Book Reviews -- at Peace with All Their Neighbors: Catholics and Catholicism in the National Capital, 1787-1860 by William W. Warner

Article excerpt

At Peace with All Their Neighbors: Catholics and Catholicism in the National Capital, 1787-1860. BY WILLIAM W. WARNER. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1994. xi, 307 pp. $29.95.

IN this carefully researched, beautifully written study, William W. Warner profiles Washington's Roman Catholic community from the establishment of the District of Columbia in the 1790s to the nativist controversies in the years immediately preceding the Civil War. This is local religious history at its best, and following the lead established by Jay Dolan and others, Warner emphasizes social rather than institutional development.

Two themes predominate. The first is the mutual respect and understanding that marked Catholic-Protestant relations throughout the era. This theme appears at the outset with the establishment of Georgetown's Trinity Church, completed in 1794, but Warner reaches back into the colonial period to detail the context in which the old Catholic families of southern Maryland had lived peaceably with the Protestant majority for several generations despite the presence of discriminatory colonial laws. Good relations, enhanced by frequent interfaith marriages, broadened the spirit of toleration on both sides. Thus, after national independence and the advent of religious freedom, Catholics and Protestants contributed to the construction of churches of various denominations and the establishment of educational and charitable institutions in Georgetown and in neighboring Washington.

Trinity Church also benefited from its proximity to Georgetown College, founded a few years earlier. Both church and college were staffed by former members of the Society of Jesus, suppressed by the Vatican in 1773 and then revived in the early years of the nineteenth century. Former Jesuit John Carroll, first Catholic bishop of Baltimore, had a hand in establishing both college and parish, and his episcopal successors took close interest in the development of Catholicism in the national capital. Warner traces the history of physical expansion as the increase in the District's population necessitated new parishes. His emphasis, however, is on the development of a diverse Catholic community of gentry families, Irish and German immigrants, and African Americans both slave and free, all served by a small number of hard-working, circuit-riding priests. …