A History of the Catholic Church in the American South, 1513-1900

Article excerpt

A History of the Catholic Church in the American South, 1513-1900. By James M. Woods. (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2011. Pp. xv, 498. Acknowledgments, maps, tables, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $69.95.)

James M. Woods describes A History of the Catholic Church in the American South, 1513-1900 as a "traditional, institutional narrative of Ro man Catholicism [in what became the southern United States] from the colonial era until 1900," adding that it is "primarily a synthesis, using many earlier published works by other scholars" (p. xiii). This volume is indeed just that, little more. That said, it is difficult to be excessively critical of a work that reads more like a reference piece than a monograph because Woods readily acknowledges that his book includes little new research and is devoid of a thesis. While Woods' weighty tome thus lacks the methodological and analytical sophistication found in many contemporary works of history, the author's research into the secondary literature on southern Catholicism is impressive and seemingly exhaustive. Ultimately, Woods begins to fill a gap in the historiography that-historically as well as more recently-marginalized the Catholic Church's contributions to, and influences on, the American South.

A History of the Catholic Church in the American South is chronologically and, to a degree, geographically organized. It is divided into three sections. In Part I, entitled "The Colonial Context, 1513-1763," Woods recounts the Catholic Church's role in Spanish Florida and Texas, in French Louisiana, and in the southern English colonies. Here, he emphasizes such topics as the Catholic clergy's successes and failures converting indigenous Americans; the discord among differing elements of the Catholic hierarchy and between different Catholic orders; and the intense rivalries between the Spanish, French, and English and their effects on the American South and on the Catholic Church. The latter two-thirds of the book present the story of southern Catholics both as Americans and as immigrants, primarily Irish immigrants. Part II, "American Republicanism and European Decline, 1763-1845," considers the late colonial, Revolutionary, and early national years. Woods highlights the waning influence of the three European powers in the American South and how, as a result, southern Catholicism was swept to the margins of American consciousness. …