What Parish Are You from? A Chicago Irish Community and Race Relations

Article excerpt

What Parish Are You From? A Chicago Irish Community and Race Relations. By Eileen M. McMahon. (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky. 1995. Pp. xii, 226. $32.95.)

Throughout the years the Catholic Irish have combatted the gibes and insults of a dominant and often-domineering Protestant-American culture, with the aid and concurrence of the Catholic parish, in Chicago and elsewhere in the nation. Catholic parishioners, from whatever parish, tackled the issue of their religious faith and their struggle for social and political justice, as a parish community. In this they were set apart from American society at large by what Catholics viewed to be the prevalent anti-Catholicism and by their local Irish ethnicity.

Eileen M. McMahon in What Parish Are You From? traces the historical fortunes of one such Southwest Side Chicago parish, St. Sabina's, from its "prairie" foundation by Archbishop George W. Mundelein (1916), to the period of racial, white-black tension and the accompanying disappearance of the Irish parishioners into the distant suburbs in the 1960's and 1970's. This book is based on skillful delving into archdiocesan and parish archives and articles in Catholic journals; a fit collection of scholarly books on the subject; and, above all, the author's interviews with major participants. McMahon's oral history is splendid: thoughtful and sensitive, as she guides the reader through the often-racially prickly material.

The embourgeoisement of the Irish Catholics came about in the economic boom after World War II, enhanced by the G.I. Bill which gave white Catholics, among others, greater opportunities for skilled and professional jobs. By the mid-1950's the Catholic Church in America was middle-class, not working-class as it had been earlier. …