Roman Catholicism in the United States: A Thematic History

Roman Catholicism in the United States: A Thematic History

Roman Catholicism in the United States: A Thematic History

Roman Catholicism in the United States: A Thematic History


Roman Catholicism in the United States: A Thematic History takes the reader beyond the traditional ways scholars have viewed and recounted the story of the Catholic Church in America. The collection covers unfamiliar topics such as anti-Catholicism, rural Catholicism, Latino Catholics, and issues related to the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Vatican and the U.S. government. The book continues with fascinating discussions on popular culture (film and literature), women religious, and the work of U.S. missionaries in other countries. The final section of the books is devoted to Catholic social teaching, tackling challenging and sometimes controversial subjects such as the relationship between African American Catholics and the Communist Party, Catholics in the civil rights movement, the abortion debate, issues of war and peace, and Vatican II and the American Catholic Church.

Roman Catholicism in the United States examines the history of U.S. Catholicism from a variety of perspectives that transcend the familiar account of the immigrant, urban parish, which served as the focus for so many American Catholics during the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries.


Margaret M. McGuinness and James T. Fisher

Historians have—until recently—followed a rather standard chronology when recounting the story of Catholicism in the United States. the narrative began by retracing the trail of Franciscan missionaries in the sixteenth-century Southwest—which was blazed prior to the arrival of Anglo-Protestants along the Eastern Seaboard—and moved on to Jesuits in New France (Canada) early in the following century. These historical accounts drew on primary sources originally intended to record the Catholic encounter with Native American peoples and their environment, including the astounding reports filed by Jesuits in Canada to their religious superiors in France, which constitute some of the earliest works of American literature, anthropology, and theology and offer an alternative New World “creation narrative,” with the Upper Midwest and Mississippi Valley playing the role the Atlantic Coast colonies later fulfilled for British Protestants. the forcibly diminished French and Spanish presences within the future United States of America consigned their legacies to the shadow side of the new nation’s history, but Catholicism itself became a visible presence in the new nation, often serving as a live object of ambivalence among nineteenth-century Protestants.

By 1850 Catholicism was the largest religious denomination in the United States; so it remains to this day. American Protestant Christianity has always boasted a substantial aggregate majority of religious adherents, but Protestantism was broken into so many movements by the mid-nineteenth century that no single Protestant group equaled in size the nation’s Catholic populace. Roughly 12 percent of the U.S. total by 1850, Catholicism’s “market share” of the nation’s believers would double by 1900.

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