Papist Patriots: The Making of an American Catholic Identity

By Carroll, Michael | The Catholic Historical Review, July 2012 | Go to article overview

Papist Patriots: The Making of an American Catholic Identity


Carroll, Michael, The Catholic Historical Review


Papist Patriots: The Making of an American Catholic Identity. By Maura Jane Farrelly. (New York: Oxford University Press. 2012. Pp. xi, 305. $35.00. ISBN 978-0-19-975771-8.)

Every so often a book comes along that presents a dramatically different interpretation of known historical facts in a way that is, well, convincing.This is one of those books. Maura Jane Farrelly confronts one of hoariest historiographical issues in the study of American Catholicism: Can one be a good Catholic and simultaneously a good American? It was an issue that rose to the forefront of American religious scholarship in the nineteenth century, given a historiographical predisposition (at the time) to see Protestantism, Puritanism in particular, as giving rise to American democracy. After all, given the perfect fit seen to exist between Protestantism and American democracy, it only made sense to ask if Catholics could be good Americans- and the answer, of course, was usually "no." Although it is common to suggest that such a blatant antiCatholic bias is no longer in evidence, the question (in my view) continues to shape work of many Catholic writers (like jay Dolan, quoted on the back cover of Farrelly's book) who still seem concerned with demonstrating that good Catholics can be good Americans.

Farrelly begins by pointing out that pre-existing scholarly attempts to address the good Catholic/good American issue have focused on Catholics (mainly Irish American and Italian American Catholics) in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. She argues that we need to leap-frog over these groups and confront a question about the Colonial period- why was it that Maryland Catholics were such staunch supporters of the American Revolution despite the fact that so many of their Revolutionary compatriots were virulently antiCatholic? The answer to that question lies in how Catholics in the late-eighteenth century perceived the earliest days of the Maryland colony. Basically, those early days were seen as a Golden Age in which religious toleration had been the norm.

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