Governing Charities: Church and State in Toronto's Catholic Archdiocese, 1850-1950

By McGowan, Mark G. | The Catholic Historical Review, July 2004 | Go to article overview

Governing Charities: Church and State in Toronto's Catholic Archdiocese, 1850-1950


McGowan, Mark G., The Catholic Historical Review


Canadian Governing Charities: Church and State in Toronto's Catholic Archdiocese, 1850-1950. By Paula Maurutto. [McGill-Queen's Studies in the History of Religion, Series Two.] (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press. 2003. Pp. xiv, 194. $65.00 Cdn.)

In the past twenty years, Canadian scholars have undertaken considerable research on Canada's largest non-francophone Catholic jurisdiction-the Archdiocese of Toronto. Created out of the Upper Canadian wilderness in 1841, the diocese has grown from its original 40,000 settlers and first peoples, stretched from Lake Ontario to the head of Lake Superior, to a modern metropolis of over 1.3 million Catholics, who worship in dozens of languages each Sunday. Religious and social historians have traced the evolution of Toronto's Irish Catholic community, examined the rise of national churches, and have assessed various levels of Protestant-Catholic interplay, in what was once dubbed "the Belfast of North America." Paula Maurutto's slender volume is a much-welcomed addition to the growing body of literature on Toronto, and her approach to questions of state involvement in Catholic charities is certain to engender considerable debate, particularly among the detractors and proponents of the "new right" in Canada.

Maurutto, a sociologist at the University of Toronto, challenges the simplistic social-policy theories of Ontario's late Conservative government (1995-2003). During the heyday of their administrations, Premiers Mike Harris and Ernie Eves argued that the Province needed to trim the state's social service commitments, dismantle the welfare state, and revert to a time when private institutions, charitable organizations, and churches were able to deliver high-quality social assistance without substantial government initiatives or intervention. By using the Catholic charities of the Archdiocese as her model, Maurutto destroys this political rhetoric by ably demonstrating that throughout their history Catholic hospitals, orphanages, visiting nurses, houses of refuge, etc., always had a close relationship to the municipal and provincial governments, who framed administrative expectations for these private agencies, while supplying them with sufficient funds to keep their "bottom line" in solvency. In the end, Maurutto concludes that Roman Catholic charities were well entrenched in the public welfare system (p. 125) and the state had put in place numerous techniques (bureaucratic structures, auditing techniques, inspection, casework, social scientific theory, professional social work) that effectively brought these charitable institutions under its governance. Relying on a considerable body of secondary sources relating to public welfare and social services, Foucault's theories of governance, and the treasures of the Archdiocesan archives, Maurutto's case is well argued, sufficiently documented, and most convincing.

In terms of historiography, Maurutto's book is as important for how it is written as for what is actually argued. From the outset the author states that her work is not the comprehensive history of all Catholic charities in the region, nor does she probe the Catholic "intellectual history" (p. 12) upon which many of the charities were conceived. Instead her approach is that of historical sociology, wherein she carefully analyzes those charitable organizations, religious orders, and charity bureaucracies that worked closely with governments, gladly accepted public monies, and ultimately became subject to a variety of conditions and techniques that placed their distinctive Catholic social services under the governance of the state.

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