American -- This Confident Church: Catholic Leadership and Life in Chicago, 1940-1965 by Steven M. Avella

Article excerpt

This Confident Church: Catholic Leadership and Life in Chicago, 1940-1965. By Steven M. Avella. (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press. 1992. Pp. xviii, 410. $29.95.)

Father Avella, a priest and historian of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, has written a partial history of the Archdiocese of Chicago during the episcopates of the two archbishops who had previously held that office successively in Milwaukee, namely, Cardinals Samuel Stritch and Albert Meyer. During this quarter-century Chicago was the largest archdiocese in the United States and a pacesetter for the rest of the American Catholic Church. Hence, this period, extending from the beginning of World War II to the end of Vatican Council II, is especially suitable for historical investigation, although other predominantly urban dioceses were experiencing the same kinds of social and demographic changes, such as the supporting of whites by blacks in neighborhoods and parishes and suburbanization, while exhibiting the same kind of confidence noted in the title of the book. None of those dioceses, however, has until now been subjected to similar study in a separate monograph. Such research, of course, would not be possible in some comparable archdioceses, for example, New York, where the papers of Cardinal Francis Spellman are still closed to scholars although he died less than three years after Meyer. The author has also made use of other diocesan archives and manuscript collections; one may doubt, however, whether he has fully exploited the Chicago daily newspapers. It was timely, moreover, to undertake this project while some of the protagonists of the story and contemporary observers could still be interviewed.

Father Avella centers his presentation on individuals--principally the two archbishops but also their auxiliary bishop Bernard Sheil and priests of the archdiocese, notably Reynold H. Hillenbrand, Daniel M. Cantwell (who died on January 2 of this year), and John Egan. He emphasizes, therefore, matters in which they were involved--Stritch's interest in the Poles and other influences and displaced persons after the war, international peace and the Communist threat, social reconstruction, institutional growth, the seminary system, and Catholic Charities; Sheil's troubled direction of the Catholic Youth Organization; Hillenbrand's promotion of Liturgical reform, specialized Catholic Action (especially the Young Christian Workers and the Christian Family Movement), and labor unions; Cantwell's role in the Catholic Labor Alliance, controversies over public housing and urban planning and renewal, and the Catholic Interracial Council of Chicago; and Egan's expansion of the Cana Conference, his use of power politics and confrontational tactics in the ultimately unsuccessful campaign against the University of Chicago's plans for redevelopment of the Hyde Park-Kenwood communities, and his management of the Office of Urban Affairs. Community organizing for the Spanish-speaking, struggles over civil fights, and racial violence perpetrated by Catholics are also treated at length. …