued that tensions within the Slavic church emanated largely from intra-group conflict over nationalism or other issues rather than from tensions between the church's old and new ethnic groups. Similarly, Richard Juliani has suggested that in Philadelphia, conflict more often occurred among Italian priests concerned that new parishes would attract their parishioners than between the Italian laity and Irish hierarchy.
To address the needs of its increasingly heterogeneous laity in the late nineteenth century, and to prevent major controversies from erupting, the American hierarchy allowed national (or ethnic) parishes to continue to exist, although some within the church argued instead for an Americanizing approach. The first national parish had been created in 1808, and the practice became common in midcentury during the period of heavy Irish and German immigration. The system allowed for the establishment of new parishes based on a shared native language of a particular locality's Catholic residents, rather than the creation of new territorial parishes based on traditional geographical boundaries. Usually linguistic groups and ethnic groups were coextensive, but there were exceptions. For example, while many Lithuanians could speak Polish, they became increasingly opposed to joining Polish parishes, seeking to establish parishes based on shared ethnicity instead. The influx of new immigrants with diverse ethnic and religious traditions, languages, and economic issues thus posed new challenges for the American church, which had not fully resolved ethnic questions arising from the previous wave of immigration.
Within the church, new immigrants tended to join parish-based organizations, including religiously affiliated fraternal organizations, devotional societies, and musical groups. One of the most widespread fraternal organizations was the Polish Falcons, a group still active today, which arose from the Polish National Alliance in 1886. Some parishes joined conferences of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, and many others provided financial support to ethnically based religious congregations, educational funds, or institutions such as orphanages.
A priest shortage further impeded the development of social reform efforts among the new immigrants by inhibiting the formation of ethnic parishes. For example, in Connecticut during the 1890s and early 1900s, Father Joseph Zebris of Waterbury also ministered to several other Lithuanian Catholic communities around the state. Often he visited each settlement just once a year in order to offer Easter confession. Among Czech Catholics, the shortage was also extreme. By 1880 the Czech American population had reached 100,000, but there were just 44 Czech-speaking clergy ministering to them. Similar circumstances existed among Poles. In the Italian community, as well, few Italian priests were available to serve as parish priests. In fact, many criticized Italian priests as negligent for failing to follow the immigrant laity to the United States. As late as 1899, the ratio of Italian Catholics to priests in the United States was estimated at 750,000 to 60. Even after that shortage was addressed, in 1918 just 718 Italian priests were available in the United States. As a result, non-Italian priests headed many Italian parishes.
In response to the shortage of priests, many small Lithuanian communities ultimately joined Polish parishes in their towns. A major controversy erupted in 1907 when a group of Lithuanian Catholics in Ansonia, Connecticut, impatient with having no national parish of their own, formed a parish committee, incorporated themselves, raised money on their own, and then erected a church without Bishop John Nilan's permission. During the dispute, unpaid contractors placed a lien on the building, and the Lithuanian pastor of the territorial parish was reassigned, leaving Lithuanians with neither a separate parish nor a Lithuanian priest for a year and a half. Nilan ultimately authorized the incorporation of the Lithuanian church and appointed a Lithuanian parish priest. But neither event was reported in the diocesan newspaper, as was customary.
Among eastern Europeans, especially, many Catholics became involved in controversies over parish administration. Some highly fractious disputes arose over the issue of lay trusteeship and influence. Clergy in eastern Europe, unlike their counterparts in the United States, did not have full responsibility for a parish's budget. Polish and Lithuanian laity, in part icular, often initiated new parishes and later had a major voice in their administration. Those traditions continued among these immigrant groups in the United States. Although such lay initiatives were contrary to church law, reactions of clergy and members of the hierarchy varied. But the laity's belief in greater parish autonomy sometimes led to disputes. Indeed, such controversies echoed earlier disputes among German Catholics, who also exercised a strong tradition of lay initiative and trusteeship at the parish level.
In Detroit and other communities, parishioners and the hierarchy clashed over the appointment or dismissal of parish priests. Ultimately, several schisms arose as parishioners left to establish autonomous churches. The most significant schism occurred in 1901, when a group of Poles established a separate institution, the Polish National Catholic Church. Other permanent schisms occurred among Lithuanian Catholics in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Some priests within these new ethnic communities argued that the hierarchy was not sufficiently addressing the problem of "leakage," claiming that the lack of national parishes led Catholics to fall away from the church or join Protestant denominations who recruited members from the Italian, Lithuanian, and other urban communities with some success. Catholics expressed their greatest concern over the potential for Italian leakage. In part because their religious devotion was not as closely tied to the parish as it was for other Catholics, Italian Catholics were generally less likely than others to seek separate national parishes and often joined existing territorial parishes.
In the early twentieth century, Italian Catholics did not view their religiosity as based in the institution or practices of the parish, but rather as an extension of the domus, or family-centered community; moreover, their identity was more closely aligned with their regional rather than national origins. Mutual aid societies outside the church, for example, often required church membership and were heavily associated with one's regional background, which in turn became important in establishing ethnic neighborhoods and parishes in the urban United States. Such societies, often named for a patron saint, served as social centers and insured that no matter how poor, their members would receive a proper burial. Over time, these Italian mutual aid societies would frequently became associated with the parish itself.
Increasingly, local mutual aid societies became part of a national fraternal organization. The largest Italian society, Figli d'Italia, or Sons of Italy, had 100,000 members by the early 1920s but was not officially affiliated with the church. One observer suggested that a shortage of Italian clergy and the modest number of Italian national parishes, relative to the population, accounted for Italians' disinclination toward establishing lay organizations and supporting educational institutions.
Nationalism among eastern Europeans became both a spur to organizing lay efforts within the church and a source of friction. Catholics sought to support political independence for Lithuania, long dominated by Russia, and for Poland, ruled by Russia, Prussia, and Austria. But they eschewed movements embracing socialist ideals. In fact, Catholic groups' initiatives often came as a response to the organized activities of socialists and "freethinkers" with anticlerical views among those of their nationality in much the same way that other Catholic groups of the time reacted to Protestant proselytizing efforts in their communities.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many new immigrant Catholics created benevolent or fraternal organizations whose primary goal was to offer their members insurance and, in some cases, disability benefits, although the preservation of national and religious identity was often a concurrent goal. In fact, insurance benefits were a major component of the Knights of Columbus and the Catholic Order of Foresters. Immigrants had less access to financial institutions and often had high-risk jobs. Because the government system of providing survivor's benefits would not become standard until the passage of the Social Security Act, such efforts were, in many cases, a critical aspect of upward mobility. Insuring the household's breadwinner would, in the event of injury or death, allow a family's children to continue their education rather than leave school early to replace those earnings.
One such major benevolent group arose among Bohemian Catholics in St. Louis in 1879, initiated by Father Joseph Hessoun, pastor of the St. John Nepomuk Parish from 1865 to 1906. Responding to an article in Hlas (Voice), a Bohemian newspaper based in St. Louis, ten parish societies formed a national society, wrote by-laws, named themselves the "Bohemian Roman Catholic First Central Union," and agreed to a $300 death benefit. Most of its members lived in the Midwest. Professor Joseph Cada has stated that "such a movement was truly pioneering. The Bohemian immigrant had nothing like it in the country from which he came." In addition to calling for the creation of a nationally based Central Union, Bohemian Catholics in St. John Nepomuk Parish established both a St. Vincent de Paul Society conference and then, in 1905, an orphanage, which they named after Father Hessoun.
As their numbers grew, Lithuanian Catholics also began establishing Catholic-based organizations by the end of the nineteenth century. Lithuanians, who were most numerous in Pennsylvania, New England, and Illinois, had formed over 30 parishes by 1900 and 100 by 1920. About 80 percent of Lithuanians who arrived in the United States in that period were Catholic. Many came in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to avoid being drafted into the Russian army. Once they arrived, they supported Lithuanian independence efforts. Often they shared a parish with Polish Catholics, but in many cases those arrangements led to disputes as one or the other ethnic group ultimately prevailed in establishing control of the parish. After 1890, when Lithuanian immigration levels rose significantly, Lithuanians increasingly defined their cultural, religious, and social institutions separately from those of Poles. Two Lithuanians, John Sliupas and Father Alexander Burba, were particularly influential in that development. Although Sliupas initially worked within the Catholic Church, the two men gradually became ideological opponents in the debate over nationalism and the role of the clergy.
One group, the American Lithuanian Roman Catholic Federation, arose in 1906 as a national organization comprised of many local and regional affiliates. Following what many Lithuanian priests saw as a growing socialist nationalist movement, the federation emerged in 1906 as a Catholic organization whose leaders came from both the clergy and the laity. It drew members from its local affiliates, including local lodges, Workers' Alliances, the Knights of Lithuania, the Catholic Alliance (a large mutual benefit organization), and a student organization. Yet the federation's growth, budget, and agenda soon stagnated. Some attributed the decline in lay interest to Lithuanians' diverting their efforts to purely national causes rather than focusing on religious issues; others blamed clerical indifference or the lack of interest among the laity in promoting the ideals of the federation. By World War II, Lithuanian Catholics mobilized in order to provide war relief to Lithuania.
Polish Catholics established two major Catholic fraternal organizations at the national level—the Polish Roman Catholic Union (PRCU) and the Polish National Union (PNA). These two groups were rivals and identified themselves distinctly in relationship to Polish nationalism. Complex and protracted controversies arose between the two groups and their adherents, especially in Chicago. Leaders of the PRCU defined themselves as Catholic first and Poles second, while the PNA believed that ethnicity should be paramount. Each group criticized the other—in the first case, for being priest-ridden, and in the second, for being aligned too closely with socialist and anticlerical ideals. The PNA admitted priests into its ranks, but on equal footing with lay members. The PRCU was founded in 1873 by John Barzynski, along with Reverend Theodore Gieryk of Detroit. The organization, which emphasized the preservation of Catholicism among Poles and the development of a parochial school system among them, left little room for lay initiative or leadership. It also drew a sharp distinction between its goals and those of nationalist-oriented Polish Catholics.
These intra-ethnic tensions, as well as the need to obtain economic stability for the community, the priest shortage, a distrust of the hierarchy, and competing conceptions of the communicant-clergy relationship within the parish, all mitigated against lay social reform efforts among new immigrant Catholics. But beginning in the late nineteenth century, and especially by the early twentieth century, lay reformers, mainly from Irish and German backgrounds, having gained greater confidence in their economic position, began to address the needs of these new immigrants, who were still focused on achieving greater economic stability. As subsequent chapters reveal, they did so by founding settlement houses, engaging in charity, and establishing port assistance programs, though those efforts also were often directed at new arrivals from the reformers' countries of origin. Despite class differences and tensions arising from disparate cultural traditions, Catholics from more established ethnic groups sought to forge bonds with new immigrant groups, based on their religious ties. Those efforts had decidedly mixed results. In a rapidly diversifying religion, many reformers understood that their Catholicism reflected European traditions and values. But they further recognized that such traditions would have to be reinterpreted in an American context that was often hostile to, or suspicious of, such differences.
The Columbian Catholic Congress set a precedent for American Catholicism and for the development of lay activism in particular. In the face of several major controversies, the organizers of the congress sought to foster a consensus among Catholics, to demonstrate to fellow Americans the basic compatibility of their religion with American life and institutions, and to illustrate the fact that the church had a significant core of its members engaged in social and intellectual efforts. The issues debated at the congress, including those pertaining to ethnic retention and assimilation, gender, and the relationship of the laity to the clergy and hierarchy permeated much of social reform in the ensuing decades.
To some extent, these reform efforts were successful. Participants highlighted the Catholic roots of Columbus and promoted the concept of a Catholic legacy of America as an alternative to the Protestant English model. By including women, the congress organizers sought to forestall criticism that the church was outdated in its attitudes and practices. Yet public efforts to widen the role of laywomen did not occur without controversy. The narrowly defined arena for women reflected the Catholic hierarchy's general opposition to suffrage and its ambivalence toward women's involvement in lay reform.
Congress organizers encountered additional challenges from participants as well as from those outside the church. The congress itself served as evidence to members of the American Protective Association that Catholics were planning to subvert American institutions and the government. In response, and also because Americanists had organized it, the congress eschewed any mention of ethnic issues, including those pertaining to the Land League or the Central Verein, despite their saliency for many Catholics. Indeed, some German Catholics refused to participate. While congress organizers sought to emphasize the connections between Catholicism and American traditions, they could not ignore the growing ethnic diversity within the church that was evident by the 1890s. The subject was raised by Andreis's lectures and by those speaking on Irish colonization, charity, and poverty. M. E. Elder criticized the attempt to celebrate Catholicism's achievements at the expense of true dialogue about the church's efforts. Others questioned the prominent role of converts at the congress, or the attempt to prevent lay criticism during the forum. Moreover, the congress led Cardinal Satolli and Pope Leo to conclude that the lay congress was a dangerous event. Indeed, the pope criticized Catholic participation in the World Parliament of Religions. In 1895 he issued the apostolic letter Longingue Oceani, which praised the progress of the church in America but stated that the separation of church and state should not be a universal goal and that most secret societies would continue to be viewed as dangerous. He then dealt an even more severe blow to the Americanists with the 1899 Testem Benevolentiae.
To a large extent, the 1893 Catholic Congress defined the parameters of lay involvement in social reform in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It had important ramifications for lay activists, including William Onahan and others active in the St. Vincent de Paul Society and in temperance, colonization, and women's groups. Despite the restrictions placed on the laity, many continued to launch or support their own groups to address the needs and issues of contemporary Catholic life. Sometimes they did so over the objections of the clergy or hierarchy. During the 1893 congress, the role of laywomen was the subject of especially intense controversy, and in the ensuing decades, women's reform efforts would also become a major issue of contention. Likewise, the inclusion of African Americans in the congress suggested a more enlightened attitude toward race relations than had been associated with Catholics in the past, despite the fact that public effort to expand the role of black Catholics did not occur without tensions.
The Americanist controversy was also apparent in the activities and attitudes of the Catholic laity. By celebrating America's Catholic legacy in a time of renewed anti-Catholicism, Catholics displayed a confidence that was important to gaining new members and adherents to their reform activities. The church's growth outside the Northeast allowed for new focuses in the activities undertaken by the laity, including efforts in rural colonization and the development of German Catholic women's groups in the Midwest. Archbishop John Ireland, Bishop John Lancaster Spalding, and other midwesterners were the most supportive of lay actions, whereas Archbishop Corrigan and others tended to restrict the types of lay activities that were possible in their regions.
The catalysts for greater involvement by Catholics in lay social reform efforts were similar to those influencing their participation in the World's Fair of 1893, an event that highlighted the church's economic and moral successes while reflecting idealized notions of the past. Countering the idea that they were newcomers to the United States, Catholics at the fair traced their American origins to Columbus and linked their religion to the nation's democratic institutions and initiatives. "Old" Catholics legitimized their position by developing social reform efforts that demonstrated they were agents for improving society and not simply the objects of such efforts.
By engaging in reform, Catholics proved that they could devote time and resources to the needs of their less fortunate coreligionists and thus influence the future of their urban communities. Rerum Novarum served as a major impetus for Catholics to address social issues arising from industrial capitalism, such as poverty and immigration, and further illustrated the compatibility of church doctrine with its members' participation in American political and social institutions. Such reform efforts improved the reputation of Catholics and demonstrated to other Americans the international roots and Catholic dimensions of the reform tradition, as well as the long-standing history of social reform within the Catholic Church.
Excerpted from American Catholic Lay Groups and Transatlantic Social Reform in the Progressive Era by Deirdre M. Moloney. Copyright © 2002 by The University of North Carolina Press. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
|1||Celebrating an American Catholic Legacy||13|
|2||Combating "Whisky's Work": Masculinity, Ethnicity, and Catholic Temperance Reform||43|
|3||The Friendly Hand and the Helping Purse: Catholic Immigration and Rural Colonization Programs||69|
|4||Poverty and Proselytizers: Lay Catholic Charitable and Settlement Work||117|
|5||Promoting the Maternal over Material, Ideal over Idle: The Emergence of Catholic Women's Groups||167|