Separatism and Subculture: Boston Catholicism, 1900-1920

Separatism and Subculture: Boston Catholicism, 1900-1920

Separatism and Subculture: Boston Catholicism, 1900-1920

Separatism and Subculture: Boston Catholicism, 1900-1920


Arguing that Catholicism was a central integrating force among different ethnic and class groups, Paula Kane explores the role of religious identity in Boston in the early twentieth century. In Separatism and Subculture she traces the effect of changing class status on religious identity and solidarity, and she delineates the social and cultural meaning of Catholicism in a city where Yankee Protestant nativism persisted even as its hegemony was in decline. While the Catholic Church served as a force for integration and acculturation in Boston, it also provided a distinct subculture for the city's Catholics in order to maintain its influence in the lives of the faithful. By the early twentieth century, Catholics had begun to achieve the economic success that was essential to cultural assimilation. But Church leaderswhile acknowledging the importance of this developmentnevertheless directed Catholics to reject secular modernity for the sanctity of the Church. To implement this strategy of separatist integration, clergy and laity coordinated existing charities, social services, and schools into a specifically Catholic refuge. New institutions emerged as well as did displays of Catholic identity such as parades, public forums, and proselytizing campaigns. Under Archbishop William O'Connell, the Church relied upon its dual insider-outsider image to unify the Catholic community and avert the contradictions of assimilation. These contradictions, says Kane, reflected Catholic ambivalence toward secular culture and concern over social and economic matters, including gender roles and feminism, capitalism, individualism, and the role of the state in philanthropy and social reform. In her analysisof Catholic lay experience, Kane makes use of a wide range of sources, from conversion narratives, fiction, and poetry to the voluminous outpourings of the Catholic press, and she juxtaposes Catholics' responses to various a


Well, it is high time to give Boston a reputation for other than a centre of ancestor-worship or a paradise of faddists. -- Mayor John Fitzgerald, on the founding of Boston High School of Commerce, May 15, 1909.

Three millions of Catholics occupy the limits where then one hundred lived. and the needs have grown with the number and altered with the conditions. To train the docile mind and heart of a few scattered immigrants was a task infinitely more easy than to preserve the purity of the Faith in the denizens of crowded cities, menaced by the contagion of a thousand sophistries, and to keep untainted souls beckoned on all sides to a thousand seductions. Poverty and the humiliations of a cold welcome have their hard features. But the pride of life and the corruption of luxury are infinitely more to be feared. -- Cardinal William O'Connell, In the Beginning

They are men who by their private lives of dishonor and their public lives of dishonesty bring shame upon the church -- cowardly traitors who betray Catholic interests. They are selfish men who cannot leave personal considerations out of any calculation. They are always finding fault with the church; with her visible head, with their bishops and their pastors. -- Rev. David Toomey, Boston Globe, May 9, 1910.

The 1908 Catholic Centenary

The unevenness of Catholic social and economic integration was apparent in the varying degrees of Catholic involvement in urban life. I have chosen five components of civic life in Boston to display the spectrum of Catholic participation: the celebration of the archdiocesan centennial in 1908; Catholic involvement in the "Boston, 1915" movement; Catholic speakers and topics in the Ford Hall Forum; and Catholic relations with two secular immigrant aid societies. a sixth element, the Catholic Common Cause Society, fully approved by the Church, serves as an example of the Church's ideal lay association.

In October 1808, Boston became a Roman Catholic diocese. in October 1908, Catholics inaugurated their second century with a Mass in Holy Cross Cathedral, celebrated by the papal apostolic delegate to America. After the solemn liturgy, the Catholic fraternal and devotional organizations held a massive meeting in Symphony Hall, including the afcs, the Knights of Columbus . . .

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