Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Religious Lessons: Catholic Sisters and the Captured Schools Crisis in New Mexico

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Religious Lessons: Catholic Sisters and the Captured Schools Crisis in New Mexico

Article excerpt

Religious Lessons: Catholic Sisters and the Captured Schools Crisis in New Mexico. By Kathleen Holscher. (New York: Oxford University Press. 2012. Pp. xii, 260. $55.00. ISBN 978-0-19-978173-7.)

Kathleen Holscher's book, Religious Lessons: Catholic Sisters and the Captured Schools Crisis in New Mexico, although burdened with a bulky title, is a lucid and engaging presentation of a complex event. Hoslcher directs attention to a bitter New Mexico quarrel that flared between Catholics and Protestants over the public school employment of sisters garbed in religious habits. The author argues that in post-World War II society, Americans, with time to rethink their positions about the separation of church and state, created a watershed moment in long-standing tensions between Protestants and Catholics. In concert with other postwar cultural transformations, the New Mexico legal case influenced substantive alterations in national Catholic-Protestant relations that persist to modern times.

Drawing on a plethora of Catholic and Protestant primary sources, conducting personal interviews, examining newspapers, and delving deeply into legal records, trial transcripts, and constitutional law, Holscher crafted an impressive analytical narrative. Such an assortment of administrative and political detail with legal interpretations as a dominant theme, suggested a page-by-page challenge to the reader's attention. Instead, Holscher produced a fascinating legal history, weaving into the prose the poignant voices of the participants.

The six chapters include an explanation of how Catholic sisters came to be public school teachers in New Mexico villages populated by Hispano families, until an influx of Anglo-Protestants altered the demographics; the attitudes, positive and negative, toward the sisters, as Protestants and Catholics increased their mutual religious hostility; and a portrait of the curriculum and atmosphere inside a public classroom overseen by a Catholic sister. The book then discusses the organized Protestant resistance, led in Dixon, New Mexico, by Lydia Zellers and at the national level by an organization known commonly the POAU, which pushed the inflammatory phrase "captive schools" to convey its view of the Catholic threat in public education. …

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