Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Poor Belong to Us: Catholic Charities and American Welfare

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Poor Belong to Us: Catholic Charities and American Welfare

Article excerpt

The Poor Belong to Us. Catholic Charities and American Welfare. By Dorothy M. Brown and Elizabeth McKeown. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard Universitv Press. 1997. Pp. ix, 284. $45.00.)

Dorothy A Brown and Elizabeth McKeown, authors of The R)or Belong to Us: Catholic Charities and American Wiwelfare have made an extraordinary contribution to American Catholic and American welfare-state history, crafting a lucid narrative from archival research, published papers, and secondary historical analysis. Their treatment of Catholic social provision from 1870 through the 1930's will inform historical analysis in these fields for decades.

Brown and McKeown provide compelling detail and conceptual frameworks for understanding the larger shifts in personnel, administration, and policy that influenced Catholic charitable provision over these decades. They begin with New York City from 1870 to 19 10, and skillfully flesh out the networks that linked Catholic politicians, clergy, women religious, and middle-class volunteers in building the Catholic charities infrastructure. Based on the principle that 'The Poor Belong to Us," religious proselytization or resistance to it was the most visible rationale for caring for the Catholic majority among the poor, but the importance of material provision and service was never undervalued" (p. 3). Subsequent chapters shift to the national stage, and detail the post-World War I rationalization of disparate local charities under diocesan control, the imposition of male clerical authority over women religious and lay volunteers, and the increasing influence of the National Conference of Catholic Charities (NCCC). In part as a defense against Protestant charges of incompetency and corruption, some leaders promoted Catholic "professional training" and casework methodology, inviting especially female laity to attain social work education and credentials. Catholics who ascribed to principles undergirding convent or clerical life, lay voluntarism, or professional social work expertise were thereafter in conflict over administration and policy. Brown and McKeown highlight the tendency of both Catholic social workers and clerical administrators to wrest administrative control of institutions from nuns, who tended to be unschooled in social work principles, and resistant to policies infused with its logic and methodology. In their chapter on the New Deal, the authors document the considerable influence of John O'Grady and his cohorts in the all-male upper echelons of the NCCC, who in their zeal to maintain the influence of Catholic charities helped to narrow the scope of Aid to Dependent Children (ADC). …

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